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LTP has jumped on the La Croix phenomenon as an option to sugary sodas. Photo David Boylan
Columns Lick the Plate

Lick the Plate: A LTP sampling of current food and restaurant marketing trends

As a marketer by day, I am hyper aware of food, restaurant and beverage marketers’ efforts to promote their brands.

Like marketing in any category, there are campaigns executed so beautifully they can bring a tear to my eye and others that are so bad they will ensure I never buy that product or eat in that establishment.

Then there are the brands like LaCroix who have grown into the top selling sparkling water brand without the use of big budget ad campaigns.

Their success has spread organically primarily through social media like Instagram and good old-fashioned word of mouth.  For the first few decades that LaCroix sparkling water existed, the Midwesterners that drank it had it all to themselves. 

Long before the girls wearing “LaCroixs over boys” T-shirts this summer were even born, LaCroix was beloved by health-conscious, budget-wise folks in middle America who were weaning themselves off sugar laden “pop” as we call it.

But most trends trickle inward from the coasts to the Midwest —not the other way around — and so LaCroix’s first 30 years were spent under the radar.

That all changed in 2015 when LaCroix became a sensation.

Check the shopping carts next time you are at a local Target and there is a good chance it’s loaded up with several of LaCroix’s fabulous flavors. I’ll admit, I’m one of the converts and will take it over sugary soda most days.

Entertainment in food marketing is stepping up its game as well. Hamburger Helper recently dropped a decent five-track hip-hop mix tape called “Watch the Stove” that quickly became a viral hit this spring, snagging upwards of 4 million plays on SoundCloud in its first few days.

It made me think about the brand again and now there are a couple boxes in my cupboard waiting for a trip down memory lane to my youth when I consumed it weekly.

Being politically correct is still huge in food and restaurant marketing as evidenced by the huge radio and billboard campaign by Soup Plantation touting how they source a good chunk of their produce locally.

They don’t put out exact numbers but I’m quite sure the fact they are even saying it is having a positive effect on their bottom line.

Consumers are still asking if it’s cage-free, grass-fed, fair trade, non-GMO, sustainably raised and locally grown with bonus points for heirloom or ancient.

People are demanding more morally conscious, real food as brand packaging and advertising increasingly takes note. It’s gone beyond happy cows, for the California Milk Advisory Board, to U.K. retailer Waitrose live-streaming video of its supplier farms, which is just as pastoral as it sounds. 

The topic of food waste is being addressed on many fronts and that is a huge step in the right direction. Chains like Trader Joe’s are touting their donations to local shelters and soup kitchens as food waste makes national headlines.

There are estimates that about 40 percent of the food purchased in the U.S. each year goes uneaten, wasting $165 billion in money, water, labor and energy.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, with their ad agency and the Ad Council, addressed the problem in a PSA dubbed, “Save the Food,” that followed a strawberry from birth on the vine to sad, furry death in the back of the fridge.

As I write this, I have a half eaten container of strawberries shriveling up in my fridge. Guilty as charged and very effective marketing as I will make a conscious effort moving forward to purchase what I know I can consume.

I’ve noticed for the past few years interviewing kids for both my radio show and column that they’re are much more engaged in the culinary world.

Cooking has started to outpace youth sports in popularity and the Food Network has nearly a half-dozen kid competitions with the latest Kids BBQ Championship launched in May and FYI just kicked off the second season of Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown.

Fox’s successful Masterchef Junior, which just premiered its fifth season, has more adult-kid co-viewing than any other broadcast series on Friday nights. Another positive trend for the future in my opinion, anything that can bring families together is a good thing right?

And finally, look for retailers to continue combining food and fashion to lure consumers into their “lifestyle destinations.” Retailers like Urban Outfitters are mixing food and fashion with in-store restaurants to lure millennials, trying to give them something they can’t buy online, an authentic experience.

David Boylan is the founder of Artichoke Creative an Encinitas based integrated marketing firm. He also hosts Lick the Plate Radio that airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. on FM94/9, Easy 98.1, and KSON. Reach him at [email protected] or (858) 395-6905.