‘Food evangelist’ consumers interested in GMOs, antibiotics
March 2, 2017
Since 2013, a new type of consumer has emerged – someone who buys food and talks to friends and neighbors about it but is not an activist and wants to be approached by the food industry, a prominent public relations executive told the International Sweetener Colloquium here this week.
These "food evangelists," as international public relations firm Ketchum has dubbed them, have already shown that they are interested in hearing more about genetic modification and why antibiotics are used to treat meat animals, said Kim Essex, director of Ketchum's North American food and beverage practice in its Chicago office.
"They listen to everyone, trust no one," Essex told an audience interested in the consumer image of sugar. "The great news is that they listen to everyone and they want information from food companies and industry."
When genetic modification of food ingredients is explained to them, "you start seeing them soften. They are not like activists," she said. When the subject of antibiotics comes up, they want to know why ranchers and the meat industry uses them, she added.
“The great news is that they listen to everyone and they want information from food companies and industry.” Kim Essex, director of Ketchum’s North American food and beverage practice in Chicago
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Although the food evangelists say the revelations about lean, finely textured beef – which became known as pink slime and was banned from many school meals programs – is the moment that they "became active and changed the world," they do not join non-governmental organizations or sign petitions, Essex said.
But they share their opinions about food with friends, neighbors and family four or five times per week, she said.
Since 2015, Ketchum has been focused on food evangelists as a group that their clients need to reach, but influencing them is complicated, Essex said.
Food evangelists search everywhere for information, she said — online, in newspapers, on national and local television and in magazines.
Ketchum advises its clients to be in all forms of media to find the food evangelists and to start with visual presentations. But companies interested in reaching them also have to have backup information available because they often want to take deep dives to learn more. And food evangelists are reaching deeper into the food chain to ask about ingredients and how food is grown.
"Don't soundbite me" they tell the researchers, Essex said.
When Ketchum first identified the food evangelists in its market research in 2013, they seemed to be mostly women with above-average income, but their numbers are broadening and growing, she said. Today, they are more likely to be of average income, and there are more men and kids who have started talking to others about their views on food.
Food evangelists are not impressed by claims of perfection or companies that stick to a preprogrammed message, she said.
Food evangelists will pay more for what they view as good or healthy food, but they also believe that everyone should be able to eat healthy food.
Their view is: "We need to get fair and right with everybody, and food is not a privilege," she said.
They don't trust scientists and don't believe that government regulatory agencies have big enough budgets to do their jobs properly, she said.
Ketchum views the food evangelists as a worldwide phenomenon, she said.
But American food evangelists have different views on who to trust than people in other countries do, Essex said.
Worldwide, people trust family members the most for advice on food. But while people in most countries put nutrition professionals second, Americans rank farmers as second most trustworthy followed by friends, chefs and the food media.
Registered dieticians, medical professionals, scientists, researchers and food manufacturers fall below them.
And, she added, when farmers say they use some practices because "I have to make a living," they are open to that argument.
Food evangelists "appreciate real talk," Essex concluded.
–The Hagstrom Report