Food and beverage is an emotional business marketed in a sea of analytical messages…

The Supreme Importance of the Table

Roadmap to successful food and beverage brand consumer engagement

You’re about to participate in a test. If you are involved in shaping food product or retail marketing, this will help uncover your true point of view on the path to engagement with consumers.

Please read the statement below:

“We taste with our hearts when we receive the gift of someone’s cooking. Cooking for family and friends allows us to celebrate their presence and helps keep them close. Shared food creates shared memories. The times spent in the kitchen and at the table are among the most meaningful moments in life.”

- Chef Michael Chiarello

  • How do you react to the above statement; did it make you feel something?
  • Did it conjure up a memory or two when food was the centerpiece of a great day? Perhaps a special social occasion surrounded by family and friends? Or evoke nostalgic thoughts of a loved one?

Food is a sensory, human experience — just like music. Where the first few chords of a favorite old song take you back to a specific time and place — and the people who shared that moment with you. Food’s sensory cues — aromas, tastes, even textures, can find you right back in grandma’s kitchen or a holiday meal or that ‘best dinner ever’ made with friends.

Food, by definition, is an emotionally engaging subject — and an emotionally driven category. Ironically, a significant amount of the communication coming from food and beverage businesses is decidedly analytical these days — touting certain ingredients like natural sweeteners or declaring what’s not included like GMOs or artificial anything. Important facts to know to be sure. Proof points, if you will, about the integrity or healthfulness of the product.

That said, if we take a beat and think for a moment about the goal of actual engagement and consumption of brand messaging, what is more powerful? A recap of protein and sugar gram percentages or the emotional cues, sensory experiences and even sensory enjoyment of eating, and the social connection that food creates?

There may be an inexorable pull for food brand communication to be inwardly focused on self-reverential and product-centric recitations of amazing food tech, high-quality ingredients, formulas and related benefits. After all, it’s the job of marketing to present the product in its most flattering light, right?

Yes, but we suggest doing so differently.

We go back to the statement above and consider its implications. The word delicious, for example, triggers a moment of anticipation that something remarkable and satisfying will happen.

Indeed food is social and an enabler of conversation and connection between people. Further, it is a source of creative expression for those who find being in the kitchen not a chore but a highly invigorating and esteem-worthy endeavor. The product of that time, energy and care becomes more than sustenance. It is a collective gift from the heart to all who share in its goodness.

While it may seem intuitive that marketing strategies should be product forward and benefit centric, we may inadvertently miss the opportunity for real connection at an entirely different and deeper level. Simply said, it is our experience with food, flavor and preparation that ignites romance in our hearts.

If food is an outward expression of how we see our lives and what we want people to believe about us, shouldn’t this be reflected in how we go to market? Purchases are largely symbolic now and motivated by belief as much as they are the need for quality fuel.

At Emergent, we characterize this kind of consumer insight as Table Strategy, a topic we got into recently.

  • Sensory experts tell us we eat with our eyes and taste with our noses.
  • Food keeps us healthy and whole.
  • It contributes to our longevity.
  • Food is an enjoyable experience, most of the time .
  • It feeds our lifestyle interests and energizes our work life.
  • And, food is a common thread in our social and family relationships.

We express the love we have for our four-legged family members by feeding them the best diets we can find. And even here, you see pet food packaging overloaded with information that’s not terribly far away from that of a fertilizer bag. Heavy sigh.

Shouldn’t food brand and retail communication spring first from our experiences and memories at the table?

The facts and percentages and ingredient stories remain important, and become validation of why the decision to buy should stick. However, the lead dog in this messaging pack should be anchored in the emotional resonance of food experiences.

People are inexplicably drawn to brands that reflect beliefs, values and lifestyle interests. Inspiration for the marketing strategy should follow…

Bon appétit!