What Mondelez Canada learned this year

From the C-Suite newsletter: President Martin Parent on what is shaping the CPG co.'s marketing and product innovation.

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By Martin Parent

2020 has been a challenging year for the grocery industry as we collectively navigate the COVID crisis to keep Canada’s food supply strong. Canadians are making fewer shopping trips and retailers are adjusting their operations to increase safety for their customers and employees. So it’s never been more important that we make sure shelves are stocked with the brands, products and formats that consumers are looking for.

To better respond to the evolving needs of consumers, companies will need to truly understand their motivations and behaviours.

Understanding today’s consumer

Early in the pandemic, at a time of uncertainty and isolation, Canadians were turning to familiar products that they know and love. As people consumed more comfort foods like soup, we also saw an increase in cracker sales. From adding crumbled Premium Plus crackers into soup to dunking an Oreo cookie into a glass of milk, Canadians reconnected with brands and rituals that made them feel happy, even reassured.

While COVID-19 case counts and public health guidance have fluctuated wildly over the last eight months, Canadians’ increased snacking behaviour has remained consistent. Our recently released second-annual global State of Snacking report, which surveyed Canadians in October, revealed that 39% of adults are still snacking more than they did before the pandemic. This number increases to nearly half among millennials and Gen Z. The survey also confirmed that comfort is currently the number-one driver of snacking, with 44% of Canadians buying “nostalgic brands from childhood” and 45% reaching for “snacks that bring back good memories.”

Canadians find comfort in (new) holiday rituals

As we prepared for Halloween and the festive season, we knew that these occasions would undoubtedly look very different from previous years. Easter 2020 gave us invaluable insights into how Canadians are adapting long-standing traditions to stay within public health guidelines. Rather than gathering in large groups, parents arranged smaller Easter egg hunts within their family bubbles, or gifted fewer, but larger, treats to their kids.

Mondelez pivoted at Halloween to ensure the right mix of products was on shelves so Canadians could adapt their celebrations. We anticipated that households were unlikely to see hundreds of trick-or-treaters, so we reduced production of our large-count bags of Halloween treats in favour of smaller counts of our most popular items. Additionally, with kids receiving less candy, we knew that some parents would opt to gift their kids larger treats, and full-sized chocolate bars would become part of Halloween purchasing.

Now, as we approach Christmas and other important holidays, fresh restrictions on travel and gatherings mean that people are reimagining long-standing traditions and will seek comfort in shared family moments. That has meant releasing yuletide products rooted in nostalgia, such as Oreo White Fudge Covered Cookies and Ritz snowflake crackers.

Additionally, while holidays are typically a time for gifting with friends and extended family, this year those activities will take place predominantly within single households. There, we saw an opportunity for retailers to make the most of larger formats, like the holiday-inspired Maynards Sour Patch Kids Red & Green introduced in sharable bags and theatre boxes.

Finally, we wanted to help Canadians make the most of their family time by developing simple and fun recipes shared on [our consumer-facing recipes website] snackworks.ca. In the weeks to come, you’ll see us working with social media influencers to promote these recipes and encourage new holiday family traditions. While this year’s seasonal celebrations may be smaller, they can still be special and meaningful.

What’s in store for 2021

Though uncertainties still lie ahead in 2021, we believe many of the new trends we’re observing – online shopping, a desire for comfort, a reconnection with beloved brands and new family traditions – will likely become part of our post-COVID “new normal.”

As an example, according to our State of Snacking data, the number of Canadians who said they shop for snacks online doubled during the pandemic (from 12% to 24%). But after the COVID risks subside, 18% said they still expect to continue with this new shopping behaviour. Overall, nearly two-thirds of Canadians say that COVID-19 will have a long-term impact on how we consume snacks as a society. Exactly when this pandemic will end is still unknown, but when it does, we don’t expect consumers to fully revert back to pre-pandemic routines.

Additionally, understanding that Canadians increasingly see snacking as a source of comfort and community won’t just impact our product decisions in the year ahead, it will also help us evolve how we engage with our consumers. Next year, you’ll see the consistent themes behind all of our marketing efforts tap into this new consumer mindset and be driven by empathy, purpose and real human connection.

Despite the many challenges of 2020, these unusual times have actually brought us closer to our consumers. The insights we’ve gained, as we continue to be there for Canadians, leaves us well-positioned to deliver the products and innovations that consumers are looking for, both today and in the future.

Martin Parent is president of Mondelez Canada. 

Image courtesy of Mondelez.