Outside the box

Food and drink in the new norm

On the whole, coffee is not humanity’s biggest concern right now. But like many other seemingly trivial industries, food and drink was taken for granted until our access to it became limited. Consumption of food and drink is one of the few pleasures we are still being afforded in our restricted society. Our treats now feel like treasures, and the essentials have returned to their deserved superhero status; dried pasta and flour sales now towering over impulse buys. The rules for success in the food and drink world are being re-written and fickle marketing techniques alone can no longer prop up a food product that serves little purpose.

The fate of food and drink cannot be detached from the recurring moral question of this era: “what is essential and what is non-essential?” What we considered essential 2 months ago could now be very much non-essential. “It’s essential I check in on my elderly relative during this lonely time” would not have received much backlash in February, but weirdly our desensitized selves can easily tell you that is definitely not essential now. It is now expected of us to recognise what is essential for ourselves and for the greater good. This has already translated into consumer decisions, and I think will continue to shape the way we will buy, eat and drink. We’ve learned to responsibly shop online for groceries. We’ve put aside time for learning how to prepare food and drink. And most importantly we give time to appreciate what’s going inside our bodies. There is a deeper appreciation for food and drink at every stage. Months ago, busy workers were cramming down meal deal sandwiches before rushing back to the office. These same people are comparing home-made sourdough loaves over Instagram. The people who were ordering their morning coffees whilst on the phone and chugging it down on the tube, are now asking us for brewing methods, or finally getting round to buying a box of Solo.

Whilst it would be inappropriate to say I’m thrilled, I am pleased that the humble food and drink industry has been given a bigger stage. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been flipped. Our physiological needs are our main concern and we are finding pleasure in the most modest ingredients. Functionality reigns supreme. With people recognising their true staples on a furloughed budget, the unnecessary goes out the window, and the ridiculous become, well, more ridiculous. Single serve cash burners are left on the shelves. Bad news for Deliciously Ella’s protein balls, but good news for us.

Coffee serves for many, an important function. And for some, one they can’t live without. But beyond caffeine’s very real function, we’re learning that good coffee has it’s own level of necessity. A café style coffee is essential for a huge amount of people. Within days of lockdown, people were messaging us to say how thankful they were that they could still have access to great coffee. We managed to get coverage in usually untouchable magazines, simply because satisfying craving coffee pangs is now deemed essential. No doubt barista’s tip jars will fill much quicker when cafés reopen.

This isn’t us saying “I told you so”, but it is solidifying our business proposal. We have always put coffee on the pedestal it deserves. Simply because we personally depend on it. We always thought fighting for an impulse decision on a crowded supermarket shelf was a waste of our time. Single serve is unsustainable and its obsolescence is now poking its head round the corner. Our packaging is unorthodox, and our selling points aren’t loudly listed. We are sure of our product and we’ve never felt the need to force it on people. Our purpose and reason is clear, but for many, it’s taken a pandemic to realise the product’s value. But not just our product. Food and drink products that have a true purpose and offer a better solution will now prevail. The playing field has been somewhat leveled. The meaningful start ups will adapt quicker than the stale conglomerates. The frauds will be exposed and customers will become more discerning. To quote Warren Buffett “only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”