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How Big Food is responding to coronavirus⁠—and what natural brands can do to compete

America's largest food companies are dropping appealing new products and delivery methods to meet today's quarantined consumer where they are⁠—namely, still stuck at home.

America's biggest companies are having an unprecedented heyday as the pandemic extends into the summer. In response to consumers' stress eating, reliance on shelf-stable options and desire for old, familiar products, they're whipping out a variety of new ventures.

PepsiCo has announced the launch of two new direct-to-consumer websites where shoppers can go to purchase products that exist under the company's massive umbrella. Now is the time for natural brands to bolster their direct-to-consumer options, while remembering that natural products retailers provide an important platform for consumers to stumble upon and purchase new products.

Kellogg is reviving its once-stagnant cereal sales with extra-large cereal snack packs to capitalize on the rise in grazing behavior that appears to have solidified in recent months. Natural brands can follow suit by incorporating more of this kind of individual packaging in future and current products. Although a more wasteful approach, such formats are perceived as safer by germ-conscious consumers in the continued absence of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Consumers' growing financial struggles are also top of mind for many big name brands. Nestlé, for instance, is revamping its on-pack recipes and video ads to incorporate cheaper ingredients. Natural brands can also pivot to suggest cost-effective or multipurpose ways to use their products via labeling. 

Nestlé is banking on better-for-you frozen foods to satiate consumers' desire for both easy-to-make meal solutions and health-boosting ingredients. Natural frozen food brands have been doing especially well with U.S. shoppers, the vast majority of which are still uncomfortable eating out at restaurants. Natural retailers and brands can capitalize on this desire by adding more frozen SKUs to their lineups, like Kellogg's Kashi brand did recently with its frozen protein-rich waffles.

And Big Food is also getting creative outside of the food sphere—just look at Kraft Heinz's all-red puzzle social campaign from May that coupled consumers' newfound puzzle fascination with a big dose of humor (the process of putting it together is meant to be "ridiculously slow").

Natural companies can mimic this by taking the time to think about activities that are social-distancing-friendly and making them relevant to their brand. For instance, many consumers are spending more time with their pets than ever before, so maybe it's time for a brand campaign that features branded bandanas for pets or silicone covers for open cans of wet food. 

While some of the oldest, largest food companies are prospering, it's important for natural products brands and retailers to remember  consumers still care deeply about the environment and their health—the bedrock of the natural products industry. By getting creative and keeping in mind shoppers' tighter budgets, increased fear of germs and extra time spent at home, one can chart a path upward through the current crisis.

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