Nearly half of U.S. consumers learn about food via social networking sites, study says; 40% learn about food via websites, apps or blogs

Nevin Barich

Nevin Barich

Feb 27, 2012 – Industry Intelligence

LOS ANGELES , February 27, 2012 (press release) – How Americans learn to cook, select recipes, plan their meals, purchase their food and share their culinary secrets with others has dramatically changed, according to a new study released last week. Called Clicks & Cravings: The Impact of Social Technology on Food Culture, the study finds social/digital media is replacing mom as the go-to culinary source of knowledge for many people.

The study was jointly developed and conducted by consumer research firm The Hartman Group and Publicis Consultants USA, a food & nutrition marketing agency, part of MSLGROUP Americas.

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," said 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!"

In the past, whereas consumers listened to the opinions of a few trusted resources -- mom and other family members – in deciding what to buy, cook or eat, modern consumers "crowdsource" the opinions of many before deciding what to buy.

What's more, the infiltration of social media into 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," added 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."

Brand ROI Is an Enriching Relationship
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," explained Steve Bryant, president of Publicis Consultants USA, part of MSLGROUP Americas.

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.

"We approached the brand's social media as two good friends having an intimate conversation over a meal, and consumers responded positively," added Bryant.

Three Tiers of Consumer Engagement
Clicks & Cravings found that in the food and grocery category, consumers' social media behavior falls along a continuum of engagement. The study shows that brands should tailor communication strategies to be relevant to each type 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.

"There are many brand opportunities for each specific consumer," states Bryant. "For example, a brand may entice Dreamers by incorporating their recipes on its site, or appeal to a Spectator by offering incentives in exchange for a video review," states Bryant.

"In tandem with smart communications counsel, the report is a powerful tool to help brands strategize their approach to social and digital media," added Demeritt.

About the Report
"Clicks & Cravings" is an in-depth qualitative and quantitative study fielded October and November 2011 in the U.S. marketplace. Qualitative ethnographies were fielded in 2 major U.S. markets and more than 1,600 U.S. adult consumers participated in the online survey. In addition to providing insights into social media use, the report provides strategic recommendations on how companies can leverage social media to build meaningful and profitable relationships with consumers.

About Publicis Consultants USA
Publicis Consultants USA is a food and nutrition marketing and PR firm devoted to creating economic value for the nation's food and beverage industry. The agency is part of MSLGROUP and MSLGROUP Americas. MSLGROUP is the world's fourth largest PR and events networks. With more than 3,000 people, its offices span 22 countries and cover virtually every discipline required for clients to engage creatively with their audiences 24 hours a day. The group offers clients strategic advice, insight-guided thinking and big, compelling ideas – followed by thorough execution. Publicis Consultants USA, which houses the Publicis Culinary & Nutrition Center, operates offices in New York City and Seattle representing food and beverage brand and commodity clients.

About The Hartman Group
The Hartman Group is the principal provider of global research on consumer culture, behaviors and demand and a leading advisor on market strategy to the world's best-known brands. Through a unique suite of integrated custom, primary research capabilities, market analytics and business strategy services Hartman Group uncovers opportunity spaces and avenues for growth for clients across the consumer-driven marketplace. Hartman Group is internationally recognized for breakthrough perspectives on emerging and evolving consumer behaviors in health and wellness, sustainability and food culture. Since its foundation in 1989, Hartman Group helps clients apply the knowledge of the "why behind the buy" to brand development, innovation, categories, retail, marketing and more. For more, visit:

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