The Changing World of Food Communications

Over the years I’ve had the honor of being able to conduct proprietary research on behalf of my organization, Ketchum, a global marketing firm that has been dedicated to food and related companies for over 6 decades. The ability to look in corners where no one is looking; to challenge conventional wisdom and to peer into the future while others focus on quarters is a great opportunity and a gift we share with our clients and friends freely. Happy World Food Day! Enjoy the latest from our Food 2020 research series!


Trust in the global food system is broken. Consumer protests and backlashes to food issues from horsemeat in Europe to GMO protests in California are driving “right-to-know” demands that, unheeded become deep-seated mistrust. The number and frequency of shareholder resolutions, regulatory initiatives, consumer protests, negative media coverage and social media campaigns are changing the food communications landscape.

We at Ketchum believe there is a large population of influential consumers who are leading the public debate about how food is produced and marketed, and they are determined to bring about change. We call them the Food eVangelists, a segment of the population on a mission to change others’ beliefs, opinions and purchase decisions when it comes to food. These intensely passionate and engaged consumers are affecting the marketplace in powerful ways.

These insights come from our organization’s 6+ decades of dedicated service to food producers and marketers everywhere and our investments in Food 2020: Consumer as CEO global research. The insights from this research are so significantly different from all we have known, done and recommended in the past that we are compelled to share these breakthrough insights in the spirit of truly wanting to aid discussions in the global food community on World Food Day and help reverse what could be a destructive if not challenging road ahead.

We are seeing emerge some significant ‘breakthrough’ insights and equally remarkable strategies and approaches that defy those that have successfully been used in communications and public affairs for decades.

Breakthrough Insight 1Socialized journalism has unraveled corporate information, influence and message control….never to be regained.

  • Every laptop owner is a journalist; an investigative reporter; an activist and lobbyist with a seat at the boardroom table

@2Breakthrough Insight 2: Facts, science, scientists and credentialed experts –no matter how much and how loudly or broadly shared, cannot reverse negative perceptions related to food production and the motives of those in the industry.

  • Raising the volume of information to oppose negative information actually creates the reverse effect – less trust and support

@3Breakthrough Insight 3: Using paid marketing tools and tactics to reverse relationship issues will backfire if used to reach the Food eVangelist.

  • There is a ‘church and state’ mentality among consumers who believe some tactics that are paid for are not appropriate tools to build knowledge and trust

Breakthrough Insight 4: There is no expectation that companies ‘be perfect’ nor right all the time.

  • The Food eVangelists support and applaud continuous improvement; recognition of vulnerabilities and the journey toward higher ground….as long as they are kept informed

@4Breakthrough Insight 5: Messages and messaging to the Food eVangelist are robotic and reflect an organization that is ‘out of touch’.

  • Storytelling and engagement in experiences are core tools in the new toolbox of relationship building

Breakthrough Insight 6: What we say is not what people hear.

  • Words and phrases that have historically been accepted and understood are not being heard, and when they are, they are generating a very different meaning than intended
  • How we say what we need to say speaks louder than our words

@5Breakthrough Insight 7: NGOs are losing relevance. Consumers are coalescing and directing pressure on the c-Suite, regulators and primary consumer targets with success.

  • They are ‘hiding in plain sight’, untouched by marketing messages, dismissed by corporate leaders as fringe

Breakthrough Insight 8: The Food eVangelist is neither fringe, nor intentionally destructive.

  • Our research shows that, while sometimes somewhat misinformed, the Food eVangelists can be reached and, THEY CAN BE MOVED! We call them the NEW MOVEABLE MIDDLE…potentially a new ally in building support for your brands or organizations

It is these new ‘truths’ that we believe must be strongly considered in any and all strategies aimed at rebuilding trust AND as well as any efforts to gain awareness, recognition and support for the good deeds already underway.

@6The textbook detailing how to communicate and align Food eVangelists, influencers and consumers is being written as we speak. Now is the time for global food leaders to reassess and retool communications strategies to accommodate the changes underway in our marketplace. The true leadership brands and businesses that emerge will be those that courageously engage, listen and build relationships and reputation through actions not words.