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Consumers expect interactive, individualistic and hassle-free products following pandemic ‘reset’ [Interview]

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Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviour is critical for brands looking to position themselves in the post-pandemic world. Mike Hughes, Head of Research and Insight at FMCG Gurus, discusses what consumers really want, and how food and beverage companies can deliver.
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The past 12 months have not been easy for anyone. Lockdowns, working from home and becoming unemployed are just some of the factors that have obliged people to take a step back and re-evaluate their lives.

“To put life on pause for a year has been a major thing,” says Mike Hughes, Head of Research and Insight at FMCG Gurus. “This reset is something that brands need to react to. They need to understand that consumers are becoming more demanding, more interactive and more interested in brands that reflect individualism.”

Hughes and his team will examine these insights during their presentations at Fi Global CONNECT Regions in the Spotlight.

“We have seven presentations in all, focusing on regional trends,” he says. “We want to show how top trends manifest in consumer behaviour. We’ll also identify both generic trends, and how these trends differ on a regional basis. For example, brands need to take into account the political, economic, social and cultural differences.”

What consumers want

One clear impact of the pandemic across the board has been a reinvigorated focus on health.

“This is not necessarily just about consumers being worried about the virus,” says Hughes. “Rather, it reflects this opportunity that people have had to take a step back and say to themselves: ‘my lifestyle or diet is not as healthy as it could be.’ People have taken the pandemic as a wake-up call.”

Drilling deeper into this theme, Hughes notes that it is not enough for brands to just meet this perceived health need.

“They need to be seen as being responsive, while not over-promising,” he explains. “Consumers are already sceptical about health and wellness brands in general. Rather, what is important is to show your target consumer that you are taking the hassle out of healthy living for them.”

The bottom line is that consumers still associate diets with compromise and sacrifice. At a time of stress and uncertainty, we all want escapism and pleasure. The way that brands can facilitate healthy living, therefore, is to take the effort out of it and make it easier for the consumer to feel good about themselves.

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Getting it right

“A great example of this is the protein market,” says Hughes. “The average person couldn’t tell you how much protein is in their diet, or if they consume enough, but protein is now seen as fun, cool and aspirational. It is trendy and perceived as a lifestyle choice.”

The same is true for plant-based products. The growth of flexitarianism is in part due to this desire to appear altruistic in the age of social media, where self-expression is critically important.

“When a product is positioned like this, it becomes aspirational,” says Hughes. “It no longer becomes a health obligation, but something that is cool.”

Other sectors are positioning their brands as something consumers would want to be associated with and are re-evaluating their market positioning to better reflect modern consumer attitudes. For instance, the beer industry has developed more responsible-based marketing that focuses on the environment, to tap into the concerns of the next generation of beer drinkers.

This underlines the fact that even the biggest brands can no longer rely on heritage alone.

“Consumers also want interactivity with their brands,” says Hughes. “I think we will see more and more direct access between brand and consumer.”

Hughes hopes that attendees to his presentations will leave with a clearer understanding of what consumers across regions are really thinking. He points out that our aspirations often clash with actual behaviour; for example, we want to live sustainable lives, but forget to recycle; we want to eat healthily, but obesity rates remain sky high.

“We are driven by the need for excitement,” Hughes says.

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