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McDonald’s, The Cheesecake Factory find the perfect recipe for staying relevant during crisis

With customers subjected to stay-at-home orders or lockdowns around the world, major brands are facing unprecedented challenges staying relevant and connected – especially fast-food retailers and theme parks. 

At the same time, the lockdowns have spurred unprecedented demand for baking ingredients as consumers try their hand at creating food and snacks at home – either to kill time or save money. 

At least four international corporate giants have linked these two features of the Covid-19 pandemic into feel-good marketing initiatives that help consumers, subtly reinforce brand ‘feel-good factors’ and drive traffic to their social-media accounts. McDonald’s, Disney, The Cheesecake Factory and hotel chain DoubleTree have each shared recipes for foods they serve to customers so they can make them at home. 

Fast-food giant McDonald’s in the UK, which closed all of its restaurants last month, released a recipe for its Sausage and Egg McMuffin for fans to recreate in their own kitchens. This was in response to viral tweets from internet users who had tried to make their own McMuffin breakfast sandwiches while unable to visit restaurants. 

The chain produced a recipe card (below) revealing the five ingredients and full cooking instructions in order to promote its brand while outlets are closed – and included a step-by-step guide on how to prepare its crispy hash browns.

In the US, hotel chain DoubleTree has released the recipe for the popular chocolate chip cookies presented to travellers fresh from the oven upon arrival at the firm’s properties. More than 30 million of the cookies are baked and shared with customers each year, and the cookie carries the distinction of being the first food baked in orbit at the International Space Station. 

“We know this is an anxious time for everyone,” said DoubleTree by Hilton senior VP and global head Shawn McAteer. “A warm chocolate chip cookie can’t solve everything, but it can bring a moment of comfort and happiness … we look forward to welcoming all our guests with a warm DoubleTree cookie when travel resumes.”

Disney Parks – the theme park division of the giant Disney entertainment empire – has similarly released a recipe inspired by the churro snacks available at all its parks worldwide, most of which are closed during the pandemic.

Like some of the other brands, the company created a video guide to making the sugary snacks:

“These past few weeks, we’ve seen many of you sharing Disney recipes and creating your very own magical moments right at home,” wrote Alex Dunlap, food & beverage communications coordinator at Disney Parks in a blog post for fans. “This has inspired us to share one of my favorite recipes so you can continue creating #DisneyMagicMoments.”

The company also shared on a blog how to make the grilled three-cheese sandwich offered at Woody’s Lunch Box at Toy Story Land in Disney World, on the occasion of National Grilled Cheese Day.

Restaurants and bakeries are joining the trend as well. US casual-dining chain The Cheesecake Factory has published recipes online for many of its dishes, including its lemon-ricotta pancakes, Tuscan chicken, (pictured above), almond-crusted salmon salad, California guacamole salad and chicken bellagio.

Other chains to post recipes online include Pret-A-Manger in the UK and US bakery Panera Bread. 

A baker pivots

Meanwhile, The Hustle is reporting how one US bakery supplying restaurants pivoted into creating home-baking kits for consumers, in order to keep its factory operating and staff employed.

Aaron Caddel was forced to close his San Francisco and Los Angeles bakeries Mr Holmes Bakehouse after all 60 of his wholesale customers cancelled their orders within 72 hours, equivalent to about $3 million of business. 

“I had single mothers on staff begging me to keep their jobs,” he told The Hustle. “So I just had to turn to solution mode: How can I create an insurance policy against this economy?”

His solution was to create an all-inclusive kit including yeast, flour and detailed instructions to help consumers bake their own Mr. Holmes loaves. He had no e-commerce experience, but he did have 121,000 followers on his Instagram account. 

“Caddel is one of many small business owners recalibrating to serve a rapidly growing class of housebound bakers,” wrote Zachary Crockett, senior writer at The Hustle. You can read his full feature here

The demand for information about baking at home has surged since lockdown orders were put in place. One overseas columnist described flour as “the new toilet paper” in terms of consumer demand, with stocks running low in supermarkets as demand outstripped usual supply volumes. 

This chart below shows the rate of Google searches for bread-making instructions since stay-at-home orders were put in place in parts of the US last month.  

It seems some global brands have found the perfect recipe to delight consumers they would otherwise have had little opportunity to connect with during the coronavirus pandemic…

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