Fighting Childhood Obesity Among 2013’s Top Food News

Hunter Public Relations’ 11th annual Food News Study, in partnership with Libran Research & Consulting, polled 1,000 American adults in a quantitative online survey.

Each year, the food consumers eat make major headlines, from sourcing and safety issues, to ingredient trends, nutrition and marketing news, say officials; but which stories break through in terms of awareness and concern in the hearts and minds of Americans and influence their behavior?

“For the last 10 years, we’ve polled Americans about the top food news of the year, and more recently, the impact of that news on their behavior,” says Grace Leong, managing partner at Hunter Public Relations, one of the nation’s leading food and beverage public relations agencies. “This year, we dug even deeper into the insights and trends behind the top food news to understand what’s influencing consumers, what’s not and why.”

The Hunter Public Relations 2013 Food News Study reveals the following:

Fighting Childhood Obesity Is Top Food Story

Obesity was first declared an epidemic in the U.S. in 1999, and widespread media coverage of First Lady Michelle Obama’s healthy eating initiatives – aimed squarely at improving the diets of America’s children – first appeared as a top food news story in Hunter PR’s annual study in 2009. Since then, media coverage of Fighting Obesity in Children has steadily risen and was named by consumers as this year’s No.1 food news story not only in terms of general awareness, but also in terms of concern.

Nostalgic Brands and High Profile Figures Make People Take Notice

The Rise and Fall of Hostess Twinkies (No. 2) and Mayor Bloomberg’s Soda Ban (No. 3) were also top food stories in terms of awareness, demonstrating that Americans and the media gravitate toward star power, whether high profile personalities or iconic brands. Initiatives by public figures like Mayor Bloomberg or Jamie Oliver are no stranger to the top food story list, and Mayor Bloomberg’s consumer health initiatives first made the list in 2007. But while 90% of this year’s survey respondents are aware of these stories, only 10% were concerned about the Rise and Fall of Hostess Twinkies and 14% were concerned with Mayor Bloomberg’s Soda Ban. So, even as Americans crave buzzworthy stories such as these, they may not make it past the water cooler.

Food Safety & Food Prices Don’t Make the List

For the last six years, food safety concerns of one sort or another ranked among the top three year-end food news stories. But with food safety issues making relatively less media noise in 2013, none were ranked by consumers as top stories on this year’s list. Similarly, for the first time in five years, food prices failed to make the list. The economic recovery, however slow, kept food prices less newsworthy, though 34% of those polled still reported that they are doing more comparison shopping in 2013 for the lowest prices.

Media Coverage Spurs Change In Behavior:
Consumers Are Reading Food Labels

Half of those polled said they took action based on food news stories they had seen, illustrating Americans’ determined efforts to know more about the food they consume and to make informed decisions. The top three behavior changes were checking food labels more often, paying attention to ingredient lists and eating less processed foods. The importance of reading food labels is an issue the media has covered since the pro-labeling movement began in the ’90s. Last year, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) was a top three story and headlines such as “Nutrition Labels Move to Front of Food” in 2011 and “New Labeling Laws and Calorie Count on Menus Goes National” in 2010 are just a couple of examples of stories that may have contributed to these changes in consumer behavior.

Traditional Media Remains Top Source for General Food Information

While websites have inched past cookbooks and magazines, and social media is one of the top sources for recipes, traditional media continues to dominate the majority of top sources for general food news. Newspapers were the number one source for food news, followed by TV news shows, cooking shows and news websites. But when it comes to nutrition information, websites rule, with 47 percent of Americans sourcing nutrition news online.

Facebook No. 1 Social Platform for Recipes

As some question the future relevancy of Facebook, the Hunter PR Food News Study finds that Facebook is the leading social media platform Americans are using to source recipes, beating the upstart Pinterest, which came in a distant second (20% vs. 8%). Facebook also squeaked into the top five overall sources for recipes, ranking behind recipe websites (No. 1), general cookbooks (No.2), food or cooking magazines (No. 3) and TV cooking shows (No. 4). While other social platforms continue to grow in size, Facebook continues to reign in terms of being the largest social network and the largest social source for food information.

Trust This, Not That

Though social media has made significant inroads in terms of how Americans receive their food news and information, traditional media sources – health/medical sites, books/cookbooks, magazines and TV anchors and health experts – remain more trusted. Newer social platforms and celebrities fared the worst, including Instagram and social comments by celebrities.

Traditional and social media sources for food information and the trust factor vary by generation and when crossed with attitudes and behaviors, an even more interesting story begins to unfold. In early 2014, Hunter Public Relations will release a segmentation study on The Six Food News Consumers You Need To Know. Visit www.hunterpr.com/our-pov/foodstudy.html to sign up to receive this whitepaper when it becomes available.

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