How Groceries, Beer, and Museums Made It Through the Pandemic

What do a craft brewery, an international photography museum, and a grocery delivery service have in common? Crowds are their bread and butter. So, what happens if all of their beloved business goers are suddenly forbidden to consume art, beer, and food together? What then?

Once the second week of March 2021 ended and the isolated reality of COVID-19’s global lockdown began to transform into a new, hybrid normal, businesses had to either make a choice: continue panicking and reacting or learn from the methodical, strategic moves made during these uncertain times and build a new path forward.

During the PhotoShelter for Brands 20/21 Vision Workflow Summit we spoke to three visual content marketing experts — Bell’s Brewery’s Digital Content Specialist Fritz Klug, FreshDirect Senior Managing Photographer John Kelly, and Fotografiska Vice President of Global Exhibitions Pauline Benthede about how the pandemic demanded their brand perspectives pivot and adapt, and how those changes shape their innovative content strategies.

Watch the insightful 30-minute session below or read the takeaways first for inspiration.

Bell’s Brewery

The Challenge

When the Bell’s Brewery marketing team brews up visual content they highlight three things that express their brand identity well: the process behind crafting a consistent quality product, their delicious seasonal releases, and their dedicated national and local community.

One of Fritz Klug’s favorite times of the year as a photographer and videographer is the week before Opening Day of baseball when their tasty, unfiltered summer wheat ale called Oberon gets released. It’s a perfect pour to accompany America’s favorite past time and the coinciding celebrations provide the Bell’s team tons of opportunity to document crowds consuming their golden ales. 

During a typical year, the Oberon release inspires planned content, in-person events, and partnerships. “It’s one of our biggest releases of the summer and it’s also one of our biggest content drivers on social media and out in the market,” Fritz said.

Here’s what they posted in 2019 on Instagram for Opening Day, Oberon Day and Eccentric Day — a day dedicated to highlighting local eccentrics and the Bell’s Brewery-owned cafe in Kalamazoo:

The team also planned to celebrate their 35th brand anniversary in 2021, but instead of a party filled with people, music, and bubbly hops, pandemic restrictions and social distancing demanded they pivot their plans quickly.

Here’s how they adapted in 2020 and 2021…

The Takeaways

Fritz closed with some apt takeaways all visual storytellers should apply whether solving pandemic problems or not.

  1. Focus on your objectives, but stay true and be you!

While restaurants and bars like the Eccentric Cafe were shut down across the state of Michigan and the entire country, Bell’s Brewery brews were still brewing, being shipped, tasted and loved by beer-drinkers nationwide, so the marketing team still had work to do.

They kept their always-on marketing strategy going strong by celebrating holidays with special graphics, highlighting Bell’s pet friends, and sharing luscious shots of the brew itself, and they adapted their visual storytelling strategy to reflect the times in a number of creative ways.

They adapted iconic logo graphics, “Oberon is an unfiltered wheat ale, so putting the mask on it and saying that it’s not filtered, even though the beer is the same, was a way to help raise awareness of wearing the mask on our platform while also having fun with it,” Fritz shared.

They also added at-home recipes to the content mix and saw a ton of engagement from Bell’s lovers who found new ways to use their beloved beverage in the kitchen.

When Oberon Day 2021 came around and in-person events were still banned, the Bell’s team put together a virtual event— a morning show of sorts and a toast with the brewery’s founder. This last-minute pivot still felt on-brand and reached their core audience and beyond.

Fritz explains, “We thought how do we meet this moment and create as best we can, given the realities of the world, a sense of togetherness—that sense of walking into a bar and enjoying an Oberon with friends. So, we did a live stream with the Brewery’s founder, Larry Bell…We set it up very quickly and we had a great response of people following. He spoke for about 10 minutes about everything that was going on in the world and what Oberon means to us and what it means for everyone else and it was just a really nice moment to take a break, have a beer, and connect with other people.”

Whatever you do, focus on what makes your brand unique. Fritz says, “Don’t lose sight of your personality or what your brand’s all about or what you’re trying to do…It’s important to always keep the focus on: What are we doing here, what is this all about and how can we keep that core essence going? Fill up those content buckets early, get that done as soon as possible so you can focus on innovating and adapting and making content for the moment.”

Take a hint from their early Covid campaign and #StayInspired!

  1. “Be honest and show what’s going on, that builds trust with your audience.”

