Consumers See Food as an Identity

Not too long ago, gastronomy was at the crux of food culture and our views of different meals and cuisine. The millennial generation has risen to prominence and changed things drastically. Novelty trends such as digital marketing and other market-disrupting technologies have forced food to become something different.

Instead of remaining a habit, food has become an identity to each of us. How can something we observe and eat shortly after compose our character? The answer lies in a myriad of factors that made food identity an important trend for both foodies and restaurants and various food brands. Let’s take a look at what food identity really is.

The root of food identity

Throughout history, the only divisions related to food were personal wealth and place of residence. Different people ate differently and observed meals as something unique to particularly them. Nowadays, DIY homebrewers and passionate locavores have both started viewing food as a part of their character.

Perhaps the most apparent “culprit” of the food identity trend is food brands themselves. With the rise of digital advertising, brands started advertising more broadly. Every restaurant or brand wants to attract customers far from their neighborhood, not just locals. More and more brands adopted a voice, making it hard for new ideas to surface.

To be noticed, every brand decided to connect different foods and cuisines with different human character. Vegan cuisine became the trademark of modern, more “cultured” people. Brands advertise spicy food as “manly,” “challenging” and “only for the truly daring.” In this myriad of food identities, smaller brands have emerged as frontrunners. Why?

Self-expression is the key

Millennials and Gen-Zers are the first two generations that have connected food with self-expression. Teenagers and young adults look for brands that offer them a connection on a personal level. They see them as more authentic, mostly because of their effective targeting. Independent food brands aim to market their products as de facto character traits.

Why are brands with an “attitude” important to young consumers? This has a lot to deal with the fact that we’re living in the age of individualism. Every person is more outspoken than their ancestors and they want their voices to be heard. A rising number of personal “voices” directly leads to individuals feeling insecure and isolated. Thus, when they see a food brand that exemplifies their convictions, they embrace it and form a food identity.

Growing demands and authenticity

With more individual voices, food brands have different types of demands to cater to. These demands are not just related to food quality, taste and aesthetic appearance. Instead, food has become a powerful vessel of political and social convictions. Such views are traditionally more pronounced in young people, making them ideal targets for the wave of food identity.

The origin of food isn’t just a measure of quality – it’s an integral element of food identity for younger generations. They expect fresh and authentic products that abide by all the ethical laws one can think of. Organic farms, natural ingredients and biodegradable packaging are the three staples of most brands’ image.

A rise in awareness has led millennials to support smaller brands. They realize how important they are to the industry and as such, consumers aim to support small-scale production. Gen Z has a strong tendency to support brands with a deeply personal approach, strongly linking psychology and gastronomy.

Why these generations in particular?

Experts cite altruism and an egalitarian outlook on life and society as the main reasons. Younger generations care about important social issues. Due to this trend, brands must adopt such an identity if they want to survive.

The number of issues to take a stance on is growing with every day and this is reflected in many different meanings of the expression “food identity.”

It’s been proven that aiming these customer groups is the easiest way towards organic promotion. Remember, word of mouth is still the king of marketing. It may not drive the most traffic, but every customer trusts the advice of a person important to them.

Changes in the foodie community

Individualism, as previously mentioned, is also the source of ever-growing isolation. People are driven to care more about their own sense of success and worth. Millennials are choosing their careers and goals over marriage and some more integral human emotions. This creates a sense of emptiness and loneliness, which is exactly what brands are aiming at.

Young consumers are connected, but they’re also drifting apart. To fill the void, they indulge in food as an experience that brings them feelings of love and belonging. The rule of “general consensus” if slowly waning, leaving an open path to individual forms of food identity.

Psychologists have also explored this phenomenon. For the average millennial that splits between work, education, their social life and debts, food can bring that “warm and fuzzy feeling.”

It’s not a meal – it’s an experience

Food isn’t just a small ritual that we indulge in several times a day. Instead, it’s a foray into the world of different political and social stances. Psychology is at work here, as this is a classic example of the availability heuristic. Politically and socially conscious consumers surround themselves with brands and people that have the same “food identity.”

Thus, they are entering a codependent relationship with brands. When a brand, for instance, releases a provocative campaign, those who identify with the message will spend more money.

It goes far beyond stances, too. Young consumers want something different – they yearn for experiences. Memories are now the new currency because millennials are showing an interest in experiences over possessions.

Social media has a strong effect on food identity, too. Everything has to be aesthetically pleasing and fit for the daily Instagram post/story.

Concluding thoughts

Psychology and digitalization have turned food from an experience into an identity. However, a dualism has appeared, urging brands to create unique products to cater to younger consumers. It’s important to be different and take a stance, otherwise, your brand will blend in the silent majority.

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