Food & Beverage: 6 best practice for surviving the crisis

09 December 2020Reading time: 6 min.

The Horeca sector, in this second phase of the pandemic, is feeling the strain of new restrictions on food and beverage consumption in public. Among limitations and closures, safety measures, and unmistakable changes in consumer habits, let’s now take a look at some tips to strategically and effectively cope with the crisis.

COVID-19 impacts on the Food & Beverage sector

Upon reaching the end of this anomalous year, we can say that 2020 definitely won’t be pleasantly remembered by companies in the Food & Beverage sector.

The Horeca sector is undoubtedly one of the main victims of this unprecedented crisis. This stems from the pandemic’s first wave, which resulted in total closures imposed last spring. Then there was the adoption of all hygienic precautions in order to adapt to both the new safety regulations in the reopening phase, as well as this most recent phase of infections. The pandemic is bringing one of the most important sectors to its knees, important not only for the Italian economy but also for the labor market. Over 300,000 companies and almost 1.5 million workers have been forced to close their premises and cope by using new strategies that were, in some cases, already in place but not really tried out. 

The impacts of the pandemic are not limited to the economic sphere. They are also affecting society considerably: consumer habits are changing and this will most likely become an integral part of the new normal.

Specifically, we are witnessing two trends:

  • the digitalization of the food, drink, and meal shopping experience with an unprecedented growth in demand for takeout and online shopping services. According to Google Trends, the “takeaway” search term had a 285% increase at the beginning of March. Even more, website visits and food delivery applications went up by 39% in Italy. An AlixPartners survey showed that 34% of Italian consumers ordered their groceries online, either more often or for the first time, and 19% used in-store pickup service. 43% of Italians now buy food and beverages online.
  • the rediscovery of traditional home cooking, partly linked to wanting to save and partly to more time spent at home. According to the research conducted by AMC Global during the pandemic’s first months, 89% of consumers think that cooking is less expensive while 40% intend to cut their budget and save on food consumption. Overall, 43% of Italians cook at home more often now than before the lockdown. 

We’ve tried to share a series of best practices for the Horeca sector to respond to the crisis. The most effective campaigns from the first lockdown inspired us. So here are our 6 tips for readjusting your digital strategy. 

1. Invest in home experiences

Optimize and promote takeout services 

Whether you’re a restaurant, a pastry shop, a fast food place, or a cocktail bar, you can’t keep your customers and your service while distancing—except through takeout. If you’ve never done it before, now’s the time! 

People who had never tried shopping online before and who weren’t used to ordering takeout found themselves visiting supermarket websites and downloading food delivery apps. They started discovering the convenience and immediacy of shopping online. This means that it’s essential for companies in this sector to grasp the new purchasing behaviors and direct their strategies toward a single goal: provide an increasingly digital customer experience

Home deliveries have multiplied since the first months of the lockdown. Bars have brought cocktail kits into customers’ homes or have made it possible to comfortably enjoy an aperitif at home with all the supplies you need. 

Eateries that had already offered takeout responded by making the service faster and safer with door-to-door deliveries and contactless payments. Those who had never delivered anything before had to implement the service, and landed online for the first time. In this regard, companies that had never entered the takeout world met interesting solidarity initiatives within the sector. For example, Deliveroo created a web section to share advice and guidelines for restaurateurs in dealing with the emergency, and Zomato made its platform free from any commission for all restaurants. 

Consumers’ shopping habits have also changed: more and more people are appreciating the benefits of home delivery or in-store pickup services and online shopping. To cope with this surge, many companies have boosted their e-commerce sites, warehouses, and order and shipping management systems to optimize the online shopping experience. Amazon, for example, improved its existing online shopping service. To meet the expectations of an increasingly demanding audience, it promoted home delivery of groceries in just 2 hours through a special campaign

Essentially, in order to survive the new normal, Food & Beverage companies can’t ignore the increasing need to digitize the shopping experience by:

  • implementing home delivery and in-store pickup services 
  • implementing/optimizing an e-commerce or collaborating with numerous delivery apps 
  • improving their own order and delivery management system 
  • redesigning menus and recipes in light of home consumption 
  • orienting customer communication toward an increasingly virtual customer experience  

Create virtual experiences and content 

Takeout isn’t the only way to create a digital customer experience. 

