In the 7th grade, I worried about nuclear holocaust.

“The Day After” was screened as an “edu-tainment” lesson in junior high. My English teacher shared it to start a conversation about the value of our society. And a warning that we must take control to save the world.

Definitely not my favorite movie of the week.

But this movie scared the hell out of me. It put images in my tween mind that I could not forget. How could I stop anyone reaching for the launch keys?

Shall we play a game?

I would lie awake at night, worrying about something I had no control over. Would I see a mushroom cloud, out my window? Would the Russians destroy us, or would we destroy them first? Moves toward disarmament (and confidence in Ronnie) assuaged fears as the ’80s drew on, and we replaced that worry with more new worries.  Like famine in Africa.

It’s always something isn’t it. At least I could buy the single.

Folks, Gen Z’s mushroom cloud moment is happening right now.

Kids are scared. They already have a heightened awareness of man-made threats — global terror, school shooting lockdown drills, white vans with no windows, eco-anxiety and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch…

But nothing has heightened awareness of global threats to our way of life the way COVID-19 (coronavirus) has. And just like the mushroom clouds, we don’t have much control over this one, either.

Can we control anything to protect ourselves, post-COVID-19? To feel safer, to create trust in our own corners of the world?

Well it won’t be $109 sanitizer

For fun, let’s add to the complexity. This time, we have access to information that changes every second. Media leaves nothing unsaid or unnoticed. We have an infinite source of resources, and trouble sorting out which ones to trust.

We’ve been tracking the macro trend, Risk Aware, where consumers seek reassurance, new sources of trust, and clear markers that signal safe choices for ourselves, and our families.

We explored this theme on a trek in Washington, D.C. — the de facto home to public health, safety, and security. How are consumers finding transparency, authenticity, and building trust with their food and beverage experiences in this uncertain world?

Remember, consumers are hungry for anything that makes them feel they have exhibited greater control over their world.

Consider these questions for consumers who are searching for trust in their products and brands:

  1. How can we continue to infuse our product/brand with trust? 
  2. How can we signal greater transparency?
  3. What are the cues to authenticity, and how could we incorporate these messages into our brand positioning?

On our trek, we discovered five ways food and beverage purveyors are signaling trust, transparency, and authenticity:

  1. Be fearlessly authentic. Relationships and stories connected us with sincere authenticity. At Union Market, we experienced food and beverages from local business owners, farms, partners, and suppliers that we could meet face to face. Dosas with family favorite ingredients. Cubanos sandwiches featuring secret spice blends.

  2. Empower the consumer with knowledge. At Craft Kombucha, the fermented beverage is deliberately approachable. Anyone can get comfortable with these products, by way of scientific explanation, freely tasting all the products, or talking with a friendly proprietor. We found many examples where businesses were overly forthcoming with information. Clear language and signage created approachability and comfort.

  3. Plants are trusted friends. American institution Farmers and Distillers lean on the heritage of our founding farmer fathers, but they menued a few plant-based versions (I’m looking at you, Impossible Meatloaf!) to give us new ways to feel comforted by our beloved comfort foods.

  4. Hyper-regionalization implies authenticity. At Bourbon Coffee, this regional chain shares coffee sourced and flavors profiled from specific regions in Rwanda. At The Green Zone, craft cocktail recipes showed off Lebanese and Iraqi botanicals and seasonals, and plenty of non-alcoholic concoctions (with snarky political names).

  5. Colorful and clean label = transparent way to communicate “fresh”. Fresh is portrayed as a naturally colorful approach to clean label ingredients. At Fruitive, “fresh” is colorful, cold-pressed ready to drink juices and a broad menu with pro-health ingredients.

I wasn’t sure what we’d get out of this trek. Would we find new ideas, new illustrations of ways to feel safe and be trusted — or just the same old lists of “no-no’s”? 

Turns out, we captured an extensive list of ideas about how to incorporate greater trust in consumer products. We know the oldies — organic, non-GMO, free from’s, etc. Look to the future for increased focus on sustainability stories, infusions of natural colors, plant-based anythings, house-made, crafted, whole ingredients, kitchen ingredients, home-style preparations, culinary descriptors and more. And ultimately, products that make them feel good that they are impacting the world in a positive way. Just like buying that single.

It’s a complicated time. But, the impossible has been made possible before. I’m hopeful.

1 comment

  1. 1. How can we continue to infuse our product/brand with trust? – Givaudan has a strong heritage of Authentic products, like our Kitchen Ingredients, and a strong history of Authenticity testing. We have analytical equipment that can measure the molecular content to low PPB. We have other tests that can tell if someone added an artificial component into Vanillin and Benzaldehyde containing products.

    2. In most of our Natural Oils, Oleoresins and Botanical Extracts, there is a great story to tell. We make our product from easily understood production procedures, directly from the named botanical, like Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Tumeric and even Citrus. These Natural ingredients are the backbone of our business. We’re ‘as natural as a cup of coffee’.

    3. As Laurence says – we have many products that are ‘A story to tell and a flavor to sell’.

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