Keep It Fresh

Dave Ball
Account Director

March 31, 2021

Seemingly overnight, the declining sales and brand relevance of iconic CPG brands rebounded in light of the pandemic. Companies such as Conagra and General Mills experienced momentous growth as Millennial and Gen Z consumers started re-engaging and repurchasing the beloved brands of their parents.

Sean Connolly, the CEO of Conagra, remarked that the brands “clearly benefited from increased at-home eating in the fourth quarter… [and] many consumers tried our modernized products for the first time and then returned for more.” Jeff Harmening, the CEO of General Mills, echoed the sentiment by reporting, “The current environment presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to drive trial for our brands, and we’ve seen significant and broad-based increases in global household penetration.” As consumers become more accustomed to a predominantly quarantined lifestyle, companies must solve new challenges to maintain their growth while attracting new consumers. Whether it’s embracing meals at home or reaching out to local grocers, CPG brands have a huge opportunity to continually shape and redefine their relevance for the future.

One positive trend that looks like it is here to stay is the work-from-home model. Employees rose to the challenge and quickly demonstrated to their bosses that eliminating long commutes and endless meetings increased their productivity throughout the day. With more time at home, consumers also began embracing more homecooked meals. While cooking at home is often healthier than takeout, it’s also more time-intensive especially when juggling a job and managing a family. That said, CPG companies can step in and support consumers with a broad range of fast, healthy, and restaurant-inspired meals based on their iconic brands. Of course, innovation is nothing new for CPGs. As they successfully created the on-the-go (OTG) category, they can also pivot and create a steady stream of easy-to-prepare meals. Innovation can range from environmentally-friendly packaging structures to meal kits that cover at least three meals a day, as well as snacking, for the entire family.

“As consumers have become accustomed to a predominately quarantined lifestyle, companies must solve new challenges to maintain their growth while attracting new consumers. Whether it’s embracing meals at home or reaching out to local grocers, CPG brands have a huge opportunity to continually share and redefine their relevance for the future.”

While meal kits have already existed in DTC channels for quite some time, CPG brands can take them to the next level. It has been wonderful to see families sitting down and sharing a meal together. This is such a rich emotional experience, so what can brands do to become a trusted and valued part of it? I suggest reimagining meal kits by sorting them by complexity and prep time, so consumers can easily find what is right for them. For example, some meal kits could be labeled for kids which they can prepare on their own if their parents are working, whereas others can be cooked together as a family. Either way, it helps older kids learn independent cooking skills while building memories with their parents. On the other end of the spectrum, “expert” kits can be geared towards consumers with more sophisticated skills and palettes who may want an added challenge in the kitchen. Finally, QR codes on kits that link consumers to instructional videos from your corporate chefs provide an extra level of support and connection to your brand.

Beyond mealtimes, many families have also incorporated TikTok challenges and similar activities to spend time together. There is a huge opportunity for companies to create the same excitement through digital content while engaging younger consumers. For example, I can easily envision multi-generational families preparing their favorite recipes and then the kids jump in and add a quirky twist with ingredients like Jell-O, Miracle Whip or even a Unicorn Snack Pack. In fact, many consumers are already showcasing their favorite brands in TikTok videos, YouTube channels, or their food blogs. That being said, a digital engagement strategy would not need to be overly complex; but rather, it could begin with an outreach strategy to consumers who are already celebrating your brands online.

Alongside digital strategies, another way to sustain CPG growth is by leveraging the local with a grassroots approach. Independently-operated or ethnic grocery stores have a broader range of unique proteins and produce as well as richer customer relationships than a traditional big box retailer. A way to attract and engage this often-overlooked consumer base includes partnering with the local grocers who serve them. Find people in their neighborhoods who are willing to become your brand ambassadors and share recipes and cooking tips. Their credibility within their communities will drive trial and repeat purchase in retail environments as well as social media channels. With consumers on the whole looking for new experiences, these brand ambassadors can introduce them to ethnic or regional dishes they wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. While this approach can help CPG brands appear across more touchpoints and contexts, partnering with local grocers will also help store owners get back on their feet if they experienced hardships caused by the pandemic.


Last but not least, CPG brands must be authentic and find ways to give back to their communities. This more than anything will allow them to build a strong, trustworthy relationship with younger consumers. This is what they yearn for, and CPG brands can deliver. For example, I would like to see all of the major food companies and local grocers form a coalition committed to ending food deserts once and for all. As iconic CPG brands are primarily food brands, it is in their best interest, as well as a human right, to work towards giving everyone access to healthy and affordable food regardless of zip code. While big CPG companies sometimes have a bad rap, especially among Millennial and Gen Z consumers, eliminating food insecurity is such a crucial issue that can help reverse negative perceptions. In turn, consumers will become long-term consumers because they wish to support the brands that not only talk the talk, but walk the walk, of empathy, social justice, and acting on company values. Of course, it is impossible to predict what the future will bring, but I believe that supporting consumers in their kitchens, with building connections, and improving their communities is a recipe for future success.