Picnic Culture

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Picnics are the new brunch. With the weather warming up and the prospect of restaurant dining still a while off, picnics have become the stand in activity for weekend indulgence.  The Irish are masters at making the most of sunny days (and even the not so sunny ones). As COVID restrictions have not allowed households to meet up in private gardens, picnicking has been one of our better options for taking advantage of the weather. In the UK, Waitrose has recorded a 213 per cent rise in food to go items and picnic food from last year. Buckingham Palace has announced it will open the royal gardens to public visitors for picnics. Marks and Spencer has launched picnic-friendly ‘cake jars.’ Lidl is offering a selection of ‘perfect picnic’ accessories in stores this week. Picnics have become a lockdown cultural phenomenon, as dozens of articles are being published each month about the best supplies, recipes, and top spots to picnic.

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Like brunch, the aesthetic of a picnic is a major part of its appeal. In this way it intersects with Tablescaping and Cottagecore, two other highly visual trends that have accelerated on social media over the pandemic. A search of #picnic on Instagram yields over 8 million results. On Tiktok, #picnic, which has received over 1 billion views, brings up videos, set to dreamy music, of people carefully laying out their feasts, lounging in the company of friends, and eating cake out of wine glasses. Whether it’s bringing champagne glasses and fresh flowers or a cheese board and ornate desserts, it is all about decadence. Picnics have also become an occasion to dress for. Fashion brands have curated spring ranges of flowy mid-length dresses, ditsy florals, gingham and seersucker. As Jess Cartner-Morley wrote in the Guardian, ‘If the tracksuit was the uniform of Stay at Home, the picnic dress is Have Fun (but Sensibly, and Outside.).’

The ultimate picnic of course would involve none of the preparation or clean-up, which is exactly the premise behind the many luxury picnic businesses which have emerged over the past year. The United States is home to many, such as The Picnic Collective in Southern California, or Gather Picnic Co in Atlanta. In London there is Piquefood, which gives classic British picnic foods a contemporary upgrade.  In Ireland, Grá picnics assemble picnics complete with lavish grazing boards for people to enjoy along the breath-taking natural locations in Co. Clare like the Cliffs of Moher. Many Irish food businesses, such as Fallon and Byrne, have also branched into picnic boxes over the warmer months of lockdown. In Dublin’s Phoenix Park, the Phoenix Park Café started Picnics in the Park. The Sixty Four wine shop offers a gourmet wine picnic. This weekend, Kildare-based caterer Lily and Wood is selling thoughtfully prepared, take-away picnics in aid of Breast Cancer Ireland.

Picnics represent an opportunity for brands across a number of sectors. Portability is key, but so is enhancing the experience beyond an everyday meal. Part of the classic charm is bringing the luxuries of indoor spaces to ‘the wild.’ Brands will need to strike the right balance between functional and delightfully frivolous. Canned cocktails and wine are right at home at a picnic. As people are increasingly concerned with plastic waste and litter, stylish reusable products like beeswax wrap, thermoses and outdoor plates and cutlery are picnic perfect.  Whether it’s a specific blanket, table, a beautiful wicker basket, or even a portable champagne bucket, many people will be seeking out products that will make for Instagramable moments to capture. As we enter our second Covid summer, many of us, as the New York Times suggests, are ‘languishing.’ Picnics elevate the simple experience of eating outdoors into an occasion—your same local park to a destination. Over this past year, people have turned to good food and nature to reliably lift their mood. Many have also learned to appreciate a slower pace. It is little surprise that a leisurely picnic in the sunshine with a spread of nice things to eat and drink, and maybe a friend nearby, is now the peak of luxury.

Sean Mitchell

Author at Pynck

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