all Insights

6 Growth-Oriented Strategies for Food & Beverage Brands in 2023

End-of-year planning during uncertain economic times is scary for leaders in the food, beverage, and wellness categories. Marketers at multinationals are being told to “protect the core” — retreat, retrench, and ride it out.

But holiday sales results and signals from the Federal Reserve suggest that this recession isn’t gonna be deep and long. We have evidence from recent downturns that this is not the time to hole up in the basement. Instead, marketers should seize this opportunity to rebrand, reformulate, reposition, repackage, and rethink anything that isn’t defensibly different from the other players in their respective categories.

As your brand team looks ahead to the first quarter of 2023, here are six action items that should be on your to-do list.

Rebrand

Upgrade the promises you make and the way in which you keep them.

If you don’t have a solid strategic foundation for your brand, do not pass Go. Nothing else you do in 2023 will be effective without it.

Your brand’s WHY renders it recession-proof, pandemic-proof … anything-proof. Because when push comes to shove, all goods and services are commodities, even those that speak to vegans and busy moms and Keto followers.

Strategically well-positioned brands, though, aren’t commodities that a consumer can easily replace with something cheaper or newer. Beloved & Dominant brands are markers of personal identity and tribal association. So when something — like a supply chain outage or family budget crunch — disrupts how consumers choose what they buy, they’ll stick with Beloved & Dominant brands even if they’re more expensive or hard to find.

Why? Because the consumer likes the person she gets to be when she associates with the brand. She believes in what the brand stands for and feels good about connecting to its mission because it aligns with her own values. The fact that she likes the flavor or the ingredient list is a secondary consideration.

Redefine

Think about who your audience is — and could be.

Consumer behavior right now is a little confounding: The news cycle keeps harping on recession, yet people are still spending on stuff they really want. They’re back in stores big-time, and they’re looking for products and brands that help them feel good. In this climate, shoppers are open to trying new things, so you have a golden opportunity to gain new customers.

Your consumer research likely points backward, telling you who your current customers are and why they’ve bought in the past. Now is the time to look forward, using tools like a competitive audit to help you see who your future customer might be. Brand leaders often have a mistaken impression of their potential audience, failing to recognize that there’s a whole universe of people out there who could fall in love with your brand if you only spoke to them.

Reformulate

Look closely at what you’re making.

Supply chain outages two years ago likely forced you to examine your product lineup and make hard choices about the stuff you make and what you make it with. Now is the time to do this deliberately, not reactively.

Look at your ingredient deck. Is it time to get the gunk out — aim for fewer, better ingredients? Streamline your processing? Level up your sourcing? Look at your whole offering … what are you making that you shouldn’t, and what are you not making that you should?

This may translate to more cost, but it will also yield more defensible differences. When your brand — and therefore your whole innovation process — is tethered to a meaningful WHY, the ingredients you use become part of the promise you make and the way you keep it. Consumers who buy into your mission won’t trade down to competing brands with crappier ingredients.

Reposition

Expand the daylight between your brand and your competitors.

This tag-teams with your brand strategy. Positioning affects everything within and external to your organization: how you talk about the brand internally, with retail partners, with supply chain partners AND with consumers. It’s the expression of your value proposition, your reason for being, and your product offering. A focused position forces you to make deliberate choices about what you make, who you reach, and how you reach them.

Strong brand positioning builds a moat around the space you occupy in the consumer’s mind and increases the distance between you and your competitive set.

Repackage

Make sure you’re catching the consumer’s eye.

Often, we have to convince marketing leaders in the food/beverage/wellness space to pause for a beat before repackaging their product line. Brand strategy has to be rock solid before you go off tinkering with product photography and typefaces — every single time. Design always follows strategy.

But if you’re squared away on strategy (see above), then now’s a good time to refine or redesign your packaging system. Look at the whole of it: operations, fulfillment and shipping, the materials supply chain, costs, efficacy of packaging for different sales channels … and, of course, graphic design.

Rethink

Everything is on the table.

Don’t fall prey to the old-school mode of thinking about how to run a consumer product business during an economic downturn. “Conventional wisdom” (note the air quotes) says to kill your ad campaigns, slash expenses, protect the core. But there’s enough evidence to convince us that the leaders who play the long game win every time. Think of opportunity, not retrenching.

The challenge may be to convince your entire organization to embrace a forward-thinking mindset at this time. You’ll need others to help you calculate risk, come up with bold ideas, and power through.

The only thing guaranteed in life and business is change. You can be on the receiving end or participate in it, take action or feel like a victim, make it happen or feel like it’s happening to you.

Your opportunity now is to think boldly and act bravely in a time of uncertainty. If you don’t make smart moves, other brands will. We all need to get comfortable with discomfort because it’s a safe bet that there’ll be another disruption to our business sooner or later. Positioning your brand solidly now means you’ll be on better footing no matter what happens.We’re bullish on 2023. We believe in brands on a mission. And we can help you take full advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead. Let’s talk about your plans for the coming year.

Top Insights

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David