Diana Kelter
Diana is a Senior Trend Analyst at Mintel. She investigates how cultural, lifestyle and technology shifts take shape across sectors and leverages Mintel data across trend observations.

In January 2020, Mintel Senior Trends Analyst Diana Kelter wrote about the evolution of self-care. The start of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in March 2021 accelerated the self-care focus even further, as consumers prioritized habit building and rituals to create a sense of routine, comfort and happiness. Now, as we reflect on lifestyle shifts 18 months into the pandemic, consumers are dealing with a new challenge: the loss of prescribed breaks. The loss of commutes, impromptu office water cooler conversations, and even commercial breaks, has forced individuals to self-regulate when and where they grab a quick break. Brands have played a significant role in supporting consumers toward habit building, but now we’re seeing new opportunities emerge for brands to also promote break times in unexpected ways.

A Recipe for Breaks

Anyone who has ever followed a recipe or general preparation instructions is familiar with the estimated timing for every action, whether it’s stir for 30 seconds or letting dough rest for 30 minutes. It’s during those in-between moments of recipe prep; whether it’s waiting for water to boil or a baking time, that brands can have fun with reminding consumers to catch-up on something that has been lingering over their head, whether it’s a productive or relaxing task. Without designated breaks, the simple actions of texting back a friend or making an appointment can quickly get lost in the shuffle of the day.

Barilla pasta has created designated timed playlists on Spotify, that not only serve as a reminder for breaks during the amount of time it takes to boil water, they also provide a functional reminder to cook pasta properly.

More broadly, simply reminding consumers to even take lunch breaks is an opportunity for brands, and Campbell’s Chunky Soup just announced a partnership with Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay to promote the concept of lunch as halftime.

Multitasking with Limits

Mintel’s 2021 Trend, ‘Digital Dilemmas’ explored the balance of relying on technology for everyday tasks, while also prioritizing screen-free moments. It’s the 24/7 connection to smartphones that have made every moment a multitasking moment and has driven the burnout trend to new heights. Mintel data on health management trends highlights that nearly half of US consumers who acknowledge feeling less in control of their health cite stress and worry as a driving factor and a quarter acknowledge the difficulty of establishing a routine as the main reason they feel less control.

A new trend to deal with burnout is companies providing days or even weeks off for their staff. While this shift is an important component in setting standards for breaks, it still only provides instant gratification and leaves room to prioritize long-term solutions.

The past year we’ve seen brands embrace finding moments of mindfulness during routine chores that don’t require a thought process, such as brushing teeth or watering plants. Prioritizing multitasking during mindless tasks creates the space to give full attention to deep thinking and focused tasks. As discussed in the January 2020 self-care blog post, progress occurs when very broad concepts, such as self-care or multitasking, get broken down into digestible concepts. Separating productive self-care and the ‘treat yourself’ mentality, creates room for consumers to embrace each concept thoughtfully and independently. A similar application can be applied to multitasking by designating single task versus multi-task routines.

Key Takeaways for Brands

Consumers appreciate the flexibility that has become the norm the past year, but they still need inspiration and support for finding a sense of structure. Brands across categories have to find the balance of providing inspiration versus prescription for breaks. As brands think about disruption, more often than not, the disruption can come from simple tweaks to an existing process.