Comment: Food brands beware

Gimmicks won't fly with Generation Z. Today's young adults prioritize quality over clever branding, says Andrea Hernández.

Andrea Hernández is the founder of Snaxshot, a trend-forecasting company for the food-and-drink industry.

Following a decade of ‘blanding’, when online consumer brands all started looking the same – much like stumbling across a house of mirrors at a funfair – we are finally starting to see a much wider variety of warmer and more inviting visuals. Food and drinks brands, especially, are getting more creative. Alcohol brands are exquisitely adopting the design of perfume bottles, while the look of wax-dipped caps is moving from whisky and wine bottles to olive oil and hot sauce. 

It’s fun to see these aesthetics jump about, presenting regular products in a way we have yet to see them. But it’s also important to find the right balance. Unless your brand can promise a full synaesthetic experience, you may want to ensure you’re not all looks and no substance, because these days you might not get a second chance to impress. This is the case with Gen Z above any other demographic. As this group grows in purchasing power, the appeal of aesthetics over experience looks like it’s finally starting to wear thin. At long last. 

Fascinated with consumer insights, I look beyond aesthetics to see if consumers really think that what they are being sold is worth the hype. My company Snaxshot acts as a go-between for brands and consumers alike, pushing for more education around trends in the food-and-beverage industry and calling for more restraint from brands that prioritise branding over experience. We have an anonymous hotline, for example, where consumers can vent if they feel a brand failed to deliver. Submissions range from complaints around taste to customer service.

‘The appeal of aesthetics over experience looks like it’s finally starting to wear thin. At long last.’

I’m in my early 30s, and my generation has been promised Instagrammable health as well as the constant peddling of dried fruit as ‘vegan jerky’. Yet none of us has stopped to ask just where the madness ends. Sometimes it feels so ridiculous I joke that a drink isn’t functional unless it comes from the region of ‘La Fonction’ in France; and sometimes I think I should market myself on dating apps using the same messaging as an adaptogenic beverage: ‘Andrea Hernández – clean, sparkling, stress-balancing: a tropical infusion.’ I’m pretty sure it would secure me a few dates. 

It’s no surprise that aesthetically pleasing brands are attracting lots of attention on social media platforms such as Instagram, even if the product itself doesn’t deliver on what it (visually) promises. For example, we will continue to see things such as pantry staples gaining traction at a time when so many people are forced to stay indoors and lack the ability to share what they are doing in the outside world with their peers, whether that’s eating at their favourite restaurant or ordering an adaptogenic latte cafe. 

What I call ‘indoor signalling’ is here to stay. The young adult consumers of my generation have popularised the concept of posting pictures of expensive cereal to signal status to the point that Gen Z now mock us entirely for it. Consider a group of teenagers who planned to launch a brand called ‘Fuck Cereal’, price it at $25 a box and pair it with a fork for those who don’t like soggy spoonfuls. For me, this is proof that teenage consumers are getting a lot smarter in distinguishing what is real and what’s gimmicky. Brands beware.

This article was first published in Courier issue 40, April/May 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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