How Americans learn to cook, select recipes, plan their meals, purchase their food and share their culinary secrets has changed dramatically, according to a new study released last week by Publicis Consultants USA, the food and nutrition specialist subsidiary of MSLGroup, and consumer research firm The Hartman Group.
Clicks & Cravings: The Impact of Social Technology on Food Culture found social and digital media replacing mom as the go-to culinary source of knowledge for many people. Study results show almost half of consumers learn about food via social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, and 40 percent learn about food via websites, apps or blogs.
“Consumers used to rely on mom and family traditions for meal planning, but now search online for what to cook, without ever tasting or smelling,” says Laurie Demeritt, president and COO at The Hartman Group. “Digital food selection is less of a sensory experience and more of a visual and rational process: What’s on the label? What’s in the recipe? Show me the picture!”
The impact of social media on the food experience goes far beyond purchasing and preparing food; it now includes the meal experience as well. While eating or drinking at home, nearly one-third of Americans use social networking sites. Among Millennials (18-32 years old), this figure jumps to 47 percent.
“The ‘table for one’ rarely exists anymore, even among single people eating alone at home,” says Demeriit. “If you are eating alone, chances are you are also texting friends who live miles away or posting food photos to a review site.”
The Clicks & Cravings study offers learning for food and grocery brands developing digital campaigns in the category. The study reveals it’s not enough for food and grocery brands simply to be present in the virtual space or build up legions of followers. The payoff is a long-term and personal relationship that creates brand advocates and an emotional connection that drives influence. To achieve such an enriching relationship, communication must be relevant and have a distinct and authentic personality.
“The best social and digital campaigns reflect the audience’s values, interests, concerns and aspirations,” suggests Steve Bryant, president of Publicis Consultants USA. According to Bryant, this approach is effective for both large and small brands. He points to the success of Roman Meal, a small whole grain bread company on the agency’s roster. With a minimal budget, the brand built a valuable social network using one clear brand voice, expert nutrition information, and real stories of personal struggles that a healthy lifestyle could help solve.
The study shows that brands should tailor communication strategies to be relevant to three types of user.
• "Spectators” use social media as an extension of their network of friends, family and peers. They use social media for product reviews, recipes and good deals.
• “Dreamers” curate and push food related content through social networks. They aspire to have larger followings and more influence than they currently do.
• “Doers” are the most engaged. They are the core of food and social media, creating content that inspires followers.