With their traditional services blocked, many companies have reinvented themselves by creating virtual content for keeping the link between their users active and creating engagement. 

Many companies in the sector have shown all their creative spirit through cooking lessons, video recipes of their special dishes, tutorials, user-generated content, and virtual events

For example, Pietro Leeman, owner of the starred restaurant Joia, has devised a way to keep in touch with his customers. He moved to Skype where he offers his free cooking lessons, typically for students of the Joia Academy.

The idea of Instagram meetings with the starred chef, Massimo Bottura, also emerged from the pandemic. His mini-cooking courses taught his community how to prepare his cuisine recipes. 

Meanwhile, by harnessing the potential of user-generated content to create engagement, 

the #FoodLoveStories campaign by the English supermarket chain, Tesco, went viral with users sharing recipes. The company has re-posted the recipes on its website, linking ingredients right to its e-commerce. This way, it integrated the community’s direct involvement to create engagement with the incentive of generating e-commerce conversions. 

These are just a few examples of how you can create a digital experience—not only by bringing your services online but also by offering forms of virtual entertainment. These matter for filling the physical absence and strengthening relationships with your audience, despite distance. 

2. Encourage conversions through discounts and promotions

The crisis has changed consumer habits in terms of both digital purchasing methods and a greater propensity to save on and cut consumption. 

A simple yet effective way to incentivize the purchase is by promoting discounts and gifts. Want to increase conversions? Then communicate your promotions, introduce discount codes for first-time online orders, activate free shipping, or use cashback solutions

Most companies have implemented this type of best practice to encourage purchases among customers. Many supermarkets, for example, have adopted this strategy by offering free online shopping home deliveries for those over 65. 

Basically, discounts are a simple yet winning trend when it comes to incentivizing the purchase. Further, discounts and free shipping show your willingness to help your audience by helping them as much as possible during this crisis. 

3. Raise your audience’s awareness about sector solidarity and support 

Another way to encourage purchases is a communication strategy that leverages the need for support and help from the sector. This is done in the name of solidarity with all Horeca workers in difficulty. Messages of this type certainly represent an effective strategy. In fact, they speak to the heart of users and directly tap into their sensitivity, generating empathy. 

A top example is Burger King’s solidarity campaign that immediately went viral. The company shocked the Internet with the tweet: “Order from McDonald’s”. Breaking down barriers with competitors, this encouraged consumers to support every worker in the sector. Their purchase then becomes an important and valuable symbolic gesture. 

order from mcdonald's bk campaign

Source: Burger King UK

Messages of solidarity and requests for help like this not only leverage the feeling of consumers by adding importance and social responsibility to the purchase but also contribute to consolidating your company’s reputation. It transmits a brand image focused on the common good, rather than mere profits.  

You can also design communications to get support from your customers and focus on solidarity. Put your employees first, and express how much work and effort are behind your brand. Knowing exactly what you put into your best service each day and how many people are involved during this time of crisis can raise awareness among your customers, thus incentivizing their support for you. 

Another way to request support for your brand and—more generally—the industry, is through charitable initiatives. Companies in this sector, despite difficulties, didn’t spare themselves in emergency aid and support initiatives: some offered to help doctors and nurses through free meals or gave donations; others offered to cover home expenses for the elderly, and many more have included food and beverage on their menus where the profits go to hospitals. 

One example is the “A Brera as a friend” initiative from Birra Brera. During the first lockdown, this Milanese craft brewery offered two beers for 5 euros, offering one through a voucher for a friend. Revenue from these sales were donated to the Italian Red Cross. 

