This month’s F&B hotlist investigates the ways food plays a role in being kind to others, to ourselves and to the planet.
The correlation between food and kindness strengthens during the holiday season as the acts of giving, preparing and donating food capture the Christmas spirit.
Generosity through food
Food is intrinsically social and for many centuries has been used to bring people together. This is still true today and no more than during the festive season. For many UK families Christmas lunch plays a central role in the day’s festivities, following a morning often dedicated to preparation, family and friends then gather round the table to eat, share and converse. Cooking for others is an act filled with care, a simple way for individuals to share kindness through food. While much of the value in this comes from the personal act of cooking, organisations such as Syrian Supper Club can be facilitators of these acts of kindness. The not-for-profit invites people around the world to host dinners to raise money to aid the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Beyond our own kitchen tables, supermarkets are doing their bit and providing a platform for kindness, through donating food and money to charity. In-store Sainsburys have labelled products most valuable to food banks and for the second year running, come Christmas eve, Aldi will donate all unsold fresh food to local charities. Providing accessible donation points allows customers to get involved and donate goods too.
Brands such as Cadbury’s are using the Christmas period to spread messages of generosity and giving, its Secret Santa campaign allows customers to send anonymised chocolate gifts to loved ones. Despite well-intentioned campaigns from favourite big brands, this year has seen a rise in calls for more conscious consumption over the festive period.
Financial services companies VISA and American Express are both encouraging customers to shop locally with campaigns and rewards schemes during December. Customers’ increased awareness of the impact of their purchases will encourage holiday shoppers to look somewhere different for gifts this year. However independent businesses will still need to strive for affordability and convenience to win over budget-sensitive and last-minute shoppers.
Treating my body well
During the holiday season it is important to treat ourselves and not just those around us. The evolution of the simple advent calendar into a novelty, with wine, gin and cheese fillings, reflecting this desire to treat ourselves.
However, as wellness shows no signs of going away, now a $3.7tr industry (Welltodo, 2017), customers view food as a form of self-care and brands will strive to help customers achieve this guilt-free indulgence. As one in eight Britons are now vegetarian or vegan (Waitrose, 2018) Iceland has launched its meat-free Christmas campaign allowing customers to choose from a selection of meat-free products such as the ‘No Turkey Christmas Dinner’. Even Coca-Cola has centred its Christmas campaign around sugar-free Coke Zero, raising awareness of this alternative and with the hope the health-conscious consumer will buy into their brand.
With Christmas known as a time for over-indulgence, brands that provide healthy-alternatives will win with the health-conscious customer. However, it won’t all be brussels sprouts on the menu and the trick will be for food-brands to define their position in customers’ holiday celebrations, whether extravagant or healthful.
There is plenty more plastic in the sea (unfortunately)
The conscious consumer has evolved in 2018, customers expect brands to do the difficult leg work to make ethical and sustainable choices easier for them. Customers are looking at brands holistically, demanding good practice from the company’s internal culture through to its product ingredients and packaging.
This year BBC’s Blue Planet sparked a war on plastic, and momentum continues to grow globally. ‘Single-use’ has been named Collins Dictionary’s word of 2018, and 66% of UN Nations have now adopted legislation to regulate production, sale and use of plastic bags (UN, 2018). As customers voiced concerns around overuse of plastic brands were quick to react to this social issue, embracing customer feedback and changing product accordingly.
This affected all food players, from Morrisons’ simple gesture to remove unnecessary packaging on cucumbers to a growing number of zero-waste stores. Newly opened Bring Your Own asks customers to supply their own jars and bottles to fill with stock. This goes a lot further than the concept of taking your own plastic bag and emphasises the need for larger players to do more when it comes to cutting waste. Customers have even started taking political stances in supermarkets unwrapping produce at the cashier point and handing back the plastic. This emerging activist customer is demanding change and brands will need to adopt their own activist mindset on order to stay relevant.
Ecosystems – home to ingredients
Customers are looking at environmental impact throughout entire supply chains and increasingly scrutising the ingredients found in food. Iceland’s controversial Christmas advert showcased the impact palm oil deforestation has on biodiversity and ecosystems. The retailer complemented this with a pledge to remove all products that include palm oil and it has seen a 11 per cent increase in sales of its new palm-oil-free mince pies versus last year’s alternative (Campaign, 2018). Retailers taking action will be key to making sustainably-minded products accessible and affordable, as only then will widespread adoption of sustainable habits be possible.
Brands have started to look to science and new technologies to create more eco-conscious food options. Meat production is one of the largest emitters of carbon emissions, and meat substitutes from innovators such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are radidly growing in the US. This demand for meat-less ‘meat’ is expanding to new markets and Japanese producer Otsuka Foods has launches it’s first line of plant-based buger patties.
Acts of kindness will breed more acts of kindness. As food brands strive to stand out during the holiday season, there are many ways they can foster good faith. From supermarkets to supper clubs, brands can take a leading role, using their power and enabling customers to make good decisions for themselves, spreading the kindness further.