Although the pandemic has brought great hardship to some sectors of the economy, such as hotels and restaurants, it has helped expand and accelerate others, like streaming services and food delivery.
The CPG industry falls squarely in the latter camp. In recent months, companies from Campbell’s to Smucker’s to Hormel Foods have reported an increase in sales following the rush to grocery stores to stock up on supplies.
For Brad Hiranaga, General Mills’ chief brand officer of North America, the moment has brought both opportunity and responsibility.
“As a company, we’ve [had] a purpose for a long time. It’s been about serving the world to make food that people love,” said Hiranaga during today’s virtual NewFronts while in conversation with Michael Kassan, founder, chairman and CEO of MediaLink. “Through the crisis, we had a rallying call that changed it slightly, that said we actually are serving the world by making food that people need.”
After taking a closer look at how consumers were changing their behaviors and altering their attitudes following the Covid-19 outbreak, Hiranaga said people became focused on the basics. Concerns over having access to and having enough money to pay for safe food, for example, rose to the top.
General Mills has attempted to address these issues by increasing its usefulness and adding value to people’s lives. With more people preparing meals at home, for instance, some brands are currently offering recipes.
“We’ve got brands like Betty Crocker that had taught people how to cook back in the 1950s and ’60s and ’70s, but now we actually have this new opportunity to teach the Gen Z population how to cook and how to bake—something that they weren’t necessarily equipped to do,” Hiranaga said.
It’s a marketing strategy other CPG companies have also employed.
McCormick & Co., for instance, has rolled out step-by-step cooking shows on Facebook and Instagram that feature employees. Danone partnered with celebrity chef Tom Colicchio to produce a series of cooking videos in which Colicchio shares tips to reduce food waste by including items found in the pantry.
In terms of ecommerce adoption, Hiranaga said all the barriers that once prevented people from shopping online before the outbreak have essentially disappeared, making ecommerce not just another channel, but a top priority.
“The huge opportunity right now is when people experience that for the first time, they realize how much easier it is to have things delivered right to their house or to go to the grocery store and pick them up without having to take their kids into the store,” Hiranaga said. “It’s been interesting for us as a food company, because I think we’ve lagged behind a lot of the other industries in ecommerce.”
General Mills is now dedicating a “ton more of our efforts to accelerate ecommerce,” he said.
Likewise, as more consumers have gone online to buy groceries, The J.M. Smucker Company has shifted more marketing dollars toward ecommerce and click-and-collect channels. Earlier this month, the company reported that its pure-play ecommerce sales grew by 66% in the quarter ending April 30.
General Mills is scheduled to release its fourth-quarter earnings results on July 1.