It’s amazing how food has become one of the most engaging topics in media, especially on the internet. Food is a bonafide media darling. It’s more popular than Oprah, Paris Hilton and Barack Obama, combined. Nutritional importance aside, if just our interest in food could be harnessed as energy it would power every home on Earth. I bet there’s a new food blog created every hour of every day.

And why not? We have an insatiable appetite for this stuff! We know all the celebrity chefs by name. We support the countless number of food websites out there, scouring the web for recipes, news and information. Even the most casual among us enjoy watching The Food Network from time to time (and we’re even starting to admit it, too).

Food is our obsession. We want to experience it with all our senses, swoon over it with our friends, follow it around with our cameras, write it love notes, canonize its artists, and build great houses of worship in its honour. We consume food like, well, food. It really isn’t just something we eat, anymore.

Ok, we get it. Everyone’s talking about it. Now what?

Well, the first thing to do is find out what people are saying, and who they’re talking about. Television, radio, newspapers and the internet are where we normally get our information. These are great advertising outlets for big businesses with big marketing budgets, but small businesses need people talking about them, too.

One 30-second Super Bowl commercial alone costs $3 million to air! And why is it so expensive? Because millions of people will see the message, and this is very important for business.

Since very few businesses this much to spend on advertising and other resources, there has to be a better way – and there is! You can reach millions of people just like Pepsi and Budweiser, and do it by spending hardly any money at all.

Social Media Saves You Time and Money

With social media, you contribute a little, and receive lots in return. Here’s how it works:

Say you want to take a swim, but have no pool and only one litre of water. What do you do? Well, you collect 10,000 other people just like you who have only one litre of water but want to swim, and let a social media platform like Industry Blender serve as your pool. If everyone contributes their litre of water to the pool, then everybody gets to swim! All you’re paying for is the cost of the pool which, because of the volume of users, is very low.

The Power of Collaboration – Imagine the Impossible!

If you operate a bakery, for example, social media platforms are helpful because they allow you to link with other bakeries in your area quite easily. Before you know it, there are 100 bakeries in your group.

You talk to each other about the challenges you face, share stories, recommend, give advice, and team up. You provide each other with easy-to-access information and resources, which means no more searching all over to find what you need. Over time, the sum becomes much bigger than the whole of its parts.

Know your Competitors

Wouldn’t this group make things too competitive, you ask?

Not really. A large group of bakeries will get much more attention than a single one here and there, and attracting bakery customers is your primary goal. You can also use social media to keep up with what other businesses are doing. Watch what successful companies do and try to emulate those strategies. Social media gives you detailed access to this information, and makes it really easy to find.

Understand your Unique Advantages and Let your Customers Know About Them

On the other hand, since no two bakeries are alike, you can celebrate your differences and market to different types of customers. One bakery may specialize in custom wedding cakes, while another is set up for mass production. The great thing about social media is you can have an actual conversation with your customers, which puts a face to your business that people require these days before they will buy. Cultivate relationships, reinforce your brand, and take control of what is being said about you.

Market to Millions of People on a Small Budget

The ultimate goal is to be highly visible to people searching for bakeries, and from there you develop niches and set yourself apart. This large union of bakeries is very noticeable to customers, and now you’re a force which demands attention. Now that you’re getting noticed, other bakeries will want to join your group, and soon you’re a powerhouse of bakeries. You continue to pool your resources, become more and more visible to potential customers, and everyone does better business in the end.

Harnessing the Power and Speed of the Internet to Stay Competitive

Things happen very fast, so you must be able to converse quickly. If you have lobsters or other inventory that hasn’t been selling that you need to get rid of immediately, you can’t wait to announce a special in the paper, or count on a sign being seen on your restaurant or around town.

The best method is to post your information where other seafood lovers go for the latest information, just like how Craigslist works for people with classifieds. Advertising online is instant; there’s no need to wait for the “next issue,” or worry if you have missed a deadline date

Word of Mouth Advertising

One reality emerging is that people trust word of mouth more than advertising. This is why customer referrals are so important.

