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What’s your food brand’s digital IQ?

By Maggie Hennessy , 15-May-2014
Last updated the 16-May-2014 at 14:30 GMT

The $321 bn US packaged food market’s appetite for digital is growing, yet just a handful of brands are truly differentiating themselves when it comes to their digital presence, says a new study from digital business intelligence firm L2 ThinkTank. 

In a new report, L2 ranked 80 US packaged food and beverage brands by their so-called “digital IQs”, finding that those with the most digital know-how are Betty Crocker (General Mills), Kellogg’s (Kellogg Co.), Pillsbury (General Mills), Kraft (Kraft Foods) and Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever).

The rankings are based on food and beverage CPGs’ weighted performance in four categories: website and e-commerce (effectiveness of site and e-commerce investments), digital marketing (search, display and email marketing), social media (brand presence, community size and engagement) and mobile (compatibility and marketing on different devices). Following data collection and weighting, brands were scored and accordingly placed into one of five IQ classes: genius, gifted, average, challenged and feeble.

Rounding out the top ten highest digital IQs were McCormick (McCormick & Co.), Chobani (Chobani), Quaker (Pepsico), Cheerios (General Mills), Hershey’s (Hershey Foods) and Weight Watchers (Weight Watchers).The five brands with the weakest digital IQs were Banquet (ConAgra Foods), Nature’s Own (Flowers Foods), Fritos (PepsiCo), Thomas (Grupo Bimbo) and Totino’s (General Mills).

Katie Brehm, research lead at L2, told FoodNavigator-USA that what differentiates the genius from the feeble class is the ability to make brand sites destinations for the consumer, supported by strong and active promotion of and investment in the brand’s various digital properties.

“One of our genius brands, Betty Crocker, has differentiated their brand site by developing a top-10 destination for recipe content,” she said. “They receive more than 4 million unique monthly site visits. The Betty Crocker Mobile Cookbook app has been downloaded more than 500,000 times and is supported across iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

“At the other end of the spectrum, Banquet is absent from all social media platforms, forfeits SEO real estate due to a generic brand name, and fails to provide ingredient information on their brand site. Magnum is another example of a challenging brand name; brands should be actively purchasing on their brand term to promote their digital properties." 

Nearly half of F&B brands don’t have mobile-enabled websites

Although a vast majority (90%) of consumers use their mobile phones while shopping for grocery items (according to Google’s Shopper Marketing Council), 43% of brands don’t have a mobile-optimized website. Of the 57% of food brands that do have a mobile-enabled site, 31% favor responsive design over a customized mobile site, according to the data.

When it comes to tablets, brands often default to the desktop site, though Ben & Jerry’s, Betty Crocker, Kashi and Pillsbury are among those that have used responsive design to create tablet-specific customizations. Notably, while a third of brands offer swipe support on the home page or through collection pages, swipeable product images and fluid grid galleries are absent from the packaged food realm, according to L2 data.

More than half of brands (57%) aren’t purchasing branded keywords on Google, and despite heavy investment in traditional media, the majority of food brands still fail to feature a digital call to action.

Digital coupon redemptions high; brands not taking advantage

Digital coupons saw a surge in popularity in 2013, averaging 14% redemption rates (far outpacing the 1% of print coupon redemptions), according to the NCH Coupon Facts Report. Roughly 40% of the 66 mn coupons redeemed last year were for food products.

And yet, just 24% of food brands offered digital coupons on their websites during L2’s data collection period. More than a third (36%) had a dedicated coupon section in the main site navigation. On the other hand, 61% of food brands offered clippable e-coupons on Amazon.com during the data collection period (compared to less than a third on Walmart.com and Target.com). Given that 64% of coupon-savvy consumers report that they seek out digital coupons while in store on a shopping trip, according to Valassis, multichannel retailers could be missing out

Facebook still dominates social media space; social media topples brand sites

Nearly half (48%) of food brands maintain an active presence on each of the four major platforms—that is Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram—and 61% are now on Pinterest.

Source: L2 ThinkTank

Facebook is still the platform of choice, with 96% of food brands maintaining a presence (and an average community size exceeding 2 million consumers). But Twitter and YouTube aren’t far behind, with 88% and 85%, respectively, of brands maintaining a presence.

L2 found that social media investments often trump website and other brand-owned destinations. Indeed, Cheetos redirects to its Facebook fan page from its website, and Doritos charts 5 million monthly views on its YouTube channel, compared to less than 1 million unique visitors on its website.

E-commerce poised to explode, yet majority of food brands don’t

Although e-commerce represents just 3.3% of grocery, analysts expect that number to explode 6.7% to reach 16.9% within the next decade. Indeed, the Hartman Group projects that a third of US households will try online grocery shopping for the first time within the next year. Amy’s Kitchen, Clif Bar, Earth’s Best, Earthbound Farm, Enfamil, Quaker Oats and Similac are among the brands that offer direct-to-consumer e-commerce from a brand e-store (separate from the brand site).

Yet it seems that brands are still slow overall to embrace the e-commerce model. Indeed, 81% don’t direct consumers to e-tailers (retailers that sell their products online) from their brand site. Among the brands that link to product pages on retail partners are Hellman’s and Knorr (Unilever), Keebler, Coffee-Mate and Kellogg’s. 

Report details

For the report, L2 collected data on the 80 brands between January and April 2014 using a combination of manual assessment tools, in-house automated social media and e-tailer scraping tools, and third-party tools, such as Alexa, Compete and SimilarWeb. Websites were weighted most heavily (35%), followed by digital marketing (30%). L2 then tallied the 850 weighted data points collected on each brands before normalizing the scores to 100.