How are you going to eat?

This post was originally published in LinkedIn Pulse on 6th October, 2016

Before you start reading, or even contemplate whether you should read, stop for a minute. For a minute, think about food and how you have been eating. Think about any kind of food. It could be lovingly home made by yourself or by your partner. It could be for self-consumption or for your whole family. It could be the takeaway you did on the way home from work. Alternately, it could be the home delivery done by the likes of Deliveroo or UberEats or by your local Chinese. It can even be the ready-to-eat, quick cooking, ‘frozen-to-heat’, ‘add spices and ready’ formats that you picked up from the supermarket.

You can stop thinking now. Regardless of what you buy to eat or cook to eat, the biggest change has been in terms of how we eat. Taking you down memory lane might be a worthwhile place to start. Everyone remembers the Sunday roast with the family or extended family. Across the world, every individual fondly remembers at least one food item lovingly made by their mother or grandmother. Dig a little deeper and out come the memories of messing around in the kitchen helping your mother or grandmother to cook.

In March 2015, The Washington Post published an insightful article on the slow death of the home cooked meal in the United States. Three separate trends exemplified this decline across different economic strata of American society:

“Between the mid-1960s and late 2000s, low-income households went from eating at home 95 percent of the time to only 72 percent of the time, middle-income households when from eating at home 92 percent of the time to 69 percent of the time, and high-income households went from eating at home 88 percent of the time to only 65 percent of the time”

Here is the link to the article to those who are interested in diving in a bit more deeply:

One year earlier, i.e. in 2014, The Daily Mail published an article analysing the fact that the amount of time spent cooking in the United Kingdom, has halved since the 1980s. The article in full is here:

The above examples do highlight the strain on personal and household wallets due to the cost of eating outside, but this is not an economics essay or an attempt to paddle thoughts on savings strategies.

Fundamentally (and at a global level), we have started eating differently. 

This profound change has significantly impacted the fortunes of multiple industries, which has seemingly gone unnoticed in the crescendo of inconsequential things that our brains process every day.

Consider the following developments and their impact on industries that have anything / something to do with food:

  • Average time to cook the perfect Sunday roast is close to 2 hours or more (with some prep the previous night) while the average delivery time for an order through Deliveroo is around 32 minutes
  • ‘Recipe box’ brands have emerged and grown quickly – In the UK we have Marley Spoon, Tastesmiths, Farmison Meal Box, Riverford Organic, Hello Fresh, Simply Cook, Mindful Chef Paleo, The Spicery, Gousto and Abel & Cole. The positioning of all these brands (with some differences in the ingredients and range) is a solution for those who ‘love cooking but are time poor’
  • In India, a significant market in terms of food, ‘ready-to-eat’ foods have seen the highest growth rate
  • Millennials (a generalisation that I particularly dislike) are transforming the American food market by driving growth of snacking – consuming snacks in place of traditional meals (during traditional meal times)
  • The growth of ‘ready-to-eat’ food products is influencing flavour trends, which is also being fuelled by the fact that today’s consumer is generally more experimental towards trying out new cuisines and flavours

For the more curious souls, below is a link to a Schwartz + McCormick report on upcoming flavour trends:

Forbes carried an interesting column on how Millennial Moms went about and bought food to feed their families. Here is the link to the full article:

So to sum us up as individuals – We love to cook, but we are time poor, so we eat out or we use recipe boxes. We have increasingly started paying attention to the health & wellness characteristics of the food we eat, and are interested in sustainable sourcing of ingredients that go into making food. A dramatically opposite behaviour is our love for snacking, which has given the global snacking industry a major boost. On the top of all these trends, is our penchant for doing home deliveries, which has given rise to companies like Deliveroo and UberEats and has made the segment so attractive that even Amazon wants a share of the pie.

If the above is a complex behavioural profile of today’s consumer in terms of their engagement with food, brands have the following challenges to deliver against:

  • Introduce simplicity: If we are going to be increasingly time poor and work into our 70s, and have already started ordering recipe boxes to give our guilt-ridden souls some solace that we are still cooking, brands need to make our live easier

Why is this important for brands? Because the advent of recipe boxes and the home delivery juggernaut has reduced the number of decisions that we need to make to eat a meal. Brands have far fewer decision making opportunities to influence

Let’s illustrate this with the help of a personal favourite – the Thai Red Curry. It takes more than 2 hours to make the paste and more than an hour to make the curry. The red curry paste has more than 12 ingredients, which essentially is 12 specific decisions in a supermarket aisle. When you buy a branded curry paste, the number of decisions reduce to one and when you buy a recipe box the number of decisions required is actually zero.

The Guardian did a comprehensive taste test of some tomato ketchup brands in the UK and gave them ratings from the ‘best’ to the ‘worst’:

Honestly, we do not need complexity in deciding the brand of tomato ketchup to buy (and also avoid situations when we need to pull our hairs out on the format of the bottle).

The growth of ready-to-use spice mixes globally also underlies the fact that we want to take less decisions while preparing food and are happy to pass on decision-making responsibilities to the experts (or brands).

  • Become meal solutions: Food brands have higher chances of success when they position themselves as complete meal solutions rather than offering options for specific stages. This statement may sound vague but increasingly consumers want brands to be ‘one-stop’ shops, which is akin to supermarkets. If you conjure up the reasons behind why holiday packages (flights + hotels) continue to be popular, food brands that position themselves in similar ways enjoy higher appeal.

General Mills, with its strong association and heritage with food, launched a meal-solutions brand called The Good Table in the US in 2015. More recently (July 2016), Kraft Heinz extended their global masterbrands (Heinz and Kraft) into the meal solutions segment.

When Abel & Cole launched organic recipe boxes in the UK, they already had a strong legacy as an organic vegetables and fruits provider, so the extension was a natural fit

  • Revitalise attention spans: We now have attention spans lower than a goldfish. Also when we are eating, we remember to do every possible activity that you can do while eating. We have lots of conversations in our business breakfasts, working lunches and client dinners. At home, we manage to inundate our senses with stimuli by not doing one, but sometimes two to three activities while eating. We are now able to eat three meals in the same time as we should be spending eating one (ideally 20 minutes).

So what can brands do here, you may ask? Every difficult question is an opportunity in disguise. If we are in such a rush to eat our food, what can possibly make us stop? Our brains cannot process two things at the same time. So if you are watching Designated Survivor on Netflix and there is a moment of utter climax, at that very moment you won’t be able to savour the taste of the best wood-fired pizza even if it is in your hands. Branded experiences has become the new buzzword. There is a need now to creatively take these branded experiences to micro-moments or semi-micro ones (fit for when we are having a meal).

Some creative attempts have been made for outside-the-home food and drink experiences (more in the link below), but the real challenge is to make in-home meal experiences memorable. These are situations where brands have the least amount of control and only have the power to influence via past associations.

An eating occasion is now similar to a media exposure occasion – rushed, fragmented, distracted, too many motivations, equally large number of frustrations and generally with no measure of ROI.

So, how do you eat? How do you think you will be eating in 2-3 years time? I may as well write my next post on ‘How are we going to drink?’ and bring everything together.





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