Preparing for a Pandemic Fall

Robyn Carter, The Food Institute Podcast, Jump Rope Innovation, COVID-19, CPG, Retailers

Robyn Carter, founder and CEO of Jump Rope Innovation (JRI), joined the Food Institute Podcast to discuss consumer perceptions and desires during the pandemic.

With the back-to-school season in full swing, and Halloween, Thanksgiving, and winter holiday season approaching, Carter noted CPG companies can show consumers new ways of enjoying their favorite holidays. Additionally, they have an opportunity to help families as they continue to redefine their daily lives.

“Nostalgia is going to be a very important piece of the holiday season,” she said. “So I think we’re going to see more adult interaction in Halloween…we’re also going to see more online experiences for these holidays.”

New Family Dynamics with Back-to-School

Whether school districts use in-person, virtual, or a hybrid model for the school year, Carter noted certain trends that became evident during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic would likely continue into the fall.

Bulk packages made up of single-serve snacks would be incredibly important for families both working and learning at home, while simple-to-make products would be useful for families with high school-aged families. This need for convenience is attractive to these busy families during the day, but an interesting trend emerged during the start of lockdown, too.

JRI’s research found families were enjoying eating dinner together during lockdown, a dynamic that was fading from an every-day activity before COVID-19 due to busy schedules. Carter noted that all members of the family reported enjoying the family mealtime.

“That was really interesting learning for us in talking to moms and teens…we heard the same sentiment echoed: Everyone really enjoys sitting down at the table together to have a family meal,” she said regarding the unusual trend.

Consumers Will Focus on Healthy, Nutritious Products

Carter noted CPG companies have an opportunity to meet the health needs of consumers in the pandemic by providing items with nutritious attributes. Items with a legacy of immunity-boosting properties, like vitamin C, can catch the eye of consumers.

“So when we talk about health claims and things that consumers are doing for themselves to enhance their health, what we often look at is, ‘In me, on me, around me.’ And that’s sort of the prioritization in the consumers’ minds…so I think products that offer immune support are going to be very important,” Carter said.

She also mentioned a mental health aspect worth focusing on. CPG companies could incorporate adaptogens, a select group of herbs (and some mushrooms) that help the body’s natural ability to deal with stress, in their product portfolios.

Carter projected products featuring adaptogens would likely become more important over the next few years, with JRI’s research showing consumers were interested in the products.

Value Extends Beyond Price Before and During Pandemic

Carter argued value extended beyond price and had for a long time, and that CPG companies could create experiential aspects of their products to increase desirability. These shared experiences could prolong an enjoyable time for families during a period of high stress. Products that were interactive, story-driven, or linked to an online aspect would provide families with much-needed diversions.

“We’re limited in our experiences. Going to the store is something people enjoy, especially at a time when there isn’t so much necessarily to do,” said Carter. “I think retailers will need to think hard about ways to ensure safety, but also to provide a fun experience.”

One opportunity retailers can capitalize on is providing meal kits or packaged sets of food products to cook into meals. Shared experiences like these also reinforce the earlier notion that families are enjoying mealtime together.