The rise of food media and technology has changed how we relate to food over the past two decades. The world of food has become mainstream and more democratic and the stereotype of the "foodie" is completely out of date. The language used to discuss what food means socially and emotionally has undergone a sea change, and that language is now spoken by a surprisingly well-rounded group of people who crave diversity in their culinary experiences and the stories behind them.
To stay ahead of the consumer, we've undertaken several recent studies to examine people's evolving relationship with food and media. What's striking is how many people describe food as having become a major form of communication and self-expression, both personally and as part of the pop-culture vernacular.
Our two-phase study included a hybrid qualitative/quantitative panel of almost 300 "lead users" capturing future predictions around food and cooking, and parallel online surveys focusing on the U.S. population (with 1,500 respondents surveyed) and those heavily into food (1,900 respondents).
The recurring theme throughout the study is that, despite growing competition for our time and attention, two-thirds of consumers surveyed acknowledged being more interested in food and cooking than they were five or 10 years ago. Moreover, in a world in which digital interactions happen with greater frequency, 79% feel the recent "food renaissance" is bringing people together again, both in the digital realm and in person.
In an additional detail indicating the purveyance of the food story, our research showed that three out of five people would rather go to a farmer's market or grocery shopping than take in a movie.
Passion around food is widespread, but our survey identified approximately one-third of people that are both deeply connected to the food world and heavy consumers of food-related media. These aren't stereotypical "foodies." In fact, they hate the term. They feel it's shallow and status oriented.
We're calling them Food Connectors. They're not just "into" food. For many, food is a connective tissue, if you will, to other things in their lives. They're also more likely than the general population to be deeply connected to travel (70% vs. 37%), celebrities (56% vs. 27%) and, perhaps surprisingly, sports (56% vs. 38%).
One of the biggest surprises we've found, and one that signifies how much our culture has evolved, is that this food draw is strong among Millennials, those 18-34-year-olds who make up nearly half of food connectors.
Our research shows that millennial food connectors are as likely to be male as female. A Yahoo survey released in 2011 found that, based on interviews with 2,400 U.S. men age 18-64, half identify themselves as the primary food shoppers in their homes.
Why are men so into food and cooking? It's not just because 90% of women nationally say, "a guy who cooks is a turn-on," though that perhaps helps. Most surveyed men (77% nationally) feel it makes them a better person, and that they get enjoyment from their "food journey" and the self-expression that comes with it.
Self-expression is at the core of food connector culture. Although the act of cooking itself is sometimes seen as a chore, 60% of food connectors (vs. 29% nationally) say that they like to express their creativity through cooking. Virtually all food connectors (83%) say food, cooking, eating and dining are not only things they enjoy; they're a part of their identity. One in three say they share more pictures of food on social media than of their friends and family. Statistically, men are even more likely to say this.
Hard To Pin Down
While marketers and researchers love segmentations, we've found that food connectors are virtually uncategorizable when it comes to their relationship with food. Most say they can have a great food experience whether it be at a high-end restaurant or at the hotdog stand down the street.
In an age where privacy is a major concern, food connectors are actually "excited to have their behavior tracked in the grocery store if it will lead them to new discoveries." And 41% are "excited for apps and tools from stores and brands to track their purchases if they're able to give me new ideas."
Technology has allowed the world of food to explode and is now a gateway to anyone hungry for more. Half of the people we surveyed want technology to enable them to "be more creative or experimental" (48%) and "shop smarter" (47%).
When it comes to second screens, more than half of surveyed adults are open to receiving coupons for products used in the food shows they watch. In restaurants, 40% would like to see digital screens or tablets for ordering and finding the story behind what they're getting.
Technology and media are seen as the gateway to becoming closer to our food, not just because they connect us to the world of food but because they get us closer to the story of our food. The craving for the story can be literal (the recipe and ingredients), historical (the origin of a dish) or educational (where the ingredients came from). For a food connector, the less-preferred food, it seems, is food without any real meaning behind it.
Food Connectors: By the Numbers
Of those adults surveyed, 79% feel the recent "food renaissance" is bringing people together again, both in the digital realm and in person.
Three out of five people would rather go to a farmer's market or go grocery shopping than take in a movie.
Of adult men, 77% feel knowledge of food and cooking makes them a better person, and they get enjoyment from their "food journey" and the self-expression that comes with it.
Of women surveyed, 90% say "a guy who cooks is a real turn-on."
Survey results show 41% of adults are "excited for apps and tools from stores and brands to track my purchases if they're able to give me new ideas."