On the Horizon: COVID-19 Effect on Consumer Behaviour

Interview with Fiona Sweeney, Strategic Marketing Director at Kerry

Fiona Sweeney, Strategic Marketing Director at Kerry, talks to us about how setting up a COVID-19 insight task force led to some interesting conclusions around consumer trends and behaviours, enabling Kerry to stay agile and help customers respond to demand in what is now a vastly different and ever-changing food and beverage environment.

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Interview notes:

Damien: Fiona, you led Kerry's COVID-19 customer insight task force in Europe and your conclusion was an interesting one; that there are no new trends emerging in the consumer markets. So, what is going on?

Fiona: Thanks Damien. Yes, I'm leading the Covid insight task force. It's a team of people we brought together, dedicated to following the Covid pandemic and the impact on the food and beverage industry. Primarily, so that we can stay agile and help our customers to respond to what is a vastly evolving landscape, but also for our own business to understand how we plan for the future. We found that the impact of the Covid pandemic has been far reaching and the socio-economic change and disruption has been immense. Equally so, in the in the food and beverage industry. When you look at the research that we've looked at, when you look at the at the reports and when you base it on where the consumer trends in the market trends are already, what we believe, and the perspective that we have, is that the long-term implications and impact of change on the food and beverage industry will come from the acceleration of already existing underlying trends or the manifestation, or shift in the manifestation, of these trends, rather than anything brand new that we haven't seen before. For example, the focus on health and wellness, the focus on clean label, food safety and trust. The focus on digital adoption, sustainability, plant based foods. All of these are already existing underlying trends, but will just manifest slightly differently or speed up as a result of the pandemic.

Damien: It's very interesting. Could you deep dive for us into the principle changes that are food producer money to act on right now responding to COVID-19?

Fiona: There are so many changes that customers need to act on and so many areas of consideration. I suppose one I would point to straight away is probably the obvious one around food safety and food trust. We know from all of the research we've done in Kerry. This is something we look at quite regularly, and have done for many years. We know consumers already want products that have ingredients that they can understand, that they recognise. Ingredients that might appear in their store cupboard. They're looking to understand more about where their food comes from and who makes it, and they're willing to pay for local ingredients. This trend is already there and when you take the Covid pandemic and add that on top, there is a heightened sensitivity now for consumers around the safety of their food. They want to know more about provenance. They will seek out claims where there is that reassurance of trust. So for customers and producers in the food and beverage industry, accelerating their programmes towards cleaner and clearer labels is going to be really, really important. Highlighting wherever they have claims will give that reassurance to consumers. Claims around provenance, clean, natural; all of these areas are things that consumers will look out for. Another one which may be slightly more interesting; plant based foods are already accelerating in terms of their growth because consumers are looking for products that will help them maintain a healthier lifestyle, but also products that are kinder to the environment and kinder from an animal welfare perspective. We do expect the Covid pandemic will lead to an acceleration of consumers considering this flexitarian or vegetarian lifestyle. So considering how you might build a plant based product into your portfolio to give that consumer option is definitely something we would consider.

Damien: Did you come up with similar insights, action points or changes for the food service industry as well?

Fiona: Absolutely, Damien. The foodservice industry has been amongst the hardest hit within total food and beverage. We're seeing anything from 60 to 95% decline in food service in Europe. The industry has been devastated because of a forced closures, obviously due to lock down. We have obviously seen behaviour shifts of customers trying to adapt and to survive and to maintain revenue. So seeing a lot of shifting from dine in to home delivery and acceleration of home delivery, where it wasn't already in place. But this revenue is not enough to make up for the loss in revenue that's there. So moving towards when those restrictions will be lifted, and lockdown restrictions will be eased, there is obviously hope that we'll be able to get consumers moving into the food service space again. But when you look at areas where restrictions have been lifted, like China, consumers are still reluctant to go back to the ways of behaviour in food service that they once had. There is still, I suppose, an insecurity around their own health and wellness, and whether they can still contract the virus. But there's also uncertainty around the economic conditions. We have entered a global recession, so consumers have less disposable income. What we do know is that consumers are cooking and experimenting more from scratch at home. There is lots of fresh ingredients being bought in retail. But we've also seen from the research and the reports that we've looked at, there's a little bit of fatigue creeping in now around this cooking from home. But it's not necessarily around the cooking. What we're seeing is, it's probably mostly around the cleaning up and the tidying up afterwards. We love to cook, but not necessarily to clean the pots and there's some clever operators who were responding with ‘finish from home’ kits. They provide you with ingredients and partially cooked food, and then you get to finish it off at home. So you get the enjoyment of the cooking, the enjoyment of a beautiful meal, but not cleaning up at the end of it. So, really interesting innovation and pivoting to meet these growing consumer demands for out of home experience in their own home. There is obviously the adoption of home delivery and the accelerated adoption of home delivery that needs to be considered. As consumers have become used to home delivery and contactless, there is evidence to say that this is not going to fall away. This is this is a new captive audience that the food service operators have to market to and to sell to. So there has to be a greater emphasis on the development of products that are delivery stable. Holding times and delivery times impact the taste, the texture and the quality of your product. So understanding how the development can be accelerated to ensure the optimum experience at home from a from an out of home operator.

Damien: Yeah, I think the quality of your insights give us probably the strongest sense of the importance of truly understanding our customer at this time and the value of understanding that customer and consumer.

To learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting the food and beverage industry, including changes in consumer preferences and purchasing behaviours, visit Kerry’s COVID-19 resource page.

About Fiona Sweeney:

Fiona Sweeney is the Strategic Marketing Director of End Use Markets for Kerry Taste & Nutrition, where she leads the End Use Market Marketing team for Europe and Russia responsible for building insight into a differentiator for Kerry, driving strategic growth plans, innovation, communication strategies and compelling value propositions positioning Kerry as a leading B2B brand.

Prior to moving to the B2B side of Kerry Group, Fiona was Marketing Director for the Kerry Foods Dairy Consumer Branded portfolio in Great Britain and Ireland, where she was responsible for the strategic growth and development of category leading brands including Dairygold, Cheestrings, LowLow and Charleville.

In the 10 years prior to working at Kerry, Fiona built a broad experience creating, developing and growing brands across FMCG and retail, working on renowned brands such as Guinness, Smirnoff and Coca Cola.

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