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Beyond label reading

Until very recently, the complicated part of subsistence for us humans has been simply finding enough to eat. Most of us enjoy abundance now, to the extent that 40% of all food in this country isn’t even eaten – it’s wasted (a topic for another blog post!). Our remarkable – if imperfect – food production system gives us the ‘luxury’ of myriad choices for our nourishment and eating pleasure. This array of options is driven by considerations of not just taste but time, money, health, and our values. [Think Lunchables, Trader Joe’s frozen canapes, Lean Cuisine or Amy’s vegetarian entrees.]

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In the social media research I’ve done, I’ve seen that amidst this plenty, people are asking lots of questions and showing concern about where their food comes from. Social media – and the Internet more broadly – inform, but also provoke even more questions about just what we’re feeding ourselves and our families. Forums and Facebook especially see a great deal of discussion about GMOs, livestock welfare, food allergies and intolerances, local sourcing, environmental issues, organic, and more. These channels thrive as virtual communities for users to connect with those with whom they share circumstances or ideals. Consumers place a high value on connection. This appears to be related to another trend I’ve found interesting: the increased discussion of ‘local,’ indicating people really appreciate knowing where and how their food is grown.

One national brand that has used social media quite effectively to play to this trend and the questions people have about where their food comes from is Chipotle. ‘Scarecrow’ uses video and a mobile game to raise consciousness about ‘industrial farming.’ In the process, Chipotle has provoked the ire of many farmers who claim to raise animals responsibly on a large scale but who are also painted with this negative broad brush by a very popular brand.

In the course of my research, I’ve seen that consumers have questions and concerns and don’t always know who to trust with the answers. Smart brands will pay attention to the social media buzz and respond to this hunger in ways that build rapport and trust. Consumers don’t expect perfection, but they do want companies to listen, have a plan for improving, and operate transparently.

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