Telling Food Stories that Connect


One of my favourite family movies is Ratatouille, a story with a central theme close to my heart and that is that ‘anyone can cook’. There’s a pivotal scene in the movie where food-critic Anton Ego, asks the chef to bring him his best dish and the meal he is served is Ratatouille.

At the taste of the first mouthful Anton is transported back to his childhood, a time where his mother would serve him this simple dish as a means of comfort and an expression of love.

The imagery and memories flood back and the scene is a relatable reminder of the power of food to create an emotional connection... so strong that it can turn even the harshest food critic back into a little boy, one who is prepared to wait for hours to meet the chef (Remy the Rat) that produced the dish.

The ability of food and the associated stories we all carry with us are a bit like music - they have the ability to remind us, and to immediately connect us, to people and to places from the past.

And this often under-recognised aspect of food is relevant as we consider the future.

When thinking and planning ahead, our focus and attention is commonly drawn toward keeping up with what's changing. We want to understand new trends, research and advances in technology and as a result, invest a significant amount of time and energy in these areas.

This is of course important however to develop a comprehensive future ready strategy, keeping up with what's changing is only one plate that we need to keep spinning.

Another is to pay attention to what’s on the plate that’s already in front of us – what star ingredients do we have that would be worthwhile bringing with us into the future?

Uncovering the stories that already exist about our food and our brand is one such ingredient.

Stories about food connect people in an emotional way and as we move from the knowledge economy into the human economy, building more ‘humanness’ into communications represents a competitive advantage.

In her book Stories for Work, author Gabrielle Dolan outlines the science that sits behind the power of story telling as a strategy for creating connection. Research shows story telling stimulates all of the different parts and areas of our brain, creating emotions that elicit feelings towards the person telling the story. The outcome is that a connection is created, and trust, credibility, influence and impact are all enhanced.

Story telling has also been shown to have clear commercial value, as highlighted in the Significant Objects project. During the project, an experiment was run where items were purchased on e-Bay for an average of $1.25 each. They were then re-auctioned at a later date with the addition of a creative story and achieved a sales price 28 times their original value! 

While story telling is commonly used in advertising, it’s use is relatively limited when it comes to food labels and packaging and this represents an opportunity.

As Jane Bennett, CEO of TasFoods Ltd said at the recent AIFST Feeding our Future Convention:

"Today, you’re either cheap food or story food’.

If you’re ‘story food’, telling your story where consumers can see it – at the point of sale – supports the ability to charge a premium price.

The key is to tell stories that inspire, connect and build respect.

A brief review of popular supermarket items indicates that currently, the majority of on pack communications focus on ‘what’ a product does and ‘what’ is in it. An opportunity exists to allocate more space to telling better food stories that in turn enhance the connection between the brand and the consumer.

Here are some thought starters:

Tell stories about ‘why’ – not why your brand is so great (that’s bragging) but why you create the products you do, why your business commenced and why we should care more about your brand than simply seeing it as a way of meeting our daily calorie needs.

Tell stories about the future – outline your beliefs, what sort of future you would like to see, the future you are working towards as a brand and how you are currently moving toward that future.

Tell stories about change – the latest Millenium Monitor by Colmar Brunton shows we are moving from an era of 'conformity' into one of 'rebellion' where individuals are looking to create their own better way. This signals that now is a good time to tell stories about the type of change you want to see in the world, why it’s important to you, and how you are going about creating it.

Story telling is a powerful way to connect and has always played a valuable role in how we communicate about food. As well as providing a point of difference on pack, it's also a platform for content creation that in turn builds brand meaning, grows trust and supports long term customer loyalty.

For more on this area, join my upcoming webinar. Further details and registration