I’ve often said if you want to build a secure career, get into the food business (or the alcohol or tobacco business), because in good times and bad people eat, drink and smoke.
OK – in fairness that’s a little simplistic, because not every food product thrives in a down economy, but that’s not the point of my thoughts today. My point is, food is a staple that is both a basic need and a lifestyle that is the part of our daily lives and rituals.
And the interesting thing about food is its roots in storytelling. Early generations wrote about food and passed down knowledge of food through hunting, gardening and cooking, the bible tells stories about food, we all know the story of the Irish potato famine and I’m guessing hundreds of thousands of cookbooks have been written and published over the years.
Not only do we tell stories about food, we tell stories with food by using food to create emotions or convey ideas and we tell stories over food, where food is the vehicle that brings us together.
Regardless of our demographics; our race, creed, religion, location, financial well-being or other, we all have a food story. We have early memories of a favorite food, we have memories of a food shared with a particular family member or friend, we have memories of specific holidays, of a food experience that was terrible, or funny, or new. There are even food stories related to fear, scarcity and hunger. But regardless of where your food story comes from, they are defining moments that shape individuals feelings about food.
For me, I have early memories of baking buns with my grandma, grinding chokecherries and getting purple hands with my Mom, spending time at my other Grandma’s small town café every Sunday afternoon where I ate crinkle cut fries and made graveyard sodas at the fountain. I have memories of Swedish meatballs at Christmas Eve dinner, grape soda in a glass bottle when I was with my Dad and making gingerbread houses on Thanksgiving. I also have recipe books….and more pins on Pinterest than I know what to do with or will ever have time to actually make. I find new brands weekly and click like to read their stories and watch videos on YouTube to learn what makes them special…and that’s just me as a consumer. Me as a business continues the food story by helping brands find and tell their own food stories through various channels and connects them with influencers to craft authentic messages that pair their lifestyles with the values of the brand.
But it’s not my job that makes me special or overly interested in food more than the next person. I have never met a person without a food story. And today, there are food stories galore, but which ones stand out? Is food storytelling just a fad that will fade into the night and be gone like Jell-O molds from the 70’s, or is it here to stay? I’m here to tell you this is no fad.
Today’s consumer is more disconnected from where there food comes from than ever before, but also more connected and knowledgeable about food than any generation in the past. Now you may wonder how can that be, this doesn’t make sense. Today, about 1% of the population is involved in agriculture and less than 10% is involved in the business of food. That’s why consumers are disconnected with where their food comes from.
But many consumers have an opinion on GMO’s, organic, natural, red dye and sugar to name just a few things. A recent survey on food labeling shared that 67% of consumers rely on brands to tell them what they need to know about food and 71% expect transparency from those brands. Today’s consumers are cooking less and have less kitchen skills, but they are making very conscious choices about the types of food and brands they buy. They may not know how to mash potatoes, but when they want a potato, chances are they have made a point to learn about a potato brand or production tactics to determine if it’s sustainable, supports their community or has values that align with their own. They have read articles from peer influencers that may or may not be true, but whom they trust, they’ve heard soundbites and scanned headlines that have shaped their opinion and influenced their purchase and they’re just getting started. The question for you as you think about this – were you anywhere in their sphere of influence? If you weren’t, someone else was.
Today’s consumer is living online, they are learning to cook from a blog post or Facebook video, and ordering their groceries with the click of a button from their phone. You must break through the clutter and be a noisy, yet interesting and relevant voice to this knowledge hungry consumer. You need to make sure they click on your product and it ends up in the online cart and delivered to the door. To do so you must tell stories that help that same consumer recognize your shared values or aspirational goals. You must be where they are. You must be seen with the influencers they trust in the places they visit…and that is mostly the digital world with far less IRL contact.
So ask yourself. Do you know your story? Is it transparent and ready for a debut? Do you know what your values are and are they in line with today’s consumer? Are you ready to connect with a new consumer in an old medium (storytelling), via a new method (digital channel
s)? That consumer doesn’t want to know how to make mashed potatoes unless they first decide that making mashed potatoes is important to them. And to be important, those mashed potatoes need to be relevant. Turkey and mashed potatoes at a traditional dinner might not be the right story for today’s consumer, but chipotle mashed potatoes topped with pork carnitas as part of a dinner with friends might be the key to relevance and now it’s just about format.
Basic needs are no longer the bottom line for share of stomach. Today’s consumer is acting on expectations much higher up on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They are acting and striving for self-actualization and self-transcendence and they want you to be on the same plane.
This my friends…this dynamic and expectant consumer is what makes the business of food storytelling so compelling. Drop us a line and let us help you tell your food story.