We've come a long way since March, which is when the severity of the pandemic first came to fruition and many state governors responded by mandating a lockdown. In a matter of days, Americans across the country hit grocery stores to stockpile nonperishables and bunker down in their homes.
Unsurprisingly, among the most popular items to first fly off the shelves were comfort foods such as frozen boxes of mac and cheese and packaged cookies. It makes sense as to why so many people gravitated toward junk food—people were looking for something familiar at the onset of an unprecedented time.
However, what happens when some of your favorite snack foods and comfort meals start disappearing from grocery shelves due to supply chain issues? Do you then go and find a product that parallels it in flavor and texture from a rival brand, or do you choose another snack within the same brand? Before you answer these questions, though, it's important to identify why it is you like that snack or meal in the first place. The real question is this: Do you like the brand or do you just want a specific food that brand, and many others, sell?
While that question may seem trivial to you as the shopper, your answer is more important to food manufacturers than you may realize. As Americus Reed, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said in an interview with Adweek, the difference between brand loyalty and habit isn't always reflective in purchase data alone. To help explain the difference, he proposes an example of two customers buying Oreos at the store. Both Customer A and B buy the product often, however, Customer A has undeniable brand loyalty, with a collection of Oreo socks and pillows back at home as well as fond memories of eating the snack as a child. Customer B, on the other hand, just really enjoys cookies and has no attachment to the brand.
"The basket looks the same [and] the behavioral data looks the same, so you may misdiagnose [the latter consumer] as being loyal," Reed said to Adweek. "But the answer is you don't know. That's something marketers have been faced with for a very long time, so they've been pulled into the trap that repeat purchase is actually loyalty."
So now ask yourself this, do you identify with Customer A or Customer B? Once you make that connection, you'll have a stronger understanding of why you consistently buy that one guilty pleasure.
For more content on familiar foods and grocery stores, check out 50 Discontinued Groceries Everyone's Begging to Come Back.