11th November 2020

Sanity break, anyone?

As we move from anytime, anywhere to always at home; how can brands gain a slice of our sanity breaks? asks Mike Foster, founder and creative director, Straight Forward.

In our Covid-shrunken world, horizons have diminished drastically, and perhaps irrevocably. The four walls of our homes have become venues for everything: the work commute, morning coffee, the lunch meeting, afternoon tea breaks, gym sessions, and weekend family time. And with online shopping leaving scarcely a reason to leave the house, mental health is high on the agenda for many companies keen to ensure their home-based workforce maintains its wellbeing.

Some, like PepsiCo, are so conscious of their employees’ need for short mental and physical breaks during the course of the working day, they’ve introduced a strict rule limiting all meetings to 45 minutes, in order to enable workers to move around, stretch, make a drink, or even dash to the local shop, before the next meeting zooms in.

Convenience store 7-Eleven leant quickly into this need, recognising the necessity for ‘sanity breaks’ as WFH becomes normalised, and the fatigue of the Covid situation sets in. The chain, using location and transaction-based data to analyse shoppers’ habits, has seen more customers shopping less frequently but buying more, and shifting away from morning towards afternoon visits. The retailer’s findings have helped it adapt product offerings and promotions according to customer demand, expanding its digital wallet and delivery services, and even opening a pop-up store inside a hospital in Dallas for medical workers.

WFH behaviour such as a refreshing mid-afternoon walk to the nearest local shop is being normalised and becoming part of daily routines, and in this way, new habits are being formed. Sales for the 47,000 UK convenience stores rose by 31% during the 12 weeks from lockdown to 12 July 2020 (Kantar), with consumers spending £131 on average, £24 more than last year. For the same period, overall grocery sales rose by 16.9%, the fastest growth rate since 1994.

For brands, gaining a share of the sanity break (and wallet) in this shrunken world is not going to be easy, but it can be done. Now is the time to spot new occasions their products can become part of. General Mills, for example, has seen a 50% increase in categories that it considers convenient meals, including meal kits, while HelloFresh has seen global sales grow a whopping 2,500% since 2014. Clearly, the pandemic has changed what people are shopping for, where they are shopping, and when.

Extra, often an impulse buy pre-work or meeting, took the opportunity to revive falling OOH gum sales by creating a link to associate its product with masks, now being worn by 70% of people outside the home (YouGov). The ads, featuring slogans such as ‘Mask Your Mask Breath’, made a strong case for the new essentials when leaving the house: keys, wallet, phone, plus mask and crucially: gum. But the dramatic reduction in consumer mobility has also prompted brand consolidation: Mondelez International plans to cut its SKU count by 25%.

Beyond 2021 and into the long term, Euromonitor predicts remote working becoming intrinsic to our way of life, leading to permanent shifts in shopping habits. With longer morning routines leading to more considered breakfasts, and financially savvy lunches eaten at home; home-cooking is now a kind of therapy, a way to get off screens, and a boost for immune systems. Where eat-in foodservice opportunities will be lost, snacks and pre-packaged food are likely to come to the fore, since consumers perceive packaging as providing a sense of security in a post-Covid world. And the charge towards online food shopping is expected to continue unabated, with already a 40% growth in global snack sales through e-commerce in 2020, versus a -4% global decline in snack sales at forecourt retailers.

Unilever has suffered here, having typically seen out-of-home ice cream sales decline by 50% or more when tourist and leisure destinations are closed due to lockdowns. Yet, like 7-Eleven, it has grabbed the opportunity to move towards consumers, with the launch of its ‘Make My Magnum’ home kit, available on Deliveroo.

Proof that, for those who are brave enough to lean into new consumer behaviour, there is salvation in innovation.