Like many Canadians, chef Mark McEwan was missing the flavours of one of his favourite travel destinations: Prince Edward Island. Each fall, he would head there to participate in the Fall Flavour Festival. Due to COVID-19, that won’t be happening this year. But grocers have been responding to the lack of travel opportunities with the next-best thing: inventive travel-themed promotions.
McEwan Fine Foods launched its premium PEI Patio Party Boxes in mid-July. Each of the three meal kits serves four and requires minimal prep. They showcase the best of “Canada’s Food Island,” including grass-fed beef, lobster, mussels, and oysters, plus those famous potatoes. “We’ve put our spin on our kits by elevating them,” says Jessica Rodrigues, director of communications for The McEwan Group. “They have extras like truffle compound butter, a brush made of fresh herb sprigs, McEwan’s own mignonette and cocktail sauce.”
Though they start at $360, the kits have been selling well. So much so, that the chef-led food retailer is looking to expand with a second phase that will see PEI meal kits available for two people. “Ideal for date nights,” notes Rodrigues.
Grocers shouldn’t hesitate to promote items with a higher price tag, according to Jo-Ann McArthur, president and chief strategist, Nourish Food Marketing. “There’s a ton of opportunity for retailers,” she says. “Virtual travel through food fills a void while we aren’t able to take off anywhere on vacation, attend concerts or go to the theatre.”
She notes for those Canadians who are getting through COVID without losing employment, many are likely to have more disposable income than usual since they have spent less on things like vacations or child care. “They’re desperate to entertain and to create memorable experiences,” McArthur says.
For grocers, the time is right to offer customers solutions. Farm Boy, for example, promoted a French-inspired heat-and- serve dinner for two for $59.99. And Metro is taking a global approach with its World of Flavour promotions, focusing on popular holiday spots like Italy and Mexico.
“This pandemic has been tough on everyone—from restaurants closing doors to travel plans being cancelled or postponed,” says Frank Jaja, director, category management & ethnic, Metro Ontario & Food Basics. “Our World of Flavour ads have made international brands and cuisine available right at home. Customers are now able to recreate international cuisine right at home where they may have previously tried a new dish at a restaurant.” The initiative—which is promoted primarily through ads and flyers, some in-store merchandising and, more recently, digital flyers—has proven popular with customers, thanks to its strong focus on authentic brands, competitive pricing and product assortment.
McArthur suggests thinking big to satisfy Canadians’ unquenched wanderlust. “There’s more they could be considering,” she says. Perhaps a virtual cooking class focused on Thai cuisine, or a virtual tutored tasting of Quebec cheeses, hosted by a cheesemaker. She points to IKEA’s Vacation in a Box program with themes like Tea Time in Japan as something grocers could create and offer online, which could also include general merchandise they sell—anything from chopsticks to tea towels and kitchen gadgets.
“Pent-up consumer demand for these themed experiences opens a door for grocers to provide solutions,” she says. “Food always tastes better with a great story attached to it.”