5 Ways Food Brands' Marketing is Changing 2021

Brand marketing is changing in 2021 – and this applies to every category under the sun. In this post, we’ll be showcasing a category that touches every consumer at some point – food. We’ll share five ways that a handful of popular food brands are adapting their marketing to accommodate shifting needs in our new normal – and winning market share in the process.

The top trends we have for you come to us from both major, established names and a couple of new upstarts on the block. We’ll explore how each is connecting with consumers, more specifically:

  • Steak-umm’s mastery of TikTok
  • McDonald’s skill at capturing “fan truth”
  • Not Co’s focus on sustainability
  • OddBox offering cooking tips for rescued food
  • And Ben & Jerry’s serving up social justice

2021 how AI works

Food Brands Standing Out from the Crowd

What does it take for a food brand to stand out these days? A good bit, as the competition online is fierce thanks to COVID. Accelerated digital transformation has made the online landscape crowded, but it has also driven innovation. And this reflected in advertising budgets. We see many companies, food brands included, committing to online advertising budget increases in 2021, with many branching out to new social channels:


Additionally, some places are claiming it will be the year of “sophisticated local advertising” to target consumers that are close by. Both approaches feel at least partially correct.

Brands will need to hyper-personalize their advertising to reach subsets, but they will not be restricted to local purchasers. Psychographic segments, where brands target consumers well beyond surface demographics, will be the name of the this online game. And brands will want to branch out to new social channels to do so.

And that strategic outreach will require social media analytics insight or they’ll waste resources at sporadic shots in the dark. We’ve seen record numbers of businesses fail this past year, because they missed key market indicators – so making every data and consumer touch point count will be essential.

And then a good number of food brands will want consumers to come and stop in to their local establishments . . . for the most part. Even those with in-person offerings have become hip to takeout as an essential part of their business.

And many food brands are direct-to-consumer. They’ll seek to attract those same consumers via messaging that brings them into their online stores only – and they’ll be competing with in-person places now. Fiercely.

Finally, we’ll also see another food sub-category that will offer direct-to-table delivery options, complete with cooking tips to encourage that behavior. This is a growing, and increasingly attractive trend to a significant (and potentially permanent) home-bound workforce. It’s something that both brick and mortar, as well as virtual brands, will want to keep a close eye on. We have examples of each of these categories below!

We can show you how to better understand what those fickle consumers want, as it will be different for each brand. Emulating successful tactics of others is okay to start out, but you need to carve out your own place online. Reach out for a demo and we’ll show you how!

1. Steak-umm Masters TikTok

TikTok was “the” social site for 2020 and that sentiment has carried over into 2021. Every category of brands, including food brands are marketing there for good reason. Here are some stats:

  • TikTok users spend more than 850 minutes per month on the app
  • 23% of US internet users have used or seen videos on TikTok
  • It’s the 2nd most popular iPhone app downloaded in 2020
  • Most popular overall app downloaded globally in 2020
  • Accessible in 154 countries

Steak-umm set the pace for its TikTok account in December of 2019, with this video:

@steakummSteak-umm has entered the chat #brand #youmade2019 #steakumm #viral #insidetheirhead #joker #jokerchallenge #new #beef #samebeef♬ Inside Their Head – TT remix

And they’ve been going strong ever since.

But their reach had exploded before then, with its “brilliant, bizarre voice of reason” that set the brand apart with its “Steak-umm Bless” account at the start of the pandemic. And that earned them credibility points when they had to ‘go dark’ for about a month, and pause their social sharing. People appreciated the honesty and integrity:

@steakummit’s been a crazy few months but we’ll be back to posting soon! steak-umm bless 🥩❤️ #beef #coronavirus #comeback #tweet♬ Pieces (Solo Piano Version) – Danilo Stankovic

And since then, they’ve come back even stronger, posting regularly on TikTok and amusing the masses with their antics. Conversation about the frozen beef sheets company speaks to its committed following:


 2. McDonald’s Captures “Fan Truth”

As McDonald’s recently shared with Adweek, its focus of late has been on “powerfully responding to—and creating—cultural moments (like the Travis Scott partnership), connecting with fans on their level and differentiating the brand voice in a time when many brands are striving for greater authenticity on social.”

Like Steak-umm, McDonalds is interacting with fans on TikTok as well. But unlike Steak-umm, which focused on humor and offering hard fact observations, McDonald’s TikTok seeks to amplify its followers voices – literally. It’s super new to the platform, but they’re already blowing it up with incredibly popular posts and consumer duets.

@mcdonaldstry not to get this song stuck in ur head challenge #mcdonalds #mcd #chickenmcnugget #frenchfry #duet♬ Chicken McNugget French Fry – McDonald’s

Is it working? Their stock price would say yes.


Their efforts are inclusive and committed to participating alongside their community. That commitment to consumer values speaks to a deeper understanding – one that our next three brands understand as well.

Communicating in Tandem with Consumer Values

Consumer values play a huge role in purchase decisions. They likely always have, but this past year we’ve seen that correlation explode. According to Gartners’ recent Consumer Trends Report, “the social justice movement that gathered momentum in 2020 has had a meaningful impact on consumer values in the U.S., including the emergence of a new No. 1 value. After a full decade atop the rankings of consumer values, loyalty has been displaced in 2020. Equality — ‘I strongly believe that all people should have equal opportunity and equal access in all areas of life’ — is now the value with which the highest number of U.S. consumers identify.”

