4 Unique Paths to a Great Food Collaboration


When it comes to food brand collaborations, doesn’t it seem like there are no rules? The more bizarre a collaboration is, the more it seems to resonate with younger customers. Anyone else conjuring up memories of KFC’s Yule log that made your house smell like fried chicken? The seemingly odd collab between KFC and Enviro-Log ended up being so popular that the fried chicken log sold out immediately. They even brought it back for a second run the following holiday season.

As food marketers grapple with the evolving retail landscape due to COVID-19, social issues like the Black Lives Matter protest and the pending election, uncertainty abounds. However, collaborations are still very impactful – even more so in these times as they can help your brand become more approachable. Brand collaborations are an opportunity to be extra creative, take a more comedic angle perhaps and show support for other brands in a more humanlike way.

Before the entire food landscape flipped overnight, there was a certain cadence behind awesome food collaborations. Does the same approach still hold true today? Or are there new rules for engagement when it comes to brand collaborations?

Let’s take a look at some of the latest food collaborations to learn what made them work (awareness, relevancy, engagement). My hope is you’ll walk away with a few ideas that can help make your brand more approachable, too.

1. Build Connections Closer to Home

Even as stay-at-home orders relax around the nation, many Americans are spending time closer to home. In fact, as of the latest reports, travel has dropped more than 23% since the start of the pandemic and continues to decline. With many offices still in limbo and schools likely not reopening in the fall, seven out of 10 employees are still working from home. Half of these workers now say they prefer remote work.

Wendy's and Pringles Baconator Food CollaborationsAs food retail continues to evolve, food marketers need to reconsider how they reach consumers. Brands that, historically, do not have access to the pantry need to find a way in. Meanwhile, those that are staples need to find opportunities to spice things up as competition for share of pantry heats up. This is where Pringles’ new Wendy’s Baconator flavor is a win-win for both parties. Pringles continues to win their customers’ votes with innovative new flavors, while Wendy’s finds a way to stay top of mind with consumers who are spending more time at home.

2. Make a Fashion Statement

When it comes to younger customers, fashion has long been an exciting route to building authentic connection. However, food brands haven’t always had a place in the front row – until more recently. As fashion and food collide, food brands are playing a role in pop culture as they make a statement far beyond the products they sell.

Back to KFC, in their latest announcement, the brand has partnered with the notoriously ugly shoe brand Crocs for quite a memorable brand statement. While many can’t envision anyone wearing these “monstrous” kicks with chicken-scented Jibbitz charms, the partnership has made headlines across major media outlets from Business Insider and TODAY to Hypebeast and Refinery29. Kim Kardashian even shared some love on her Instagram Stories – undoubtedly a pricey part of the brand’s marketing plan. Alright, KFC, you win. You made us look.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the KFC X Crocs collaboration, fashion and food mash-ups capture attention. Want another example? Take a look at Nike and Ben & Jerry’s latest partnership or Budweiser and Darryl Brown’s Midwest Kids new capsule collection celebrating the brands shared ethos.

3. Get on Their Binge-Watching Menu

Even before COVID-19, a shift from traditional TV to streaming services was occurring. And the streaming wars commenced. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+ and others are all battling it out to win viewers. With the typical viewer subscribing to at least four services and streaming eight hours of content each day, original content is in high demand and it has captured America’s attention. While traditional TV isn’t expected to go away, 90% of young viewers prefer streaming services. What’s more interesting is that more than half of viewers are co-watching their favorite programming. This makes living rooms an even more social place for creative food marketers to explore.

Ben & Jerry and Netflix Ice Cream Food CollaborationBen & Jerry’s knows this all too well. Known for their pop-culture-inspired ice cream flavors, the brand collaborated with Netflix to launch their new Netflix & Chilll’d flavor. Taking inspiration from the streaming service’s hottest original content, the ice cream brand is authentically staying top of mind with loyal fans right at the point of consumption. With new content continuously releasing, this partnership has lots of room to grow. In fact, they’ve recently released a new flavor in conjunction with Nexflix’s new Space Force series.

4. Give Your Customers a Role to Play

While every food brand needs a customer retention and acquisition strategy, the cost of attracting new customers far exceeds that of keeping the ones you have. In fact, at least five times more. Yet brand loyalty is now harder than ever to maintain. However, with consumers playing a growing role in shaping the future of the brands they love, it’s imperative for every marketer to invest in retention efforts. With this in mind, why not look at a collaboration strategy that involves your customers?

Snapple Name the Flav Food CollaborationIn a creative twist on the typical collaboration, Snapple and a few other food brands are engaging fans to decode “mystery” flavors. On-trend and timed perfectly with summer, Snapple has turned to its fans for help with its latest flavor introduction. After fans find and taste the new flavor, they can submit their suggestion via the brand’s Name The Flav microsite. Participating fans are then encouraged to share their creation with their social networks to rack up votes and potentially win mystery prizes. We’ll find out what name gets chosen in a few weeks, but already there are more than 22K votes on “Tropical Treat,” the number one flavor suggestion so far.

Great Food Collaborations Lead to New Opportunities for Marketers

Even before the pandemic, many food brands were facing new challenges as they navigated drastic changes to the food retail landscape, evolving consumer preferences and increased competition. Now, as many food marketers rewrite and pivot their marketing plans in the wake of the pandemic, the value of a great partnership has only increased.

With an opportunity to pool resources, talent and budgets, food collaborations hold tremendous potential for food marketers. And since collabs are separate from in-line product, their time-to-market is often fast-tracked. This means the ideas you have today can turn around and start making an impact fast.

So this begs the question, who will be your brand’s next great collaborator?

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