Speaking of beverages, Nastro Azzurro launched a crowdfunding initiative called #ABEERFORTOMORROW to support the staff of Italian bars and pizzerias through a symbolic donation of a virtual beer. 

Similar initiatives are more than just an admirable gesture of social responsibility—they’re an incentive to buy and support the sector: consumers will be much more encouraged to order food and beverages where the profits go to support the most needy. Consumers will become sensitized and made more aware of how a simple purchase on their part can make a difference and translate into real help. 

4. Work on brand awareness to remind customers that you’re there

During the lockdown, several campaigns focused on brand consolidation. Many brands have tried to bridge the gap by simply trying to remind others that they’re there without losing an audience. Burger King has used its social campaigns, just like this, through very simple messages 

burger king covid campaign

or by combining the indirect promotion of its products with the message, “I stay home”, so that the public can cook well-known dishes for themselves. 

burger king le whopper de la quarantine

The Aperol Spritz campaign also follows this trend. Through Twitter, it invited users to indulge in the famous cocktail recipe at home without having to go to the bar. This initiative tuned into brand awareness while encouraging the community to stay home. 

aperol spritz covid campaign

Source: Aperol Spritz

5. Focus your communications on hygiene and safety 

Being able to communicate that your customer can have a totally safe return to your tables will be essential both for when the current restrictions lift and in the post-COVID-19 future. 

Personal health will be a top priority—even in the new normal. 

Trusting the hygiene and health compliance of restaurants and bars will be key in users’ choices. Zomato has shown this, highlighting a stark increase in attention toward reviews on hygienic conditions within the guide. Companies with high safety scores reported a 25% increase on orders placed through the app

Therefore, communicating to customers all the hygiene measures you have put in place has become a must. This will add to your image as a serious and responsible company while reassuring your audience, boosting their trust, and encouraging a return

mcdonald's safety measures covid campaign

The many campaigns of companies that promote apps for ordering food with a totally contactless Order & Pay service follow this direction. Starbucks‘ campaign, for example, communicates the possibility of once again tasting your frappuccino in complete safety by paying online with no need for contact. 

Communicate all your security measures clearly and transparently on your website through a COVID-19 landing page. This should provide all the information on available services (no-contact door-to-door home delivery, apps for ordering and in-store pickup without paying, no signature upon payment, etc.), on your hygiene rules, your hours, and where you can be found—both physically and online. You can communicate this information in your email campaigns, text messages, and on your social media channels to ensure all your customers know that your company is safe. 

6. Rediscover the importance of the local community

Consumers have rediscovered their neighborhoods and what’s closest to their homes because of the pandemic’s mobility restrictions. A greater importance of the local community is also found in the Food & Beverage sector: 28% of Italians buy local and artisanal food products after the lockdown, while 38% of consumers say they want to support local companies in the sector once the pandemic is over.  

If the local community is an integral part of your business, then rediscover its value with a communication strategy designed just for this type of audience: send targeted communications to your local customers; make them aware of your hours, services, and promotions, and go back to using the “old school” flyers with your takeout menu and all the useful details. 

Conclusions

Food & Beverage is undoubtedly one of the most at-risk sectors among those affected by COVID-19. Restrictions severely limit companies in both their capability and scope. They are reinventing themselves to react not only to the crisis but also to an unexpected change in consumer habits and preferences. 

Digitization of the customer experience; promotions; requests for solidarity and sector support; brand awareness; safety, and return to the local dimension are, in our opinion, the 6 keys to survive the crisis and adapt to the new normal. 

This article was written by

Paola Bergamini

Paola Bergamini

I was born in 1993 in Como and I escaped from this little town to study in Milan, where I graduated in 2017 in philosophy. I've always been interested in marketing and communication and I love writing and reading. As Content Editor at MailUp, I try to keep up to date with Email and Digital Marketing news, in order to share trends, theories and tools about this constantly evolving sector.

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