A group of increasingly influential consumers who want to impact the way food is raised, grown, packaged and sold are flying under the radar of most food product marketers, according to the results of the third global “Food 2020” survey by public relations firm Ketchum.
The survey asked 1,800 respondents in China, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Italy and Argentina (300 per market) what they would do or want if they were named CEO of the world's food supply. The results indicated the growing influence of this vocal subset of food influencers–dubbed Food e-Vangelists–who are mostly young females who are active online, financially secure and have families.
Small, but not a fringe group
Food e-Vangelists make up a subcategory of a group that also is commonly targeted in food marketing known as Food Involved, which describes consumers who care deeply about food, where it comes from and the processes used in production and manufacturing.
“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,” said Linda Eatherton, partner and director of Ketchum’s global food & nutrition practice, in a statement accompanying the results. “We have identified a group of Food e-Vangelists as a small but mighty 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.”
"Food e-Vangelists are hiding in plain sight–yet food companies are allocating budgets on marketing programs that don't reach them,” she added.
Around the world each week, Food e-Vangelists generate up to 1.7 billion conversations about food. This group also represents a signification population segment in several countries—37% in Italy (23 million people), 29% in Argentina (12 million), 24% in China (324 million), 20% in the UK (13 million), 11% in the United States (35 million) and 9% in Germany (7 million).
Food e-Vangelists take it upon themselves to learn about the issues, with two-thirds saying they would conduct online research to better inform their opinions if they saw a news story about a banned food item. For manufacturers, this suggests that transparency and easy access to information could be an effective way to build trust with this consumer segment.
Gaining the trust of one Food e-Vangelists could have potentially far-reaching effects, as this group regularly takes the time to influence others by sharing their findings and other related opinions, as well as recommending and critiquing food brands and products to friends and family, both online and offline.
"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 in the statement. "We have seen anecdotally and in qualitative research that Food e-Vangelists actually track their success in this area and feel rewarded or incentivized by the number of people they have reached."
Expect transparency, health, cause
Because Food e-Vangelists comprise such an active consumer segment, companies that are willing to engage them can mobilize them to advocate on their behalf, (though they may advocate against companies that don't listen and respond to them), the study found.
Health, transparency and cause (making food more accessible to families in need) are among the top qualities that make 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 of Food e-Vangelists (54%) said they would like food companies to prioritize making healthy foods more available. Transparency is also important to this segment, with 54% saying they want ingredient information about a product (including source, processing, production techniques, and farm or supplier name) on the label. Two-in-five Food e-Vangelists (40%) say that to recommend a food company to friends and family, the company would have to ensure quality food is accessible to families in need.
Overall, this increasingly influential group is not defined by its demographic profile but by its like-mindedness. Food manufacturers have to look beyond typical marketing practices to capture this skeptical, action-oriented consumer segment.
“This group will change the food industry forever, but at the moment they represent a hugely missed opportunity," Eatherton said.