Food “e-Vangelists” monitoring brands and influencing global food market, survey

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 28th October 2013

A “shift in power” is taking place in the food industry, led by a group of increasingly influential consumers who want to impact the way food is raised, grown, packaged and sold, according to global public relations agency Ketchum.

According to the results of Ketchum’s third global “Food 2020” survey, these influential consumers, dubbed ‘Food e-Vangelists’ by Ketchum, are making an impact on food production.The online survey was conducted among 1,800 respondents (300 per market) between Feb. 14, 2013 and March 5, 2013.

“In our third year of fielding this survey, we are seeing consistent and important trends about consumers’ interest in the food system, and what they have come to expect and demand from food marketers, buyers and sellers,” said Linda Eatherton, Partner and Director of Ketchum’s Global Food and Nutrition Practice.

“What’s distinct about this year’s study is that we have identified a group of ‘Food e-Vangelists’ as a small but might segment of agents of change who are prepared and motivated to take action and convert others to adopt their opinions about foods, brands and companies in the food and agricultural sector,” Ms Eatherton said.

‘Food e-Vangelist’ demographics

Ketchum said ‘Food e-Vangelists’ are typically young females who are active online, financially secure and have families – a group that is also commonly targeted in food marketing. However, Ketchum said what was unique about this group is that it is not defined by its demographic profile, but by its like-mindedness, and typical marketing practices are not effective with this group.

“The Food e-Vangelists are the single most important group in the food industry today, but they don’t fit typical marketing demographics,” Ms Eatherton said. “They are hiding in plain sight – yet food companies are allocating budgets on marketing programs that don’t reach them. This group will change the food industry forever, but at the moment they represent a hugely missed opportunity,” she said.

“In our research we looked at consumers whom we identified as Food Involved – a psychographic profile of consumers that care deeply about food, where it comes from and the processes used in production and manufacturing,” Ms Eatherton said. “However, we uncovered a consumer segment inside this group that was somewhat different, a uniquely powerful subset with very different drivers and expectations from the Food Involved,” she said.

‘Food e-Vangelists’ listen to everyone, trust no one, and take action

According to Ketchum, ‘Food e-Vangelists’ are action-oriented; they take it upon themselves to learn about the issues and to influence others by sharing their findings. In fact, more than two-thirds of ‘Food e-Vangelists’ said they would conduct online research to better inform their opinions if they saw a news story about a banned food item.

“Food companies have an opportunity to be open and transparent and provide easily accessible information that can help Food e-Vangelists educate themselves and others about important food issues,” said Eatherton. “Ketchum has created a suite of services to help companies understand how commodities and food brands can best identify, engage and activate this consumer,” she said

Shaping the conversation about food and brands

According to Ketchum, more than one-third (38 per cent) of ‘Food e-Vangelists’ regularly take the time to recommend and critique food brands and products and share their opinions with others – both online and offline.

Ketchum’s research found that Food e-Vangelists engaged in the following behaviour at least four times per week:

  •  Recommend or critique a food brand: 38 per cent
  • Take time to share opinions: 40 per cent
  • Take time to share opinions about eating habits with friends and family: 40 per cent
  • Recommend or critique a food product: 44 per cent

“While the Food Involved group is active at seeking and gathering information about food, Food e-Vangelists believe it is their right and their responsibility to influence the beliefs of others and change behaviors,” said Eatherton. “We have seen anecdotally and in qualitative research that Food e-Vangelists actually track their success in this area and feel rewarded or incentivised by the number of people they have reached,” she said.

Fresh food most important for ‘Food e-Vangelists’

According to Ketchum, two-thirds of Food e-Vangelists said they had increased their fresh food purchases compared to the previous year, and nearly as many (59 per cent) had also consciously purchased less packaged and prepared foods.

“There are many implications in this data set for packaged food companies, and we are working with many to mine for the insights that impact companies’ reputation and brand share,” Ms Eatherton said.

Food companies refocus to watch ‘Food e-Vangelists’

Health, transparency and cause (for example, making food more accessible to families in need) were among the top qualities that made ‘Food e-Vangelists’ more likely to advocate for a  food company or brand, purchase more from a food company or brand, or pay more for a food company’s products.

More than half (54 per cent) said they would like to see food companies prioritise making ‘healthy’ foods more available in the future, and that they wanted ingredient information about a product (including source, processing, production techniques, farm or supplier name etc) on product labels. Two in five (40 per cent) said that to recommend a food company to friends and family, the company would have to ensure quality food was “accessible to families in need”.

Social online

In addition to using blogs and social media to share their opinions about food issues, Ketchum found ‘Food e-Vangelists’ expect companies to engage with consumers via social media as a tool for direct and open communication.

How ‘Food e-Vangelists’ expect global food companies to use social media:

  • To work interactively with consumers on product improvements and new products on an ongoing basis: 51 per cent
  • To communicate transparently about sourcing and the manufacturing process: 54 per cent
  • To interact with consumers (for example, answer questions, provide customer service outlets etc): 54 per cent
  • To solicit feedback from consumers on product improvements and new products: 57 per cent

Not a “fringe group”

According to Ketchum’s research, across the globe, ‘Food e-Vangelists’ generate up to 1.7 billion conversations about food every week. In some regions of the world, this consumer category represented a significant segment of the population. In Italy, for example, ‘Food e-Vangelists’ represented more than one third of the population. In Argentina and China, they represented about one quarter.

Percentage of population identified as ‘Food e-Vangelists’

  • Italy: 37 per cent (23 million people)
  • Argentina: 29 per cent (12 million people)
  • China: 24 per cent (324 million people)
  • UK: 20 per cent (13 million people)
  • US: 11 per cent (35 million people)
  • Germany: 9 per cent (7 million people)

Ketchum said food companies had a “unique opportunity” to mobilise this active segment of consumers. According to Ketchum, ‘Food e-Vangelists’ could “play an important role” in advocating on behalf of those companies that were ready to listen and respond to them, and may advocate against companies that do not engage them.

'Food e-Vangelists' influencing global food industry