In a year when headlines featured a major ice cream brand recall, an expanding western U.S. drought impacting crops, and efforts to phase out artificial flavors and ingredients, Americans felt the top food news story of the year was the expansion of fast-food breakfast menu items to more times of day along with breakfast menu innovation.
Hunter Public Relations, one of the nation’s leading food and beverage public relations agencies, commissioned a study to determine the nation’s top food news stories of the year since 2003. For the past three years, the study has been conducted in partnership with Libran Research & Consulting, which surveyed more than 1,000 Americans between October 28 and November 2 and asked respondents to select their top three food stories from the 12 months ending October 2015. This year, the No. 1 story was the evolving fast food breakfast landscape, illustrated by headlines touting McDonald’s new all-day breakfast menu as well as breakfast innovation at Taco Bell.
In the food news survey’s 13-year history, only three other fast food stories have ever made it into the top 10. Yet, in an unusual twist, three of this year’s top 10 stories revolved around the fast-food industry: Domino’s new emoji ordering option ranked as No. 7 and the availability of alcohol at fast food locations, such as some Starbucks and Taco Bell locations, came in at No. 9.
“The fast food industry is tapping into the ‘want it now’ mentality of today’s consumer by offering greater availability of favorite offerings,” says Grace Leong, CEO and partner of Hunter Public Relations. “Consumers who crave breakfast food in the afternoon no longer feel they should have to wait until tomorrow morning to satisfy it. They also want the ability to purchase other favorite nontraditional fast food items—such as alcohol—at places they already frequent regularly."
Twenty-fifteen is the first time since 2004 (when the passing of Julia Child was the top story) that the year’s No. 1 food news story was not “issue related” (such as childhood obesity or food safety). That said, food issues were still heavily featured on this year’s top 10 results. The recall of Blue Bell ice cream due to listeria issues ranked No. 2 on the survey. The company recalled all of its ice cream products in April after listeria monocytogenes were found in more than one product and in more than one plant. This year’s No. 3 story was the expanding impact on the food industry of the drought in the western United States, which had ranked as last year’s top story. Phasing out of artificial flavors and ingredients was considered this year’s No. 5 story, with GMO Labeling ranking No. 6, and food waste as a new eco concern landing at No. 8.
Rounding out the top 10 stories are the Whole Foods Overcharging Scandal (No. 4) and Anheuser-Busch Acquiring SABMiller (No. 10).
This year’s food news study confirms that America’s appetite for food news is on the rise. In fact, 45 percent of Americans state that food news stories are more important than other news stories —up from 32 percent two years ago. Overwhelmingly, respondents feel that food safety (63 percent) and nutrition (47 percent) are the two most important food topics.
“Food Waste: the New Eco Concern” (the No. 8 top story overall) elicited more concern and behavior changes in 2015 than other habits and actions reported, with 41 percent of those trying to make changes claiming they are trying to waste less food. While consumers continue to report ‘better for you’ behaviors like “eating less processed food” and “paying more attention to ingredient lists” in significant numbers, “trying to waste less food” was the most significant in the hierarchy of reported consumer behavior changes overall.
In addition to the top food news of the year and its impact on consumer behavior, the Hunter PR Food News Study expanded three years ago to delve more deeply into where and how consumers are accessing information about food and cooking. Once again this year, websites beat out magazines and television as the top source for recipes and nutrition information, while surprisingly, television, and newspapers continue to be top sources for general food news overall, even among Millennials who stated Facebook as their No. 1 source for general food news.
Social media is on the rise as a source for recipes at 38 percent versus 34 percent in 2014 for the overall population and is the No. 2 source for Millennials at 40 percent. Facebook saw an increase from the previous year in consumers who reported visiting the channel to obtain the latest recipes (from 26 to 31 percent), whereas TV cooking shows, women’s magazines and coupon inserts were all on the decline.
The most trusted source for truthful, unbiased information on food? Nearly 90 percent agree that it’s health and medical websites, reinforcing the importance of the role of science in a world where nearly half of all consumers (47 percent) agree that there is too much conflicting information about food and nutrition.
The Hunter PR Food News Study found that there is significantly more mobile usage taking place in 2015 as compared to the prior two years. Notably, “using a mobile device to search for recipes” has nearly doubled since 2013 to 36 percent, and “watching video on a mobile device to get cooking directions” has more than doubled to 22 percent. Interestingly, growth in the use of mobile devices for a myriad of activities is being fueled this year by Baby Boomers, who are now approaching the level of use of Millennials and Gen Xers, with half now accessing the web through a mobile phone or tablet.
Whether it’s sharing photos of their meals on Instagram or creating new food-focused social rituals, Millennials have a strong positive connection to their food. Thus, it’s not surprising that—unlike other generations whose top food-focused New Year’s Resolutions are avoiding negative aspects of food (such as weight gain or eating processed foods)—Millennials state their top food-related resolution for 2016 is to “eat and cook more at home.” Additionally, they view food news stories as even more important than their age counterparts—whereas 45 percent of Americans think food stories are the most important news stories, the number jumps to 54 percent for Millennials. They are also the demographic most likely to change their behavior based on GMO labeling.
For the first time this year, the Hunter PR Food News Study broke out information regarding the Hispanic demographic. The results demonstrated the importance of food news to this consumer as well as their broad-based adoption of social and mobile media as it relates to food, cooking and interaction with brands. For example, the study found that Hispanics are more likely to say they are “using apps offered by brands I like” (33 percent versus 20 percent) or to “watch a video on a mobile device for cooking directions” (33 percent versus 20 percent) than the total population. Like Millennials, Hispanics are also more likely to resolve to “eat and cook more at home” in 2016, with 36 percent reporting this as a resolution (versus 25 percent of non-Hispanics) and cite Facebook as their No. 1 source for recipes at 32 percent, just ahead of recipe websites at 30 percent.
The 13th annual Food News Study commissioned by Hunter Public Relations examined the top food news stories of 2015 in terms of general awareness and concern. The study also explored how food news stories influence consumer behavior and the top media sources for food information, broken out by recipes, general food news and nutrition.
Hunter PR partnered with Libran Research & Consulting for this study. Libran Research addresses business issues with critical decision-making and impartial judgment, helping to drive action in their clients’ marketing strategies and tactics. Libran Research surveyed 1,001 Americans ages 18 years and older via an email invitation and online survey. The respondent sample was balanced to the U.S. population on key demographics. Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 3.1 percentage points.
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