Rogue Report Episode 6

EATING IN TIMES OF CRISIS PART 2


In the 1997 film Life is Beautiful, a father, played by Roberto Benigni, hides the scary and stark realities of life from his son as they are both being held captive in a World War II concentration camp. He does so by creating a game. The father’s intention is not to dupe his son. He simply wants to help his son conserve his freedom anyway possible. In this case, it is gifting his son with a free mind.

As art imitates life, the idea of an imprisoned body but a free mind is a popular theme in culture. Remember when Braveheart screamed, “they may take my life but they may never take my freedom”? Or in Game of Thrones when Mance Rayder replied to Jon Snow – “The freedom to make my own mistakes was all I ever wanted”?


While we are lucky in that most of us are still in good health, and that the end of the confinement period appears near, the realities of the economy and the possibility of loved ones falling sick, do make for depressing thoughts. But as we have shown time after time, human beings are a resilient bunch. We are able to convince ourselves of numerous illusions in order to cope with just about any situation.

The quarantine period has revealed that some people turn to certain foods to keep their freedom of mind. Today we explore some of those examples as we ask ourselves what can we learn from food-related decisions during the Covid-19 quarantine.

Snacktalgia

Simply put, the roots of the word nostalgia come from the concept of returning home (nostos) and pain (algos). So it is fitting that as we are forced to be homebound, we turn to food, particularly snacks, that remind us of times when we were perhaps most snug at home – our childhoods.

Kraft Canada announced increasing demand for its peanut butter and for Kraft dinner – two comfort classics. According to some reports, sales in the soup category, another item that harks back to memories of being fed by mom or dad, have grown by over 350% compared to last year in the same period.

What does this mean for your brand?

This phenomenon also applies to categories outside of food. Streaming movie platforms have seen renewed interest for old classics, and Tiktok has been a flood with #MeAt20. Aside from the fact that it is one of the only new sports-related content these days, the Last Dance documentary featuring Michael Jordan, the quintessential 1990’s sports superstar, owes its surprising popularity to feelings of nostalgia for many viewers.

Consider what nostalgia-related attributes your brand or organization has that can help comfort consumers in trying times. It could be bringing back a retired flavour, past advertising, or even older packaging visuals.

Zoom Crunch

When Zoom first launched in 2011, who would have thought that it would be a go-to platform for friends to spend time together over drinks. The lockdown has forced many of us to find alternative ways to spend time with family and friends. Video chat platforms have provided a solution, well almost.

Whether after-work drinks, brunches, or over coffee, people are finding ways to connect over food. If you miss your favourite hangout, Doordash, the food delivery company, created a series of Zoom backgrounds from some popular chain restaurants such as Chili’s or Baskin-Robbins.

What does this mean for your brand?

Peanut, an app that helps connect mothers and those expecting, is hosting a virtual Mother’s Day brunch with celebrity mothers such as Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson. Post Malone live streamed a Nirvana tribute concert from his home to raise funds for the World Health Organization.

The rise of live-video chat platforms provides people with ways to connect with experts or celebrities in ways that sometimes go beyond the typical access they may have had using other social media. Consider what existing partnerships your brand can leverage through live video chats that help consumers feel closer to your brand or organization.

From shelf-reliance to self-reliance

With news of hoarding and empty grocery shelves, many have turned to ways they can become more self-reliant. There has been an increase in sales of chickens so even people in urban environments can have an ongoing supply of eggs. Others have raided seed supply companies in order to grow their own food.

Grocery stores have reported runs on yeast and flour as people have begun to bake their own bread. Many have even found the time to begin their own sourdough starter, an endeavour that requires daily attention.

So much attention that some bakeries have offered a sourdough starter babysitting service. A service that existed Pre-Covid but which might see increased interest Post-Covid.

What does this mean for your brand?

Even slight increases in feelings of control can actually lead to significant improvements in emotional well-being. Studies have shown that certain actions, including allowing nursing home residents to care for a plant, improved certain aspects of mental state. Hairstylists are creating videos to help their clients.

Consider ways that you can help people feel more in control of their environment. Provide easy-to-follow how-tos and instructions that might previously not have been available. And reconsider how your client service is trained so that they can help empower customers who might be in a pickle.

Mood food

During these heavy times, many people have turned to cannabis to help them relax and lighten their minds. In March 2020, Ontario reported a sales increase of 600%, while a third of Quebecers reported consuming more cannabis.

With coffee shops closed, and people no longer in work environments where coffee is sometimes supplied, significant increases in sales of coffee in grocery stores suggest that people are finding ways to get their caffeine fix. Some things may feel that they are out of our control, but we are quickly finding foods that help us adapt mentally as best as possible to our current situation.

What does this mean for your brand?

Many brands are finding ways to help ease the mental toll the Covid crisis is having on us. Headspace is giving away subscriptions to all L.A. county residents until the end of the year. Celebrities such as Lizzo are leading mindfulness activities through their social media channels. And companies like Sephora are creating ASMR content in an attempt to help consumers reduce anxiety.

Consider finding ways to help consumers relax. Include breathing exercises on communication channels on which consumers might be asked to wait. Provide uplifting content when possible, though always remembering to ensure a clear fit with the brand.

We all have different coping mechanisms to get us through tough times. Food is one. It is something we use to attempt to regain control when we perceive it might be lost. As the Greek stoic philosopher, Epictetus said,

FREEDOM IS THE ONLY WORTHY GOAL IN LIFE. IT IS WON BY DISREGARDING THINGS THAT LIE BEYOND OUR CONTROL.

If you can, please donate to your local food bank. As a thank-you for reading, the author of this piece donated to La Tablée des chefs, a Montreal-based organization that provides youth with culinary education and helps feed those who are most in need.