People love commenting about restaurants, movies, etc…, so use their opinions as free advertising. Post referrals you’ve received on your website and use them in your other marketing, as well. Information that comes from unbiased members of the general public is most powerful in influencing the decisions of others.

Encourage comments about your business because, on the internet, they spread fast or “go viral.” You’re probably worried about negative feedback, and, yes these spread faster than positive comments, in fact. But not everyone is going to be happy, so luckily social media is very defensible. You can quickly put out fires before they spread because you’re always conversing with your customers.

Most social media sites like IndustryBlender.com allow customers to comment directly about the goods and services they received. These comments are set in stone, so if you’re a business that takes care of its patrons and provides an excellent service, you will be rewarded.

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It’s amazing how many parallels can be drawn between the Web 2.0 revolution and food. First, let’s look at how food got to be so popular. Here’s some Web 2.0 for thought:

Our interest in food has increased dramatically in the last 20 years and now receives a level of attention normally reserved for celebrities and musicians. We can identify television cooking shows and the internet as catalysts for this shift, delivering new ideas and trends in food production to the mainstream.

Our consciousness about health and wellness has put food right under the public’s noses. Most mass-produced food contains chemicals added either during the production process, manufacturing process, or both. With cancer rates on the rise, food recalls receiving more press than shark attacks, and obesity an epidemic issue, consumers are fighting back against the supposedly “regulated” products that government agencies and their producers have deemed fit for consumption.

And most importantly, we want the truth, and unlike with television or newspaper articles, the internet is a medium where we can be immediately heard, and have, in effect, become a vocal driver in how businesses operate.

Consumers want accountability and transparency from the companies with which they do business. Big corporations have been attached with horrible stigmas for years, and with social media the opportunity for unflattering news to spread has never been stronger. Smart companies realize this, so they’re going right to the source for their validation: their customers. The customer is either your most valuable asset or a force of complete destruction. Word travels fast (bad news many times faster than good) so reputation management is becoming just as important as the actual product produced.

Our evolved obsession with food came about because food has a tremendous amount of “trend-worthiness.” Every good trend requires a high-volume interest base, prolific players within the activity or idea, and a level of accessibility.

The first proof of this is to consider the simple fact that everybody eats. Who wouldn’t take an interest in food? But food can be looked at from a necessity and interest standpoint. Yes, we all have to eat, but we also need constant hydration without just drinking water all the time. Gatorade, juice and soda all provide a little spice and variety to the experience. And it’s the same reason people still eat out at restaurants despite the fact it’s discretionary spending. Eating at home is uninspiring at best, unless you live with a professional chef. There’s only so much the average person can do in the kitchen, so they need restaurants to satisfy their needs for elevated taste experiences.

As a culture, we’re very keen on keeping up with celebrities. I think professional chefs make the perfect celebrities because they’re very enigmatic, charismatic, and often have unique personalities. They’re a lot like artists; they express food in extraordinary ways which can take your breath away. The fact that the best chefs in the world just do it better than most everyone else means that people are going to find them interesting, follow them, and thus the best ones are exceedingly popular.

The final reason food is ripe to be a lasting trend is that it can be prepared by anyone. Only the fortunate few ever become celebrities from cooking, but the ones that have made it are constantly in our consciousness, selling products, starring in television shows, releasing cookbooks, and opening restaurants. And people love them. I can’t think of a single celebrity chef that isn’t positively embraced (or, at least, not hated), but I can think of countless athletes, businessmen, actors and generic celebrities that are less than desired by the public. All in all, it’s great to be a celebrity chef, and if you have a stove, some ingredients and a few good ideas, you can impress your date, serve high-rollers, and maybe one day get a cooking show of your own.

Bet the Farm

March 24, 2009

farm.jpg

It’s a paradox of sorts, but as the world gets bigger and bigger, it really has begun to shrink.

