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Published September 26th 2014

A Passion For Food: Mitigating Risk in The Food & Beverage Industry

Last week I spoke at the BDI Social Media Marketing Summit in NYC about the increasing overlap between social and the food and beverage industry.

Roughly 150 marketers and strategists listened as I told stories of how Dominique Ansel unleashed the Cronut on NYC and the social sphere went nuts, how women talk about intending to eat healthily online more than men, and how while mostly women are tweeting about kale, it turns out bacon is loved by both men and women – the conversations happening online about bacon is split evenly between both genders.

The event was a gathering of a great crowd of managers and directors in the marketing world, were eager to learn about the increasing impact that social media has on the food and beverage sector.

After the presentation, the event morphed from thought leadership talks into several roundtables where interested participants could join a small group of 15 or so industry professionals to discuss a more detailed aspect of social media. I moderated a discussion on ‘measuring social campaigns’ which focused on various means and methods of finding real ROI on social campaigns, a contested topic today.

It was a great event – one that reminded me of something important.

Presenting about risk and opportunity in food and beverage reminded me that I love working in this sector – not just because I’m a massive foodie and love bacon – but because food and drink is EMOTIVE.

People really care about what they consume.

167314167-350x285How things taste, how they’re produced, the ingredients contained. This means that brands in the food and beverage industry are automatically PASSION led brands.

This results in billions of conversations happening online everyday about different foods, drinks, brands and issues. This passion can provide huge opportunities if leveraged correctly, but can also pose serious risk for companies in the food and beverage sector.

One area of risk is ingredients. Today’s consumer can easily go online to research what is in their food that could potentially cause harm.

There are a few loud voices online such as Vani Hari, or ‘The Food Babe’, who has made it her mission to rid products of harmful ingredients. Her strategy to do this is to go directly to the companies themselves using social media. This can pose serious risk for companies in the space.

For example, earlier this year Whitewave Foods was targeted by Vani Hari and her #foodbabearmy as their products Silk and Horizon contained Carrageenan – a chemical perceived as harmful.

Due to this consumer pressure Whitewave removed this ingredient from their products. This is an example of how a company took a situation of risk cause by the passion of consumers online, and turned it into an opportunity for brand positioning – as a result of this action, Whitewave is seen as listening to their customer as well as being positioned as Carrageenan-free. Nice.

FB_WhiteWaveCarrageenan_3-1I realise that not all companies are able to influence their product development in such a fast and effective manner as Whitewave Foods.

However, what all companies can do is listen to consumer concerns in the market and use that insight to influence their messaging, content, packaging and positioning to match up with these concerns.


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