Honesty is the best policy isn’t just a saying, it’s a proverb that applies to both our personal and work lives. In this day and age, whether an organization seeks to create a positive societal impact or sell products doesn’t matter, they must be transparent, open to listening, and quick to respond to their customers.

Fritz shared how his early pandemic fears affected his abilities to want to share what was otherwise normal content, “Another thing that I learned in the past year that goes with workflow and with the moment is not being afraid to show the realities of the situation. I think it’s easy as a marketer, someone who always wants to put our product(s) in the best light—I remember early on a year ago even before the first Covid cases were in the United States, masks were worn with brewing and I was hesitant about that even though it wasn’t related to Covid. I didn’t want people to think, ‘Oh, there’s Covid here,’ or whatever we were thinking in early 2020, but now wearing masks is so important and I embrace capturing those moments.”

Shame has no home in the marketplace, so it’s time for brands to share it like it is, apologize when their wrong, and initiate a two-way dialogue with their customers to better understand what they need and want.

  1. Make a backup plan for the backup plan.

Fritz also shared a few practical pointers for anyone who is starting to add live stream video to their content marketing or event marketing mix. He said, “Have a plan, have a backup plan, and then have a backup plan for that backup plan because things can go haywire. I like to think of it like the way I want to live stream the video, the way I’m going to live stream if something goes wrong and then get out the cell phone, we’re streaming Facebook live directly on the phone.” He also shared that a third-party streaming tool is needed in order to go live on Facebook— a lesson he learned just one week before they planned a segment for Oberon Day 2020. Take Fritz’s advice here and prepare solutions to these common problems in advance!


The Challenge

As the leading online-only grocery service in the country, FreshDirect aims to deliver food conveniently and quickly to hundreds of thousands of customers in seven states across the northeast and mid-Atlantic. When the pandemic hit and people nationwide were concerned about limiting their exposure to places the virus could spread and incubate, grocery stores topped the list.

For FreshDirect, this meant they had to solve for two new challenges: a surge in business requests for out-of-state expansion and a rise in anxious customer feedback and inquiries concerned about food handling, accessibility, shifting delivery schedules, and more.

“People needed our service more than they ever had. As a result, organic search for our service, as well as site visits, and sign-ups for accounts reached historic highs in our 15 to 20-year history; and searches for our service came from all over the country even areas outside of our delivery zones (including the midwest and the west coast,)” he shared, “As a result of this intense demand, for a period of time our delivery capacity was completely maxed out. We also dealt with a lot of the supply chain issues that affected many retailers across the country and because of these issues a lot of potential new and existing customers were really desperate to understand how soon they would be able to use our service and when they were, what products would even be available to them.“

Prior to the pandemic, FreshDirect’s mainstay content on social, digital, web and print mainly consisted of product sales, recipes, and aspirational communal tablescapes, but similarly to Bell’s Brewery, their visual content approach shifted drastically once Covid hit to accommodate more socially appropriate scenes and subjects of honor, like the employees in the warehouses and grocery stores who kept the supply chain running and kept America fed.

The Takeaways

While FreshDirect’s business operations and logistics teams battled pandemic-related supply chain issues, surprisingly the only areas that were impacted for John and his team’s visual storytelling approach were content and subject matter. He said, “The broader impact of the pandemic really transformed our company and the importance of our company to our surrounding community as well as our sense of identity and our sense of purpose,” so here are a few things John and his team learned about connecting with their customers and addressing their audience’s needs and concerns:

  1. Communicate clearly in times of confusion.

Social media became the quickest and most direct way for FreshDirect to communicate mass messages to their subscribers — and with the urgency and fear that Covid stimulated, clear, effective, FAST messages that calmed people and pre-emptively addressed concerns worked best.

“For me, as the in-house visual artist—it’s somewhat frustrating for me to say, but these very simple, text-based posts became some of our most engaged with content that we’ve had in the past several years. It’s more of a testament to the demand for information than anything.”

Although they weren’t the most visually compelling graphics, they were necessary and it’s obvious why they performed well. The content was related to an unprecedented, outlier global event, so of course, the content published the week of the lockdown is going to be the highest performing content of 2020 for most brands.

  1. Give the people what they want.

Once the supply chain issues eased and the business and customer pressures were relieved a bit, the FreshDirect team began to go back to creating, publishing, and promoting the content their audience had come to know and love — recipes, product updates and sales, and they even innovated on some of their in-studio content by shooting in staff member’s homes to make the scene, setting and overall content piece more relatable and accessible. When in doubt, do what works and give the people what they want.

