Advice on Culinary Marketing During a Recession

If we had to create a 2023 motto for marketers, it would be something to the tune of:

Doing more, with less.

And, truly, isn’t that the prevailing cultural philosophy during unpredictable economic times? The difference for marketing professionals is that the expectations on you don’t change, even as budgets contract. In fact, it’s probably quite the opposite: The pressure on you and your team to hit targets, meet goals and expand your reach is likely to only grow.

We hear this from our clients every day. There is a potential economic recession on the horizon, and brands are beginning to shrink — or in some cases, freeze — their marketing budgets.

Many branding and marketing experts, including us, agree that this impulse is misguided. (Psst: The Harvard Business Review agrees). Unstable market conditions, including recessions, are actually prime opportunities for culinary brands to connect with existing fans and capture new audiences.  

We’re going to break down why that is, and we’ll share some hard-won advice gained from working side-by-side with culinary marketers in the trenches:

Food Brands Are Recession-Proof

When everyday people start to feel the effects of an economic downturn, they begin cooking at home more often. According to Reuters, during the 2008 financial crisis in the US, visits to U.S. restaurants rose a mere 0.2 percent, the weakest numbers since the recession of 2002-2003. And the USDA Economic Research Service reports that, “the share of adults visiting a sit-down restaurant once or more on an average day showed a clear decline beginning in early 2007, perhaps precipitated by the financial crisis and resulting consumer uncertainty.”

The long and short of it is that as more consumers shift their behaviors to cooking at home, they will be looking to their trusted brands for approachable recipes, cooking hacks and trend inspiration.

Investing in a professional food content studio like Dish Works and using free platforms like social media to expand organic reach to your audiences is a no brainer. Double down on affordable recipe ideas and your customer base will thank you.

Focus on a Brighter Future

We can look to the past to find examples of brands that froze budgets and then didn’t recover as quickly when the economy eventually bounced back. Historically, brands that engage with their audience, and meet them where they are, found increased sales.

An old-school example of this is Betty Crocker, the fictional brand mascot created by the The Washburn Crosby Company in 1921. Instead of retiring her during the Great Depression, the brand gave her more visibility, supplying the homemakers she was modeled after with cooking and housekeeping advice. Thus, the brand established invaluable trust and connections with its customers (who were also responsible for all of the food shopping decisions in the household).

During the 2008 recession, Del Monte Foods enjoyed a big comeback story. Under the leadership of its first CMO, Bill Pearce, the company saw a massive turnaround, rebounding from a loss of $10.1 million to a profit of $58.6 million in Q1. This was largely in part to Pearce’s vision to use effective marketing campaigns, including memorable consumer-facing campaigns, to drive the brand forward. 

This quote from Pearce says it all:

“Don’t scale back spending. The old way of dealing with a recession was to slash and burn head count, marketing, and capital investment. But companies that do that are likely to be out of business in five years. Now is not the time for across-the-board cuts.” — Bill Pearce, CMO, Del Monte Foods

It’s Time to Get Creative

We get it: All of this doesn’t change the fact that culinary brand marketing teams are in a tight spot right now. So, it’s time to get creative and innovative, to stay agile and, yes, do less with more. But how? 

Our main advice to clients in this position is to remix and repurpose content to see what works. As the priorities, concerns and spending habits of your customer base shift and evolve, so too can your content marketing strategies. 

This quote from Nielsen, the global leader in audience insights, data and analytics, echoes that sentiment:

“The solution isn’t to slash the budget, but to optimize media mix and invest in channels that are performing well. Finding the right balance ensures that spending is properly allocated for reach, efficiency and frequency.”

Different crops make the most of the same photo.

Dish Works helps our client partners repurpose content in so many ways to get a good ROI on your assets. This might mean cutting a recipe video into “moments” to share on Instagram Reels and TikTok, or cropping a beautiful lifestyle photo several different ways to use across various social platforms. 

Stretch your budget even further by booking Dish Works Studio Days and consider an Influencer-Style Recipe Video Packages, which leverage a casual, homemade aesthetic that resonates with fans and gives you a lot of bang for your buck.   

We know that our marketing friends are feeling the squeeze! The entire Dish Works team is by your side to help navigate the choppy economic waters and prepare for smoother sailing ahead! Reach out to get the conversation started.