Food for thought: How restaurant chains became ingredients | Den Creative
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Food for thought: How restaurant chains became ingredients

On my daily commute, I noticed two campaigns vying for my attention – Uber Eats and Just Eat. And the focus of their campaigns? The restaurants they have partnered with. It made me realise that restaurant chains, whether they planned it or not, have turned into ingredient brands.

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OK, so I’ve gone a bit over the top on the puns in the title. I’ll stop. 

It just struck me that something that is usually a deliberate branding decision – ingredient branding – has become part of the brand reality for many restaurant chains, without it necessarily being a strategically-led move on their part. 

Ingredient Branding is a strategy where a component or an ingredient of a product or service is drawn to consumers’ attention and given its own brand identity. The component, or ingredient, builds its own brand equity, and its inclusion in a product or service offering should increase the value of the larger offering.

I recently took part in a panel discussion about the rise of delivery companies like Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats in the UK, and DoorDash in the US. We talked about the rise of dark kitchens and the fact that there is only really room for one winner in each geography. These companies are therefore engaged in a race to the top spot – it’s an all or nothing game. We even touched on the fact that the restaurant chains that each delivery brand manages to partner with, are starting to look like the keys to the kingdom. 

What I didn’t think about at the time, and has only just struck me due to a current above the line campaign on the London Undeground by both Uber Eats and Just Eat, is that this growing trend, and these brands fighting it out, has turned restaurant chains into ingredient brands, whether they like it or not. 

For those that aren’t familiar with  ingredient branding, an example might help illustrate the concept; it’s usually synonymous with brands like Gore-Tex, or Intel Inside. You might buy a Mountain Warehouse jacket over a North Face jacket, not because you have a particular affinity with Mountain Warehouse, but because that jacket has a Gore-Tex tag hanging from the sleeve, and you believe that Gore-Tex is the premium waterproofing technology. So, you trust that jacket to keep you dry. The relationship between ingredient brands and the brands they partner with is symbiotic. In our scenario, Mountain Warehouse sold a jacket because of the brand equity of Gore-Tex but equally, Gore-Tex are entrusting their reputation to Mountain Warehouse by partnering with them. If that jacket fails, the buyer will lose the faith they had in Gore Tex and it won’t be a persuasive factor again. On the part of Gore-Tex, and of Intel Inside, this is their deliberate brand strategy. How else does a fabric technology, or a device component gain any brand awareness or equity?

Restaurant chains are a different beast altogether. They have strong, recognisable brands, with bright, often colourful signage out on the street, in our eye-line, as well as often employing TV, radio and above the line advertising campaigns. Some have smells we immediately associate with walking past their establishments (Subway), some have taught us to associate them with a uniform experience, simplicity and value (McDonald’s). Ultimately, they have built their brand story and controlled the associations we have with them. Until now. 

On my daily commute, I noticed two campaigns vying for my attention – Uber Eats and Just Eat. And the focus of their campaigns? The restaurants they have partnered with. Uber Eats have at least come up with some copywriting that differs depending on which restaurant they are showing off – ‘When things get tough, the tough get Sushi.’ – Itsu, or ‘When your day is long, go footlong’ – Subway. Whereas Just Eat have gone with simply ‘MMMMMMM Leon delivered’, ‘MMMMMMM Coco di Mama delivered’ – you get the idea. The purpose of the campaigns is clear and simple – you have to order with us if you want food from these restaurants. Every new restaurant brand acquired by one of the delivery firms is another tick in a box in the race to the top spot. They are trading on the brand equity and loyalty built up in these restaurant brands, just as Dell does when they put an Intel Inside badge on their laptops. Equally, the restaurant brands are entrusting their reputations to these delivery brands. If your McDonald’s turns up cold and soggy will it affect your opinion of Uber Eats or McDonald’s more? 

The move to partner with delivery firms was strategic for restaurant brands to the extent that if people were staying at home, they had to find a way to get their food in their customers’ hands to keep up with their competition. But it wasn’t strategically led from a brand perspective by the restaurant chains; they had to react to the changing market. We’ll have to wait and see what impact their delivery partnership choices will have on their brand equity, and who the winners and losers will be in the cut-throat world of food delivery. 

If you’re interested in our approach to brand strategy and would like to talk to one of our team, get in touch.

Headshot of Harry Barlow.

Harry Barlow

Product Owner

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