Posted: May 1, 2020 Author: Ryan Kukuruzovic, Corporate Chef
Ryan has 20-plus years of R&D and foodservice experience. His focus is on the design and implementation of diverse and innovative culinary visions with the highest standards of excellence.
During these uncertain and trying times, Wixon remains a partner to our customers with technical R&D, marketing and culinary resources. As an essential infrastructure business, we realize and understand the significance of our role within the food industry; we remain here to serve and support our customers’ needs.
As Wixon’s Corporate Chef, it’s important to discuss the current landscape of our industry and how COVID-19 is causing foodservice operations and major food companies to rethink how they engage with their customers now and likely into the future, and I have some thoughts.
A Chef’s Perspective
Social distancing has prompted dine-in service to halt, resulting in foodservice operations across the globe to either shutter their doors or try to sustain their business by retuning menu offerings to maintain an efficient carry/takeout and delivery service. Now, more than ever due to the COVID-19 crisis – with customers confined to their homes – foodservice operators need to consider new tactics to counterbalance food and operational costs and leverage and create greater opportunity for foodservice operators to sustain their businesses during these trying and difficult times. Some options to better serve the current market demand include:
- Offering a condensed menu
- Adjusting portion size options to accommodate large families
- Incorporating additional day-part options to capture broader interest in the customer base
- Offering meal kit preparations or grocery packages
Around the country and all over the world, consumers have been stockpiling frozen and shelf stable foods due to the various stay-at-home orders, restricting dine-in service, and ultimately, prompting a significant shift in consumer behavior. Over the last decade in grocery stores, the priority and focus has
been the perimeter for the fresh foods, as opposed to the center store items. Over the years, many of these center store items were said to be unhealthy and unsafe due to elevated levels of sodium and other ingredients that aid in extending shelf life. They gained negative attention due to the health implications of consistently consuming these types of foods.
When adjusted for inflation, Mintel data indicates that center store product sales have been stagnant over the past 5 years. Again, the challenge being a consumer perception that highly processed and unhealthy foods occupy the center store space. Although, there have been some private label brand products repositioned in a way that has certainly subdued this consumer stigma. But, in my opinion, the greatest challenge for consumers today is not founded on the fact that most of the center store products are absolutely unhealthy when consumed regularly, but based on the fact that most of America has been doing their own cooking and meal preparation as of recent weeks. Ultimately the concerns of yesteryears have no bearing under the panic buying of the COVID-19 pandemic where Americans have been clearing the center aisle shelves.
So, now what?
Well, for me the opportunity is clear as to how major food companies should be thinking about their CPGs and how to now reconnect with consumers in a meaningful way that creates new customers with longevity, not passing or rather fleeting purchase patterns due to their panic purchasing. I believe it starts with reeducating consumers on these staple products and demonstrating their versatility in a way that reminds consumers long after the pandemic how flavorful, useful and reliable these products or recipe additions are within their home pantry.
For example, home cooks had been buying fresh corn on the cob. Now with supply chain strain, consumers and home cooks must opt for frozen corn or canned corn. These options don’t cook the same
and require alternate preparation. This is where major food companies need to step up their “Tips and Tricks” or “Recipe Catalogue” on their websites and packaging for consumers in order to truly integrate into the home cooks’ repertoire. The cooking confidence consumers develop and experiences they have during this time with various consumer packaged products could be enough to demonstrate to them
how versatile, reliable and flavorful these center store foods can be, and in turn inspire consumers to continue to purchase these foods long after this national emergency has passed.
While these days are trying and difficult for all of us, making small changes to how food manufacturers and foodservice operators serve their customers can mean not only surviving this crisis, but building customer trust and loyalty in the long run.