In the age of social media, many businesses have taken a hit as their once popular product has been deemed ‘unhealthy’ by influencers. The bakery industry, for example, took a downturn with the gluten-free craze and the popularity of low carb diets. Irrespective of their nutrition credentials, public health activists, celebrities, food bloggers and the like, through their various agendas, can accrue a following of people who subscribe to their way of thinking and sway the demand for certain foods.
As Hank Cordello explains in his article published on Forbes.com, thanks to digital media, food industry marketers are no longer in full control of their brands. The author of Stuffed: An Insiders Look At What Is Really Making America Fat, Cardello spent his career as a food industry executive helping to drive profits in some of the world’s biggest food brands. He is now a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and works with food companies to create a healthier food environment.
For businesses on the right side of the wave, having the support of particular influencers is a good thing – think about the current frenzy around ‘plant-based’ – but for those that aren’t, the consequences can be dire. All too often, especially in the field of nutrition, the signs are present well before, in some cases years before, the trend or issue emerges but most companies don’t have the radar to detect them. And when they finally do, it’s too late and can take a long time to turnaround.
How does a food company maintain its influence to ensure its brand is valued and trusted?
Keep up to date
Know and understand data and opinions that relate to your products. This will enable you to foresee and mitigate potential issues and help keep you on the right side of the trend wave. This is not about what you say about your product, but about what your product is. Monitoring the science around nutrition, developments in food policies as well as consumer attitudes are all key to this.
Know the influencers
Understand who the influencers are, what their views are and how they influence. Are they involved in setting food and nutrition-related policies and regulations or do they influence consumers directly? Follow their social channels, what conferences they attend and subscribe to their publications.
Understand the strength of science
Science evolves and the evidence can strengthen or dissipate over time. Seek advice from credible and credentialed nutrition experts to understand where the science is at, how it is progressing, and if and how it relates to your business. Consider commissioning new research to fill knowledge gaps.
Understand that the food landscape is ever changing
Be ready to change the composition of your product or things like portion size and serving suggestions. This allows you to minimise your exposure to emerging issues and adapt to the changing landscape.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Keep in contact with all of your stakeholders, not just your consumers but policymakers, regulators and health professionals such as dietitians. You will have to tailor your message to each audience but keeping in touch and engaging with them allows you to get feedback on what you are doing. This gives you the chance to adapt your approach.
Influencers become successful by forging a relationship with their audience. Brands can do the same. Food marketers, however, need to drop the veil of clever marketing and be more open. It is only through proactivity and transparency that food businesses can engender trust and loyalty and take back control of their products and brands.