Writing for the grocery space is about more than just finding synonyms for “delicious.” Delectable? It’s about transforming the transactional into the emotional. Scrumptious? No matter how beautifully you describe a piece of broccoli, the story behind the family farm that grows it and their scruffy sheepdog named Brassica will likely linger longer in the hearts of a consumer. Yummy?
Ok, putting the Thesaurus down! But you get the idea. Focusing on people, communities, and shared values lets us see even the most mundane weekly chores in a new, more human light. And most of all, it brings out the joy.
The quickest way to center humanity in grocery writing is to highlight, well, humans. Who founded the store? What’s their origin story? Why do they care? If the business is family-owned, these folks become an essential cast of familiar, friendly faces allowing us to directly connect to their brand.
Take a Helen + Gertrude client, Healthy Living, for example, a Vermont-based, organic grocery store founded and operated by Katy Lesser and her two children, Nina and Eli. Catchy taglines and impeccably-crafted food descriptions are one thing, but a brief video of Katy being Katy—her authentic, inspiring self—immediately lets you know who they are and why you should care.
I wrote for TV sitcoms back in the day, and this type of storytelling isn’t that different. The faces behind a brand are much like the main characters of your favorite show, although they’re very much real people, of course. Some of them might even have a catchphrase. Katy loves to spontaneously say “fresh!” around the gorgeous Healthy Living produce, for example. Just as every TV season has a Thanksgiving and Christmas episode, grocery stores build big promotional events around these holidays, too.
And as you become more established, you begin to expand your cast—enter the head chef, a local cheesemonger, a frequent store guest who only buys in bulk—slowly filling out this vibrant community. You start to care about these people because they feel like your extended family. Wait, are we talking about a tv show or a grocery store? Both and that’s the point!
No matter how good your storytelling is, food shoppers still deeply care about “value.” According to Mintel, “With inflation still persistent, consumers are increasingly prioritizing value amid a challenged economy and rising prices.” But besides sales and deals (which are still VERY important), there are so many additional, more human-centered ways to define value.
For one, eating fresh foods free from additives has long-term health benefits for consumers and their families. “While savings may be top of mind, consumers are not willing to sacrifice their health and wellbeing to cut costs,” a 2023 Mintel report finds. Food prices are rising but so are healthcare costs. And while saving a dollar on an apple is nice, teaching your child to fall in love with eating well so they pass this on to their own kids—that makes you feel something much deeper.
And what about community value? Focusing on the local farm that hand-delivers your produce, rather than just the produce itself, brings out a strong purchase incentive: you’re helping out your neighbors (and yes, their sheepdog Brassica, too!). Really digging into the why just reinforces this incentive. With Healthy Living, for example, we focus a lot of content on why their long-standing partnerships with farmers have a real community benefit.
Here’s an excerpt from a recent email, entitled “What’s on My Plate?” directly from their founder, Katy:
“One moment we’re chatting with a guest who also happens to be a local grower—the next we’re forging a partnership, and before you know it, we’re building community infrastructure. These local collaborations have an environmental impact we can see and feel. It means trucks drive shorter distances with less of a carbon footprint. It means we’re keeping land open and soil healthy for future generations.”
So brands must acknowledge the desire for value, but there’s wiggle room to define what “value” really means to them. This lets them market their values, not just their products.
Finding humanity isn’t only about what words you choose, but also about the type of content you create and where you put it. Certain platforms (think: TikTok, Instagram reels) reward a more raw, conversational tone, where imperfections are almost encouraged because they show we’re flesh and blood.
Movie-quality video takes a back seat to authentic stories told directly to camera or from a first-person POV. Something that feels over-produced can actually make it harder to connect with the content because it reminds us we’re watching an ad instead of conversing with a friend. And these platforms are ideal if you’re looking to broaden your audience, especially to younger crowds.
According to a recent report from Tinuiti, 84% of Gen Z members discovered food and beverage products on social platforms, compared to 44% for baby boomers. And for Gen Z, TikTok was the most popular discovery platform, with 29% saying they discover new food products there, compared to 10% for Facebook and 23% for Instagram.
This type of content creation will only become more central as these younger shoppers age up, so best to get practice in these spaces now!
Consumer interest in fresh products (produce, meats, etc) continues to grow, according to Mintel, and is a “deciding factor in how and where they do their shopping.” Words like “Organic” “Sustainable” and “Fair Trade” are important signifiers in this arena but can feel like hollow buzzwords when they’re not backed up by clear practices, concrete examples, and the why behind it all.
So just listing these practices is limiting their impact. Connecting them to our individual health, the health of our families, the farmers bringing us this freshness, just to name a few, gives them so much more dimension and umph. With such intense competition in this space, it’s these types of emotions that could be a deciding factor in why we shop at one grocery store and not another.
And let’s not forget that we expect our content to feel fresh, too! When we embrace the platform, speak its language, content feels so much more alive and potent. No one wants a stale vegetable, just as no one wants a stale piece of marketing.
Just because we all have to eat doesn’t mean grocery stores market themselves. Those bright red tomatoes didn’t appear on a shelf out of thin air: they were cultivated in a specific way to make them healthier for you and the planet. Also, they won’t disappear once you buy them, either. They’ll be added to Gram’s famous sauce that she simmers for what feels like weeks.
Finding these stories behind our food helps connect us to a place and a brand, just as the stores themselves are places for communities to come together. Emotion, connection, humanity—all essential items on any grocery marketing list.