McCormick Is Adjusting Its Marketing to Embrace This Moment of At-Home Meals

The spice brand has debuted cooking shows and a Q&A during the pandemic

Mother cooking with baby
McCormick has benefited from more people cooking at home, but suffered from fewer people eating at restaurants. McCormick Spice
Headshot of Paul Hiebert

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With restaurants closed for dining in and the majority of Americans sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s ovens and stovetops are working overtime to generate a surge in home-cooked meals.

The current moment is proving both harmful and beneficial for McCormick & Co., maker of herbs, spices, seasonings and condiment brands, such as French’s and Frank’s RedHot. One on hand, it’s damaging in that about 20% of McCormick’s total revenue comes from sales to restaurants, which are struggling right now. On the other, McCormick’s consumer-facing business is thriving.

“It’s like a holiday times three,” said Jill Pratt, McCormick’s chief marketing excellence officer, highlighting the company’s recent increase in income from shoppers purchasing McCormick’s various products.

In recent weeks, McCormick has debuted several marketing initiatives to leverage this new normal and cater to the greater number of people making meals at home.

Noticing an increase in people’s questions about cooking at home, McCormick began a Q&A series inviting consumers to send questions to members of the company’s test kitchen through its website and social media channels. McCormick is also monitoring search results to see which questions it can answer indirectly. According to McCormick, the series received more than 300 inquiries in its first three days, with people asking for a wide range of advice, from instructions for baking their own bread to the meaning of “tbsp.”

Social media has become a testing ground for McCormick to quickly roll out new programs. On Facebook and Instagram, McCormick food stylist Rachel Miller and executive chef Kevan Vetter have begun hosting their own step-by-step cooking shows, filmed in their home kitchens.

“We’re just launching them out there and they’re having a great time,” Pratt said.

On Spotify, McCormick created three playlists to help set the mood while baking, cooking or preparing a weekend brunch. The company selected songs from consumer submissions.

Similar to other brands that have had to adjust their messaging amid the novel coronavirus, McCormick’s latest ad campaign, titled “It’s Gonna Be Great,” has also undergone careful scrutiny.

Making its debut in late February, prior to President Donald Trump declaring the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, the TV and digital campaign features families cooking and baking at home. The idea, Pratt explained, is that even if everything isn’t perfect along the way, the experience of cooking at home is about the time, love and care that goes into making a meal.

One narrative within the campaign involves a mother learning about her child’s school bake sale at the last second. McCormick decided to abandon a standalone version of this particular story designed for various digital channels, considering that most children aren’t in school at the moment.

Still, McCormick decided to keep the bake sale storyline within the main 30-second spot, “because we also think that there could be some desire for people to think about everyday life, too,” Pratt said.

Some creative has had to be dropped entirely. McCormick’s in-house marketing team also created content for Frank’s RedHot, a brand associated with sports, meant to run during March Madness. “That’s not going to see the light of day, obviously,” Pratt noted.

During a recent earnings call with analysts, Lawrence E. Kurzius, McCormick’s chairman, president and CEO, said the company’s brand marketing was a main driver of sales growth, and that it planned to increase its investment in marketing throughout the calendar year.

In many ways, COVID-19 has shifted society’s relationship to food. Companies have let go of treasured secrets, pivoted to new income streams, or even seen their business explode. Grocery delivery service Instacart, for example, has seen a spike in new customers. Fast-casual restaurant chains, such as Panera Bread, have begun selling grocery staples, such as bread, milk and fresh produce. DoubleTree by Hilton released its chocolate chip cookie recipe for anyone to bake at home.

Between March 11 and March 24, U.S. searches for “canned food recipes” on Pinterest rose 538% compared to the two weeks prior, according to company data provided to Adweek. Searches for “pantry meals,” meanwhile, increased 684%. Cooking websites, such as Meredith Corp.’s and Condé Nast’s Bon Appétit, are also experiencing a boost in traffic.

Last weekend, Minnesota-based Hormel Foods Corp., which owns brands such as Skippy and Spam, hosted a cooking show on Instagram Live. The event was part of Hormel’s Pantry Project, a new program developed in response to the coronavirus outbreak intended to help consumers put their pantry stockpiles to use.

McCormick’s website, which receives about 40 million visitors per year, has long featured a variety of recipes. With a recent lift in organic traffic and visitors spending more time on the website, Pratt said curating the right content has become more crucial.

“If you’re not going to soccer, the meal becomes the event for the night,” said Pratt. “So how can you make it interesting for everybody?”

And if McCormick’s catalogue of content doesn’t happen to contain a popular item that people are looking for?

“If we don’t have it, we’re making it,” Pratt said.

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@hiebertpaul Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.