How Branding is Evolving in the Food and Beverage Industry

Today’s ever-changing market makes the definition of a brand even more complicated. Is it a logo? Is it the packaging? Is it the company’s story? The customer’s experience with the product? Few are in agreement.

 

A brand encompasses much more than it did in the past. Let’s take a look at how branding has evolved and where it might lead for F&B.

What's in a Name?

It’s important to have some context to understand this paradigm shift. Until roughly the mid-nineties, commerce operated within the framework of the industrial age – when production shifted to factories. Branding did not have the same meaning as it does today. In fact, it was much more simple. A brand simply indicated ownership, just like a branded cow tells who it belongs to. Then technology came along and changed the game. It wasn’t until companies such as Coca-Cola demonstrated the power of a strong brand image and its effects on the company’s value.

 

Some of the most influential consumption tends that have forced major companies to reinvent the wheel include offering more health-conscious options, becoming transparent with their products, and interacting with consumers.

Healthier Options

According to a study from Beverage Digest, American soda consumption has fallen to the lowest levels since 1986, and consumer preferences are shifting towards sugar-free seltzers.

One shining example of how to continuously evolve a company yet remain constant is Coca-Cola.  The timeless brand has exemplified mastery of revamping old products into things that health-conscious consumers will want to drink.  Coca-Cola responded by renaming Diet Coke to Coke Zero and later to Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. They also began to offer drinks outside of the usual high sugar drinks such as Honest Tea, FUZE TEA, cold-pressed Suja juices and Fairlife ultra-filtered milk.  

Interestingly, PepsiCo has responded in a slightly different manner.  Their recent acquisition of SodaStream, costing the company $3.2 billion, shows they are shifting their focus from “diet soda,” to a new beverage option.  Their recent launch of Drinkfinity – a personalized beverage system that uses ingredient pods with a reusable vessel – aims to appeal to the consumer tendency of gravitating towards healthier beverage options.  According to the company, they are “setting out to redefine the way we drink, by building a global brand that connects the dots between wellness and versatility, while trying to balance the needs of both the people and the planet” (Beverage Daily).

But, watch out! Sometimes, rebranding to appease the consumer can take a wrong turn.   General Mills learned this lesson the hard way when they tried swapping artificial for natural colors in its Trix cereal in 2016.  The colors that customers were accused to did not look as bright nor vibrant with the natural food colorings. Customers voiced their opinion and eventually, General Mills brought back the original Trix cereal in addition to the more natural formula.

Transparency: a Key Ingredient.

The Hartman Group reported in their Sustainability Report that 69% of consumers want more information about a company’s personal, social, economic and environmental practices.

 

RXBar is a prime example of a brand who has taken this trend and run with it.  Their ingredients are listed on the front of the bar’s packaging in bold writing with “No BS” right under.  Talk about clear!

Engaging Social Media and Creating an Experience

Companies are moving beyond TV and magazine ads. Social media and actually experiencing something are what consumers want.

 

This past February, Lays Potato Chips brought smiles to all of their customers – literally.
The brand released specially designed bags featuring smiles to create a ripple effect of across the US. Customers are still happily engaging and posting their chips bag on social media.

 

Additionally, companies are increasingly using augmented reality. Combining the real world with a digital message allows brands to earn loyalty by providing surprising and delightful experiences. For example, Taco Bell has published a sombrero Snapchat filter. This is a fun and successful way to heighten discussion and awareness of the restaurant among patrons.

 

Lastly, Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign has returned for its fifth consecutive summer. The message behind this now iconic campaign focuses on sharing memories and can be saved thanks to the popular #ShareaCoke hashtag.

What’s next?

These timeless brands certainly know how to keep consumers on their toes and appeal to the latest fad. However, newer companies and products are penetrating the market with the ability to adapt faster.

 

With products such as Moon Cheese and Soylent, latest definition of what it means to be a brand may not seem so far away. The imminent 4th Industrial Revolution will mark new advancements in technology that fuse the physical and digital world. Factories will be filled with more robots than humans, and who knows, your next drink may be 3D printed.

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