PPB September 2022

Gooey Goodness In early 2021, a popular cheese nearly vanished from grocery store shelves after a pasta recipe went viral on TikTok. The feta-tomato pasta requires cherry red tomatoes roasted in oil and a big block of cheese. At the time, The Charlotte Observer reported “finding a block of feta cheese is like a ‘golden ticket’ in Charlotte right now,” thanks to the popular recipe. Last year, the top food-related search on Google was baked feta pasta, according to a report from global market research firmMintel. But feta wasn’t the only cheese on the block. Americans’ total cheese consumption grew 3% in 2021. Consumers are craving cheese. This familiar favorite is a decadent treat to be paired with fruits, meats and other flavors. The ever-popular charcuterie board rose to cultural phenomenon in the pandemic. The array of cured meats and cheeses altered restaurant menus, social gatherings and eating habits. But the simplicity and versatility of cheese is what makes it so popular. In uncertain times, people rely on comfort foods like grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza and mac & cheese. Promo pros can be certain a food gift will never be too cheesy. Consumers want convenience, new dishes, cost savings and simple ways to make impressive meals to share with family and friends. Social media has set a new food standard for consumers. The same goes for food gifts. Recipients want a thoughtful, tasty experience and won’t settle for anything less. To Emily Dunnigan, account executive at Minnesota-based distributor Quality Resource Group, food is a gift giving love language. She says, “It creates a familial sense of care and community between yourself and your recipients. It shows care and thoughtfulness. Instead of the staying power of a physical item, food gifts are successful because of the emotional connection they can create between the brand and its audience.” COVID-19 led to a boom in food gifting. In 2020 and 2021, food gifting became a practical and comforting way for families, friends and companies to connect with someone who can’t be visited in person. For Dunnigan, the best food gifts are anything but cookie cutter. She says, “I have many types of favorites because my goal is to create signature food gifting items for each brand partner I have. I rarely gravitate to a food item that feels store bought and mass produced. I look for the unique gems with a homemade feel that bring with them a sense of nostalgia and make taste buds happy.” People also used food gifts to pamper themselves. According to a 2021 survey, 69% of consumers purchased food gifts for themselves compared to 67% of consumers who purchased food gifts for others. Paula Wygnoik, MAS, president of Michigan-based distributor Competitive Edge, says there are two ways to create unforgettable food gifting. “Either beautifully packaged and decadent that says, ‘You are special…we value and appreciate you,’ or clever and humorous that says, 'We are creative. How can we help you deliver an unexpected experience for your employees and customers?' When gifting food, Dunnigan says consistency matters. “Find the food gift items that work for you and then stick with them. I like to think of food gift items as a perpetual program. Set it up right and there is no shelf life for the program. Think of a family member or friend that has a signature dish that you love. Every time you get together, you hope they bring it and can’t wait to have it again. “I take that approach with finding a food item that can resonate the same way with clients and their recipients. I want to create that signature food item experience between our client and their recipients. They receive it, they love it and they want more of it is the approach to take with food.” | SEPTEMBER 2022 | 55 GROW