And that’s not all. Consumers also want inclusion, diversity, and for brands to pay attention to the environment. As part of this ecological and values-based push, we see a growing prevalence of companies committing to one or all of these things – and with great success. The key here, of course, is for the brand to be genuinely committed to whatever call to action it promotes. Brands that just give lip service to a thing are called out online – loudly. There are many powerful emotions at play online when exploring “social justice.”


These next three food brands are getting it right.

 3. Not Co Makes Plant-based More Palatable

Not Co checks at least one of those boxes, if not more. Consumers are losing patience for meat. It’s a fact that many food manufacturers are coming to terms with and attempting to accommodate. And no, consumers aren’t necessarily becoming vegan – nor are they even really vegetarians. But they are increasingly seeking out plant-based alternatives and could be categorized as “vegan curious” or “flexitarians.”

Not Co was launched in 2015 and is a “Chilean food technology company making popular animal-based food products such as hamburgers, ice-cream and milk entirely from plants.” And the most remarkable part about this company is its AI, “Guiseppe. [This] algorithm, has a vast taxonomy of plant ingredients from which to find the ideal combinations that will recreate products at the molecular level to closely mimic the taste, texture and behaviour of existing meat and dairy foods.”

And when we explore the plant-based conversation, the top hashtag show consumers are increasingly motivated to try this approach. They want to do what they feel is right for the world, but aren’t necessarily opposed to doing away with the taste of meat.


This is a significant departure from vegetarian and vegan consumers, as they have no desire to have food the replicates meat – in any way. They find it repulsive. We see some of that conversation happening above as well, with “meat is murder” and calls to “end speciesism” but it’s not the loudest voice in the conversation . . . yet.

It will be important to monitor this conversation as to see if it’s growing or staying at approximately the same levels with the population overall. And to also monitor how passionate people are about it. Today’s flexitarians could be tomorrow’s super motivated and interactive vegans.

For now, when consumers aren’t feeling quite so vegan-curious, they can often be found dabbling in another favorite pastime – eating ‘rescued food’ to further the cause of sustainability! For this, we turn to another newcomer – OddBox.

4. OddBox Offers Cooking Tips for Rescued Food

Continuing on the sustainability theme, another change we’ve seen take place this past year is a marked increase in consumers cooking from home. It’s not like they had a choice really, but regardless – it’s a definite shift!

As the sustainability and home cooking paths converge, rescued food has registered on families’ radar. This is for both ecological and economical reasons. Money is tight and consumers are seeking ways to save. If a bruised banana means having lots of healthy options in the home, you can bet that’s the option families will lean into. Add to this the ability to reduce food waste and it’s a win-win all around.


Typical home delivery options can get pretty pricey though, so rescued food can come as a more budget-friendly approach. And if it isn’t ‘there’ yet, you can be sure that another competitor able to price this even more competitively will soon emerge.

Here’s why: “The global meal kit delivery services market size was valued at USD 7.60 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.8% from 2020 to 2027. Increasing preference for homemade meals among millennials is expected to be a major factor contributing to the growth of the market.” And you can be sure Gen Z will be following suit!

So, as a challenger brand in the sustainability space, and in the home food delivery space as well, OddBox has room to grow. And its focus on “rescued” makes it an attractive option.


And then we have the brand that has become almost as well known for its social justice advocacy as it is for its frosty treats – Ben & Jerry’s.

5. Ben & Jerry’s Serving Up Social Justice

Ben & Jerry’s have been social justice advocates since before it was cool to do so. To say they’re the real deal would be underselling it. Founded in 1978, the brand generates around $240 million annually. Its mission is three-pronged – social, product and economic:


Their entire process is focused on community prosperity and sustainability. They make ice cream, for sure – but the main thrust of its operations is/has been on making a difference. They’re an activist ice cream company. As we can see, the most popular hashtags associated with its brand have little to do with ice cream, overall – and lots to do with a variety of social justice issues:


As a result, they have a super engaged and loyal follower base, as well as a good number of detractors. But overall, it’s a valuable addition to the Unilever company, which has sustainability as a key part of its mission statement.

What does all of this tell you if you’re a food brand today? There are three key takeaways here:

  1. If you’re a brick and mortar store and have yet to consider online ordering or food pickups/drop-offs, you should really consider it. Customers appreciate having the option.
  2. Being on TikTok isn’t a make or break option, but it doesn’t hurt. Your most rabid fans are likely there and you can make them hungry for your content and your food with just a little bit of targeted social listening.
  3. And importantly: Even if you think your brand has nothing to do with cultural events happening today, you’re likely misjudging things. Consumers today want to see brands engaged in some way. They want to be sure that the place they’re buying things from, yes – even their food, shares the same values they do and backs those values up with action.

We can show you how to better understand what those fickle consumers want, as it will be different for each brand. Emulating successful tactics of others is okay to start out, but you need to carve out your own place online. Reach out for a demo and we’ll show you how!

2021 how AI works

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