“Try something new today” as a famous UK supermarket retailer once told us, and we never did. But in the last 16 weeks, our eating, drinking and cooking routines have been subject to a giant human experiment called “lockdown”. Once announced, our behaviours quickly began changing, opening us up to new and sometimes random ideas. Within days, Google searches for “banana bread” shot up by ten times and its ingredients list became the top-performing page of the BBC Good Food site. We’ll return to how and why this simple recipe became the icon of a global pandemic, suffice to say that, like everything else, food trends shifted and accelerated beyond all expectations. And if you are a new, scaling food brand, this is a good thing.
Unable to complete the weekly shop as usual, nor go out or eat out, we’ve been turning to our screens to open up a universe of new options at the tap of a button. When a staple brand wasn’t available, we switched to a competitor brand. If that didn’t work, then a completely different alternative or replacement would do. Plant-based meat alternatives, such as Vivera, have shot up in interest and trial. We’re all becoming more flexitarian, but never more so when Sainsbury’s runs out of chicken breasts before 9 am. The number of plant-based product trademarks has doubled since last year, reaching a record high.
Other specialist food supplements have seen a spike in interest, such as Symprove, a probiotic made from Barley extract, whose sales are up 50% up year-on-year. In a bid to reduce monotony, we’ve also been experimenting more with flavours including coconut milk (83% increase in searches), Chinese five spices (+125%) and Keralan ingredients (+155%).
With more time at home, we’ve needed new activities. Lots of baking gives the kids something to do in the day, and lots of cocktail-making helps the parents cope at night. Even opening the fridge and staring aimlessly inside became a compelling way to pass the time. ‘New meal occasions’ have emerged, also known as an inability to stop snacking. The sunny weather gave some respite in the form of barbeques, sometimes day after day. And as lockdown measures eased, we picnicked more. Even if we had to sit separately from family or loved ones, our cooler bags filled with homemade sourdough stayed close.
It’s easy to make light and celebrate our new choices. But something much darker is at play than just a lack of availability or being stuck indoors. Food is fundamental to our psyche. Human connection and conversation revolve around it, as does a deep-rooted sense of security. A surge in banana bread making is less of a surprise when you consider our emotional needs. Banana bread is comforting to eat and comforting to make. Counsellor and psychotherapist Katerina Georgio says: “In uncertain times, many will try and establish some control to cope — food is a common aspect of our lives we take control from.”.
New food brands satisfy many different kinds of cravings when it comes to better emotional and physical wellbeing. Gran Luchito offers more taste, authenticity, passion and love than the usual supermarket Mexican kits. Tony’s Chocolonely envisages chocolate being made free from slavery. Seedlip has all the care and craft of an artisanal spirit but none of the alcohol. Native Snacks offers popped lotus seeds with a better taste and a better crunch. It’s also better for the environment as well as better for you, even if eaten while binge-watching Netflix. As our lives become narrowed, new food brands offer us expanded horizons, a way to look after ourselves, and more than anything, a much-needed invitation to a better world.
Investors have taken notice of the winners. Earlier this month, Oatly received a $200m growth injection from Blackstone valuing the company at $2bn (roughly ten times its global turnover, forecasted to double by the end of 2021). Oatly is the perfect balance of being ‘a thing’ amongst trendsetters (they signed a deal with Starbucks in January) and a delicious alternative to dairy for everyone else, at a time when hand sanitiser and loo roll was also in short supply. The pandemic provided Oatly with an in-home sampling opportunity like no other — and sales rocketed up to 500% as a result. Conscious stockpiling has also helped brands like Beyond Meat enjoy record share prices during the same period.
There’s another, more dangerous reason why the success of new food brands is essential. New habits also include overindulging on chocolate and sugary drinks. Lockdown reinforced mass cravings for junk food favourites too. Worse, many are over-eating to relieve the boredom. A brand new study from Oxford University is reporting that binge eating, alcohol abuse and lack of physical exercise have put large numbers of people at risk. Watchdogs are worried about new obesity levels, so is the government and stricter advertising restrictions for high sugar and high-fat foods are on their way. Others think providing subsidies for better foods will have more of an effect. Perhaps that advertising could be pointed at these new, healthier brands instead.
New food brands need help to get to market and scale. Browse the Kombucha or protein bar aisles of any retailer, and you’ll find a range of cool brands not yet discovered. Competition is fierce, as are countermeasures from legacy brands with deep pockets. And Rising is proud to have been selected as an official partner to the Young Foodies Network, whose own mission matches ours to “level the playing field” and “make the challenger mighty”. We’re actively investing in new brands too in the form of creative capital and proud to have announced our first successful funding round with Tonic, a brilliant and essential new high dose immunity drink. Critical to the success of Oatly — beyond a universally liked product — has been the creativity injected into being a distinctive brand alongside wise investment into awareness building. We passionately care about the food choices we make for ourselves, others and the planet. At a time when these choices are under review, let’s get the right marketing in behind those brands that passionately care too, making them seen, heard and universally loved.