What’s With all the Food Brand Mash-ups?

The Swedish Fish Oreo. Hungry? Confused? Revolted? All three? Perhaps that’s the point. So what’s driving our appetite for “new food experiences”? Like, even the crazy ones?

Dan Sills

Associate Director at C Space

Dan Sills produces C Space’s customer experience podcast, Outside In, which The Huffington Post called one of “The 7 Best Business Podcasts You Should Be Listening To” and Entrepreneur included in a list of “Best Podcasts for Entrepreneurs.” When he’s not locked in an edit suite, Dan talks at Story Slams and was a 2016 grandSLAM finalist for cult storytelling circle The Moth.

The Swedish Fish Oreo.

Hungry? Confused? Revolted? All three? Perhaps that’s the point.

Oreo has found great success in mixing things up with other brands and flavor combos, giving us everything from the aforementioned Swedish Fish Oreo to, most recently, an all-Oreo McCafe menu at McDonald’s Hong Kong.

Swedish Fish and Oreo’s unholy matrimony is just one example of the recent surge in food brand mash-ups. In a recent article for Food Dive, C Space food and beverage industry expert – and all around great guy – Alan Moskowitz shared his insightful perspective on what’s up with these sometimes quirky, sometimes delicious, and – if we’re going to be honest – sometimes, um, interesting concoctions.

“Consumers are the winners,” Alan declared. Food brands are joining forces to create “fun, flavorful, sometimes novelty items, and also high-quality products that meet our constant need for new food experiences,” he said.

So what’s driving our appetite for “new food experiences”? Like, even the crazy ones?

Mash-ups “make us feel like we are getting something familiar, but in a fun new way,” Alan said. “And while the holy grail is a combination that really delivers something great – like the Doritos Crunchy Taco – the novelty of trying new things is often enough to drive short-term sales for a brand.”

Of course, food brands are in it to win it, too. “These partnerships are often provocative and get strong consumer responses, whether that’s excitement or some initial revulsion,” Alan explained. “But in both cases, the food brand mash-ups create lots of organic buzz and conversation with people posting on social media that they are dying to try the new item, and others playfully responding that they are disgusted.”

But is a temporary rise in sales and a flurry of fleeting likes, shares, and retweets enough to sustain a brand’s growth? Probably not.

And so the pressure is on for brands to keep the hits coming, if only to keep the buzz buzzing. “These co-branded partnerships are often low-hanging fruit to create something that will get consumer attention for two minutes,” Alan explained, “but they are generally short-lived and you need to keep coming up with more to get that same consumer rush of quick dollars.”

For brands, food mash-ups are not always just about creating a flash in the pan. They’re often about maintaining a constant simmer. For example, Burger King’s Cheetos-based menu items include the OG “Mac ‘n Cheetos” and the new kid on the block: Cheetos Chicken Fries. Alan said these kinds of partnerships “have led to wildly-successful new platforms” and have given food brands the opportunity to “expand their brand visibility and revenue into new channels.” And that’s where the real growth can happen.

Ultimately, Alan posits that food brands need to stay as close to their customers’ cravings as possible – no matter how weird or wacky. “The bottom line is that consumers are the driving force behind brand partnerships because there is this insatiable interest in new and next food and beverage experiences,” he said.

“In fact, increasingly, we are a culture that wants every food occasion to be an experience, whether that’s protein and nutrition-powered ingredients, textures that satisfy our need for crunchy or, above all, delicious, bold, fun flavors that make us crave more.”

Crave on, everybody. Crave on.

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