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Our Hartman Retainer Services team keeps an ever watchful eye on the happenings occurring in the world of food and beverage to help our clients make sense of the consumer landscape by getting to the all-important why behind consumer behavior.

Here’s a sampling of our latest thinking on recent news stories that are shaping consumer and business behaviors.


It Is Essential for Food Retailers to Take Care of Their Essential Workers

The Washington Post reported that while most retailers have eliminated COVID-19 hazard pay, the stresses of being an essential worker during the ongoing pandemic have not lessened. According to the Post, morale among many grocery store employees is bottoming out, citing reports of incidents where people quit mid-shift as many of these employees have been tasked with enforcing mask rules with sometimes hostile customers — without better pay and while being put at greater risk of infection.

HRS POV: With the grocery retail sector being one of the most visible—and visibly successful — industries in the COVID-19 pandemic, it is in the best interest of retailers to maintain employee satisfaction and safety. This is perhaps best achieved by presenting a unified front with employees in the face of unreasonable customers and by taking proactive measures to ensure that employees feel they have buy-in with corporate policies related to the pandemic. When it comes down to it, a healthy, knowledgeable, efficient, and trustworthy cadre of employees is the cornerstone of any successful retailer, and continued employee dissatisfaction will quickly translate to escalated consumer dissatisfaction.

Food Sampling Reimagined

Remember when grazing on food samples at Costco was a national pastime? The coronavirus pandemic has erased in-store sampling, sending brands in search of alternatives. Before COVID-19, small and emerging brands often relied on sampling and product demos to attract interest, educate consumers, and demonstrate viability to retailers. Alternatives are out there, but they come at additional costs with return on investment uncertain. So, what’s a brand to do? According to an article in Eater, a number of retailers have switched to “dry” demos, where consumers can pick up a packaged sample to take home and try while still learning about the product from a live representative.

HRS POV: Pivoting from in-person sampling to “dry” demos and increased digital communication represents yet another way in which the pandemic is reshaping how consumers engage with food. As many brands shift their marketing budgets toward digital strategies as alternative cost-effective ways to target consumers, they risk sacrificing some of the relationship-building benefits that the product demo approach has provided in the past.

Digital marketers are continually honing their ability to create a sense of intimacy with consumers through online storytelling. But because online communication cannot offer the persuasive experience of tasting and touching a new product, we will likely continue to see brands experiment with strategies for product trial that align with current safety concerns and require limited up-front investment.


Beyond Organic: The Next Evolution of Claims Related to Transparency?

The Guardian reported on a new peer-reviewed study that measured pesticide levels in the body and found that switching to an organic diet decreased levels of Roundup’s toxic main ingredient, glyphosate, by 70% in just six days.

According to the article, while food residues often fall within levels regulators consider safe, even governmental scientists have made it clear that U.S. regulations have not kept pace with the latest science, not taking into account, for example, the compounding effects of daily exposure or differing risk levels at different times and conditions in life.

HRS POV: This study may help bolster consumer interest and demand for the next evolution of claims related to transparency, including “regeneratively farmed” and “glyphosate free.” Reports about the harmful effects of pesticides — with glyphosate as the most prominent villain — and the different approaches between the U.S. and Europe toward regulating them are likely to be read as continued indictments of a food system that is harmful to personal, social, and environmental well-being. Hartman Group’s Organic and Beyond 2020 report finds that while current mainstream concerns around food are often expressed through demand for organic (along with non-GMO, sustainability, and animal welfare), there is rising awareness about and interest in food grown through alternative farming methods that go beyond organic. Companies certainly have opportunities to continue to expand access to organic products, but future consumer expectations and demand are likely to look beyond organic for stronger reassurances of safety and health.

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