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The coronavirus effect has led to a seismic shift in consumer behaviour over the last few months. But the very nature of the food industry is that demand is constantly evolving. So how can you adjust to meet demand post-COVID-19 while still staying true to your brand culture?
Putting customers first
Customers have always driven change in the industry, and it’s often what leads to new products and services. But COVID-19 has certainly shed light on the importance of being able to adapt.
“In F&B, you can’t not put customer behaviour front and centre of how you evolve your product, and the experience you’re looking to provide,” Joe Munns, CEO and founder of baking subscription service BakedIn, says. “What COVID-19 has done is show just how rapidly customer behaviour can change, which means you always need to be thinking that step ahead when it comes to adapting a product offer, how you redefine it, how you make it better, even how you tell a different story around it.”
Being flexible throughout lockdown has been key for many retailers that adjusted to meet demand, and this could still be key moving forward as coronavirus changes consumer habits.
Arun Kapil, founder of Green Saffron, adds that coronavirus has led to many customers “pressing pause”. What we’re now seeing is people focused on the necessities, and seeking out comfort during a time that’s still uncertain for many.
So what do customers really want? Well, that’s the million dollar question, as Arun says.
“Reassurance, integrity, responsibility, the confidence to believe tempered with comfort, the need ‘to let go’ once in a while, and to be happy,” Arun says. “How to inspire and deliver this in spades to our customers is the key. The extra time most have had has afforded the opportunity to question habits. How we interact with the planet, how we treat ourselves and one another has made many want to drive change. The challenge for brands and F&B establishments now is to find how to best cater to these new, reinvigorated needs.”
That said, some needs will always stay the same, as Joe says. At the end of the day, customers essentially want a great product, great customer service and a trusted experience. Customers care more now about provenance and sustainability, too, so many brands and retailers may be looking to focus on ethically sourced and local products as much as possible.
Remember that your employees are a huge part of the customer journey, so their wants are also worth considering, Nick Coleman of Start-up Logistics says: “The future of work will have changed for good post-COVID-19, so for our head office team, having proven they can work remotely, we’ll really be looking at what our workplace looks like in terms of flexibility and remote-working. Employees inform your brand’s culture at every stage so it’s always been a non-negotiable for us to get this right.”
Keeping in touch with your customer base is essential for identifying customer needs and informing future strategies.
“Creating brand advocacy from within our community is what has powered the growth of our subscription business,” Joe says. “We have a Facebook group of over 5,000 super-active members, who share ideas, inspiration and support. We chat, poll and collaborate with our customers so they know they’re truly part of the BakedIn brand and family. It’s on the back of customer feedback that we developed the concept for our next major product launch.”
Arun adds that staying engaged with partners and friends within the F&B community is equally as important. Monitor buying patterns and products or services being trialled. Even if this is in a different category than your own, it could be tweaked to fit your business.