COVID is Changing Consumers’ TastesApril 13, 2021 - by Taylor Getler
Loss of taste and/or smell is one of the most common side effects of COVID-19. While this only lasts for a few weeks for most people, others are adapting to a much more long-term loss. For some, this means enduring months with diminished or even nonexistent senses of taste and smell, and doctors are still not sure just how long it could last for the most severe “long-haul” patients. There is a real possibility that some people who have been infected will never fully recover to their pre-COVID senses. Although there is a light at the end of the tunnel with rising vaccination rates, we won’t be fully out of this pandemic for a while, and it’s important for brands to know how this phenomenon is impacting consumers.
How COVID Can Affect Consumers’ Tastes
No matter what a consumer’s preferences were before contracting COVID, a weakened sense of smell or taste can completely change the way that they perceive certain ingredients. For example, without a functioning sense of smell, common foods like garlic, chocolate, or coffee may suddenly taste disgusting. As such, many consumers that have lost some of their ability to smell or taste have been avoiding foods that they used to love because they can no longer stomach them.
How Brands Can Support Consumers Whose Tastes are Changing
Just because a consumer has lost some or all of their sense of taste/smell doesn’t mean that they can’t get any satisfaction or joy from eating. Rather, there are other elements of food that take on new importance and help heighten an otherwise bland meal.
For consumers who have a diminished sense of taste and smell, texture becomes a really significant part of making food exciting again. For example, Ben & Jerry’s® developed their iconic loaded pints because founder Ben Cohen has anosmia, which affects his own senses of taste and smell. He wanted an ice cream with a more interesting mouthfeel, and the brand’s signature blend of chunky toppings helped them eventually dominate the category. This is a great example of how consumers experiencing taste/smell loss don’t necessarily require niche or bespoke products. Texture is something that appeals to a wide range of consumers, not just those affected by COVID.
For brands that already target demographics that are more vulnerable to COVID (such as older consumers), they might consider promotional campaigns that help affected consumers find new products that they can enjoy through at-home sampling programs. For patients that lose their sense of smell/taste long-term, dealing with their condition won’t just mean cutting out foods that they no longer enjoy – it also means finding new go-to products to rely on.
We’ll all be experiencing the effects of the pandemic for months and even years to come, but for some consumers, the experience is much more personal. By understanding how consumers’ needs and preferences are changing while they are dealing with the long-term loss or weakening of their abilities to taste and smell, brands can offer unique support and ensure that their products become new favorites.