Business and Operations
Trends and opportunities
By Naomi Szeben
How to market your bakery in the shifting, pandemic market
By Naomi Szeben
On Sept. 22, 2021, Jo-Ann McArthur of Nourish Food Marketing spoke about “The Future of Food” at a seminar organized by the County of Simcoe (Ontario) Economic Development. McArthur explored some of the ways that food entrepreneurs, bakers and those interested in developing snack foods can market their product for the “New Normal.”
The future of food is changing and the food industry is looking for more ways to connect with customers. While the pandemic had stopped or slowed down indoor dining, the talk explored trends and opportunities that have emerged. One such opportunity was the focus on “eating local,” for both ingredients and the eateries that serve local produce.
“You need to highlight local,” McArthur recommends. She suggests bakeries “call out” this feature by means of posters, labels, and social media. “Don’t assume your consumers know. If you’re using local [ingredients] give them a story, give them a face. Romance them, give them a provenance. And again, call out those things that are local year-round as well, such as mushrooms.”
To enhance or “romance” the local element of your food is to tell the story of its origin, describe its flavour, give a face to the chef who prepared the meal. Social media is a wonderful way to share food stories that highlight the details of ingredients beyond a video or photograph.
“You have to remember, we eat with our eyes first,” says McArthur, citing Sobeys’ pots of fresh herbs as an example of promoting local produce. “The smells of those herbs, the sight of them growing…I think it’s about $5, but it’s great theatre,” she adds about the drama of a fresh pot of herbs sold as an ingredient, and potentially as a houseplant in the produce aisle. Pots of fresh herbs can be a useful countertop impulse-purchase display, or part of a meal kit for pizza. Providing a pot of fresh herbs as a garnish for a take-home pizza or as a gift with purchase can be a great local incentive.
Reach out to development managers
Meal kits and snack boxes are not limited to operations that want to boost local producers or ingredients: McArthur recommends connecting with grocery stores to sell frozen versions of baked goods, like pizza or buns in the frozen food aisle, or half-prepared ingredients as a meal kit.
“We’re seeing more and more national grocery chains supporting local suppliers,” McArthur stresses. She cites examples of signage, like “Foodland Ontario” or “locally made” as a measure of quality. Using the word “local” as a marketing tool elevates house-made specialities or regional favourites in the eyes of potential customers.
“Chains like Sobeys actually created local development managers to go out and they’re on the road trying to find suppliers – like yourselves – and regional growers that they can bring into their grocery store. This is a really big chain change for grocery stores: they used to all be about a central distribution point and national . . . but now, they’ve seen that they were losing out on this local trend.”
Curated meal kits
McArthur observes that pandemic meal kits have fallen slightly out of favour. The food industry has seen some of the big players in the U.S., such as Munchery and Fit Food Fresh, declare bankruptcy. Enter “meal kit 2.0,” which involves grocery stores getting involved with meal kits. Offering a more standardized prizing than subscription models that use referrals and discount codes to generate subscriptions, grocery meal kits are accessible but not necessarily more affordable. “One thing we’re seeing is that middle market getting squeezed, but then there are these high-end restaurant meal kits, that are ‘chef-inspired,’ ‘chef curated.’ ” McArthur recommends putting your chef’s name on the box, and curating an entire meal. She recommends not limiting it to lunch or dinner, either: Snack boxes and breakfast boxes offer families and brunch gatherings creative kit options, as well.
One of the things Canadians are most interested in is more information, she says. “Flavours that are plant based and more ethically sourced, and local labels would fit right in there as well.”
How can a bakery operation market snack boxes or find an occasion to fit their product? McArthur mentions online events or using existing sporting events as sure bets. “Netflix and Chill occasion boxes, Stanley Cup parties – these are all things that consumers are going to be looking for as ways of elevating and supporting that experience.” Alcohol is a big part of that and shouldn’t be dismissed. Offering to add a six pack to the Stanley Cup snack box or a small bottle of bubbly for a brunch box are opportunities that can enhance a meal kit, thanks to alcohol restrictions being lifted during the pandemic. “You can now curate a whole meal of food with beverage pairings as well, so that’s a great thing to leverage.” McArthur suggests looking at curating boxes as a way of solving meal-time dilemmas or anticipating problems and offering a solution. “You can help consumers continue to manage their weight and their resiliency, eating for health, plant-based baking, or just celebrate decadently.”
A problem with meal kits is the use of single-use plastics and the waste it generates. Sustainable foods or environmentally friendly menus are gaining popularity, particularly among millennials, gen Z, those under 35, as they align their buying decisions with their values.
“Earth Day is now every day. You really have to bake that into your business,” McArthur advises. Finding compostable or recyclable containers are a way to support your clients’ desire to lighten their carbon footprint. She admits that the decline of single-use plastics took a pause during the pandemic, as from a safety standpoint they had to be used. “But consumers are going to be looking at that going forward, and it’s going to come back with a vengeance,” promises McArthur.
A good workaround may be finding local producers of paper straws and compostable cutlery, or working with reusable, zero-waste packaging companies such as Loop or Suppli.
In short, using local and sustainable ingredients is one way of highlighting your specialities, and don’t be shy to approach grocery stores or farmers markets with boxes that showcase your passion.