For nearly everyone, the pandemic has been instructive as a disruptive force on a wide swath of habits ranging from shopping and spending to health and wellness practices. Of interest, consumer loyalty to brands, especially among food and beverage packaged goods, has also been undergoing significant change. 

On this topic, consulting firm McKinsey & Company recently described a “shattering of brand loyalty” occurring during the pandemic and elaborated on their observation:

“The pandemic ushered in an unprecedented level of channel switching and brand loyalty disruption. A whopping 75 percent of consumers tried new shopping behaviors, with many of them citing convenience and value. Fully 39 percent of them, mainly Gen Z and millennials, deserted trusted brands for new ones. That restlessness is reflected in the fact that many younger consumers say that they are still searching for brands that reflect their values.”

Our own insights just being released from our Brand Ambition: Food and Beverage Private Brands & Beyond report echo these observations and find that the position brands play in consumer food and beverages choices has shifted along with evolving food culture over time. According to Brand Ambition, U.S. consumers show a widespread, culturally driven reduced reliance on “brand” as an important factor in product selection in favor of increased attention given to attributes (e.g., ingredients, other information).

Iva Naffziger, Director, Marketing Research and Strategic Insights at The Hartman Group (and project lead on the report), commented, “This new attribute-driven selection process can be used by brands to construct a new and deeper type of loyalty once consumers have vetted a brand for the set of attributes they seek. We see this process encouraging them to return to the same brand because they know it will consistently deliver on their expectations.”

In terms of brand affinity, Brand Ambition finds that only three in ten shoppers say that “brand I love” is an important product selection factor. The report observes that while the specific product attributes that consumers evaluate vary from person to person, over two-thirds of consumers look for at least one attribute related to product quality, healthfulness, nutrition or purity when choosing which food and beverage product to buy.

Going forward, Brand Ambition notes that given the cultural shift away from brand dependency, both private brands and name brands are subject to many of the same pressures and constraints. The future of brands—the role that private and name brands can play—is up in the air now, with consumers relying less on brands to guide their choices and brands searching for ways to build loyalty among increasingly discerning and fragmented consumer groups.

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