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Published September 2nd 2014

A Social Media Recipe for Food Brands

When Kraft’s Ninja Mac & Cheese appeared on the shelves this year, the familiar pasta and sauce product may have looked a little less vibrantly colored than your children were used to.

That’s because Kraft has revamped its product line. Their Macaroni & Cheese products now have six additional grams of whole grains (whoop, 6 grams!), less sodium and saturated fat, and most importantly, they’re free of food coloring.


kraftmacninja001That’s right – Kraft now uses spices instead of artificial food dye after 300,000 consumers signed a petition and inspired 10,000 mentions on social media.

In the past century, people really didn’t have much of a say in food safety matters. But recent strategy shifts from major food brands demonstrate how social movements are reshaping the way businesses operate.

What kind of social movements?


Consumers, people like you and me, are taking to social media in droves to tell brands exactly what they want and don’t want in their food. Sometimes they put pressure on companies that even the Food and Drug Administration haven’t been able to touch!

For instance, concerned mother Renee Shutters recently partnered with the Center for Science in the Public Interest urging M&M-maker Mars to replace the artificial colorings in the candy, saying these dyes can make kids hyperactive. Initially she testified before the FDA, but nothing happened until she went online.

Her petition now has over 164,000 supporters.

Influential consumers, such as Renee Shutters, Lisa Leake and Vani Hari have been using email, online petitions, blogs, forums, user-generated videos and social networks as powerful megaphones to urge food manufacturers to reconsider their product ingredients, the labeling and processing of their products.

Is it working?


Yes! Brands all over the world are listening because you’ve told them to.

Three years ago, activist and health blogger Vani Hari penned a blog post about Chick-fil-A’s chicken sandwich that contained nearly 100 ingredients, including MSG, artificial colors and TBHQ.

Chick-fil-A eventually invited her to its headquarters in Atlanta to spend the day deliberating about her major concerns, such as providing antibiotic free chicken.

0In December 2013, the burger chain removed high-fructose corn syrup from its white buns and artificial dyes from its sauces and dressings. While Hari was thrilled, she continues to openly call out brands on the antibiotics issues.

Proactive planning reaps rewards

Unfortunately, businesses such as Chick-fil-A or Kraft are not always in a position to quickly react to public pressures. It took them one and a half years to respond.

One way to speed up the process is to put a monitoring system in place. Food companies can rely on a social media analytics tool to immediately identify who’s spreading concerns and if whether the concerns have the potential to spread.

They can also take advantage of social data to quickly gain insight into consumer trends, which new products to launch and how online debates about health and ingredients impact their brand’s products.

A deeper analysis of healthy eating conversations in our Food & Beverage report shed light on people’s intentions and the nature of that movement.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 6.19.14 PMSurprisingly, 16% of consumers consider temptation as the underlying motive for eating healthy (over half of which mentioned pizza, obviously!), and, perhaps less surprisingly, 12% of the chatter focused around body image. This highlights consumers’ desire to eat healthy and their internal struggle to do so.

However, by understanding the motives behind a trend and associating your products with them, food brands can capitalize on deep-rooted consumer interests.

Understanding the motives behind this trend is essential for brands trying to develop new markets or to associate their existing products with them.


With the growth of social media, more ingredients in packaged and fast foods are coming under greater scrutiny as the health trend amasses a wider audience. Food brands cannot afford to ignore uproar over health issues.

While this may seem like a giant headache for many companies in the food & drinks industry, it just requires a little more proactive planning, transparency and thought into how you develop and market your products.

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