The importance of storytelling in the food and beverage industry

A great speaker will skilfully enthral their audience as they whisk them off on a memorable journey into the subject matter. For the food and beverage industry, this means picturing the speaker’s voice describing tantalising anecdotes about top secret recipes, family drinking traditions, and the history behind that special dessert able to send customers into seventh heaven. It is only at specific points during the speaker’s performance – when they choose – do they pull the audience back to the key learnings and take-homes for the individual to remember. The greatest speakers can do this effortlessly, abandoning the awkward signposts that usually accompany this segment.

At Speakers Corner, we recognise the power of storytelling all around us in our lives. The emotional attachment we feel to ‘stuff’ is generated through the power of the story that lies behind it. Celebrity chef Jose Andres summarised it perfectly when he said: “I always say that I don’t believe I’m a chef. I try to be a storyteller.”

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I’m lucky to be a director at Berber & Q, where we are passionate about sharing stories via the spices and scents drifting from the open kitchen. Set inside a railway arch, our décor allows guests to leave the pavements of East London and arrive in a hidden diner, finding a true escape in a bustling Middle Eastern souk. The senses are captivated as the flavours and narratives of different regions – the Middle East, North Africa and across the Ottoman – waft from the shared meze platters dominating the tables. This fusion of taste and place, smell and sight, not only makes for incredible food but encourages our customers to feel part of the wider narrative of the menu and restaurant.

So, what does this mean for the wider food and beverage industry? The straight forward answer is that it’s the same as personal relationships. The more a food and beverage business can relate to an individual on a personal level, the increased emotional attachment that individual will have to the brand. When we think about some of the biggest food and beverage brands in the world, from McDonald’s and Jamie Oliver, to Guinness and Coca-Cola, hearing the brand name aloud will trigger an emotional response. From a brand perspective, hopefully the response is positive, but it can be negative too. The critical aspect is the feeling they create, offering the opportunity to relate our associated stories associated to the brand, and not purely to the brand’s commercial purpose.

If we take Gino D’Acampo as an example of a personality and brand who lives and breathes their story. It could be said that everything that his recipes and restaurants stand for is encapsulated in Gino himself. His playful wit, his exceptional talent, his enthusiasm, his humbleness, they are the Gino D’Acampo brand. The high levels of customer service and care alongside that streak of rebellion is something that the consumer, feeding from the CEO’s persona, buys into and thus develops an affinity and relationship with as a brand. The stories of Gino D’Acampo and his close-knit family origins in Napoli are also crucial to the brand’s credibility. He welcomes people into the pages of his grandmother’s secret seafood recipes, he guides them through the walls his grandfather’s restaurant, and invites them to take a seat at his family dinner table on a Sunday afternoon. The critical element for Gino’s brand is his ability to invite the consumer behind the scenes and into the depths of the whole narrative – the selling of his signed recipe books in the restaurants offers consumers the opportunity to recreate the experience themselves at home. The more a brand achieves this, the more a consumer feels part of the ever-changing story, rather than part of the story of one man.

For any small business, these stories are critical to the success and growth of the brand but, particularly in the food and beverage industry, personal narratives facilitate a deeper connection between the brand and consumer.
Ultimately, storytelling in the food and beverage industry – from the germination of an idea, to the growth of a business, to the chef’s personal development as a leader – acts as a reminder that, food and beverage brands are built on interwoven individual stories between each other, which embodies the pleasures of eating and drinking. The most successful faces and brands in the food and beverage industry know that the key lies in the emotional attachment to the experience of eating and drinking, and ultimately in the ability to share these stories in a passionate speech.

Millennials and Gen Z consumers are very clear about their relationships with brands, admitting their emotional attachments with the most successful brands. The stories that are told and the ability to demonstrate these as integral to the brand’s value will drive these generations (and less explicitly, other generations) towards loyalty to the brand which will create success and growth.

The power of the story in the food and beverage industry is that it brings to life a product, a company, a service. A great story provides memories that have longevity and are re-told in that most treasured of marketing channels – word of mouth. If the story can, without forcing, demonstrate the brand values and ethos (and flavour) then this is the best ambassadorial tool any company can aspire to have. Bon appetite!

By Nick Gold, director of Berber & Q restaurant chain

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