  1. Develop impactful partnerships over profit.

John Kelly explained how the pandemic exposing our nation’s greatest socioeconomic disparities pushed the FreshDirect team toward building permanent programs that support communities in need.

He explains, “We started to direct more of our focus both as a company and with our communications to addressing some of these issues however we were able. Now, because we’re a food company and we own distribution, we were able to lead a partnership with the city of New York and Borough Presidents called the Five Borough Food Drive and as a part of this program, we were able to assemble and deliver over 300,000 boxes of food to New Yorkers in need throughout the pandemic. Additionally, we were able to redouble our fundraising and food donation efforts for the New York Common Pantry, a charity that we had begun to partner with prior to the pandemic, but because of the pandemic, the need became that much more urgent. NYCP is a charity that serves homeless communities in Manhattan as well as the Bronx and our efforts here resulted in raising over $2.7 million dollars in customer donations which allowed NYCP to feed over 400,000 individuals.”

In addition to monetary and product support, they wanted to build content that humanized what was “seemingly a very impersonal virtual service,” John said. They began to take and build an archive of portraits of employees throughout the organization, of particular interest were employees in areas of the business that aren’t very customer-facing which aimed to show how far-reaching the FreshDirect team really is. “This type of imagery became much more of a fixture of our photography and videography workflow. These videos and images were used in packages that were assembled for external communications including print, online, and in broadcast media. Posts about companywide vaccination efforts that featured employees and acknowledgments by the Borough Presidents of the Bronx and Queens for our employees of merit during the Five Borough Food Drive, as well as featuring individual employees of note across the organization became some of our most engaged with content of the year,” John noted.

“So where has the last year left us? What have we learned from this experience? It’s helped us to realize that food really means so much more to people than just what they’re eating. It can be a source of comfort when there otherwise seems to be none. It connects people to places they can’t be or to people they can’t be with and providing this service to people really connects them to us and connects us to them and it also taught us that our customers are really grateful for us to bring all of this to them safely and that they appreciate the people that make this possible for them. For that reason, we’ll definitely continue to elevate and share these stories with our customers.”


The Challenge

Although Fotografiska is not a client of PhotoShelter’s, the museum’s Vice President of Global Exhibitions Pauline Benthende ended our panelist discussion by painting a brilliant canvas of ideas for how to bring a museum to people when people can not physically go to a museum.

The Takeaways

  1. Make content accessible and expand into the digital realm.

The first program they planned came together in three weeks. “We collected 50 world-famous and local photographers and did an outdoor show in the middle of Stockholm,” the city that houses the museum’s first physical location.

To lure onlookers with something beyond the eye candy behind their walls, Fotografiska’s Stockholm location offered sweet treats too—they hosted digital cook-along shows and opened a pop-up bakery.

They hosted free virtual tours in 3D and hosted live and recorded virtual guided tours that they then published on social media. Pauline says, “We also had guided tours live where actually a curator could be in Stockholm, Sweden or even New York for that matter, and comment on a live tour in Estonia.”

To deepen the intimacy for connection to the artists themselves, they started publishing a podcast in lieu of artist talks at the museums. “We basically put everything online, so people could still take part in the stories behind the artworks and behind our brand. We turned our magazine, which is normally distributed with one of the largest newspapers in Sweden, into a digital magazine for everyone to read. We started doing online education, which we actually never did before. We always had face-to-face classes inside our buildings, but now we put everything online and it’s worked out really, really, really well. Better than we thought actually.”

While we’re not surprised that expanding access to artwork has been well received, we’re excited to watch as the virtual event trend shifts with our new hybrid reality.

Pauline ended with a question all creatives are probably pondering now, “What happens after a pandemic and where do we go from here?” She said, “Our belief is strongly that we have an urge to experience art in real life and with our friends and with our families; people will always want to be a part of a community and have live conversations. But I think that the creativity we were forced to have during the pandemic, that pushed us into these new waters, that will definitely stay with us. I think from March 2021 and onwards we will have one foot as always in the physical space and in physical meetings between people and people, and people and art. But we also look forward to coming back and being a premier destination for photography and culture also on a digital platform.”

As we head into 2022, it’s only going to take more ingenuity and daring creativity to top the trending charts and interrupt the endlessly scrolling masses. However, having a solid visual workflow helps cut out the headaches that come with asset management, giving your brain more time back for creative problem-solving. Dive in below to learn more workflow tips from creative professionals you need to know.

How Groceries, Beer, and Museums Made It Through the Pandemic is written by Larissa D Green for

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