Consumers have grown weary of suspicious ingredients in their food, ambiguous claims on packaging, and misleading statements in advertising.  People just want some organic goat cheese (thanks Cha-Cha, pictured above) containing ingredients no longer than four syllables.  This doesn’t have to be an expensive burden on restaurants and food manufacturers, who might be tempted to secure cheaper “natural” products from a large-scale manufacturer with cozy rolling hills on its labels.

As we grow, the world begins to partition off into small sects which must be self-sustaining in case oil someday rises to $200 a barrel and hiring that truck from South Carolina will no longer make financial sense.  But the few extra pennies we spend now supporting our local farmers and food producers will not only create strong and fair local economies, but also serves as a fantastic opportunity to market with these hard-working individuals.  The consumer wants local, organic, farm-produced food, and though they may not be as willing to spend a whole lot extra for it now, this trend will increasingly become the norm.

The marketing tip is for restaurants and suppliers:  Bet the Farm!

Restaurateurs, start making connections with local farmers and suppliers, and craft feature menu items around their products.  Have a daily menu item, or a special evening that features locally-sourced products.  Studies show that customers are interested in the back-story of these individuals, so include a write-up about one or more of them or their products and slip it into the evening menu.  Increasing your support for these businesses will probably result in better deals for you (especially if you offer the exposure), and it’s a win-win for the local economy.

Remember: 2% of the world grows food for the other 98%, and with arable land shrinking, it’s best to plan to be locally sustainable now.  Your customers will love the novelty.

For those who are familiar with The Omnivores Dilemma, Michael Pollen’s manifesto of mastication, or Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin’s sugar-less spoonful of medicine, Skinny Bitch, it’s not just about what we eat, but also our food’s journey from pasture to plate, and what is really going on behind the scenes.

It’s remarkable how utterly undiscerning many of us are about what goes into our mouths.  Fortunately, we’ve begun to ask about those nine-syllable additives in our breakfast cereal, and learned the truth about misleading, “hydrogenated,” “natural” and “enriched” labels.

Accountability and transparency are not specific to the food industry, or characteristics of a passing trend.  The internet has leveled the information playing field such that consumers now have all the power.  With blogs in their holsters, average people spread criticism like wildfire.  Staying on the up-and-up has never been more important, or more difficult for businesses and their marketers.  Companies large and small are realizing they better not bite the hand that feeds.

According to Margaret Kime, the director of branding consultant, Fletcher Knight, as reported by MediaPost, “Consumer awareness of and interest in being intimately informed about their food has never been stronger,” says Kime.  “As the organic, fair trade, local and artisan food movements grow and food contamination scares persist, consumers are demanding more detail around the origins of a product and each of its ingredients.  Faceless or ‘orphan’ ingredients will be viewed with increasing suspicion.”

Food labeling in particular has toed the fine line between “ambiguous” and “leagalish” for too long.  In this country, only 51% of a product must be manufactured domestically for it to carry the “Made in Canada” sticker.  Not to mention the “Recommended Serving Sizes” and favourable calorie scales which allow products to appear better for you than they actually are.

According to a 2007 study by the Consumer Reports National Research Centre, 92% of those polled support better labeling for products imported into the United States, as food security issues have risen to what most agree are unacceptable levels.  A GreenerChoice.org article reports that “…nearly 9 out of 10 consumers want natural meat to come from animals that were raised on a diet without drugs, chemicals and other artificial ingredients.  Currently, the natural label on meat only pertains to how the cut of meat was processed and not how animal was raised or what it ate.”

The US Government in 2002 enacted a program called Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) which requires almost all products to carry specific information about where they originated.  Originally passed in 2002, the program was delayed for nearly 7 years (with the exception of seafood) and has seen its first limited implementation just this month.  The COOL initiative hopes to resolve questions surrounding interpretation and definition of product descriptions, but there is still a lot that is not known about this program.

As these changes have created problems for some, it’s presented new opportunities for others.  Products which emphasize local origin, artisan skill, pure, pronounceable ingredients, and responsible procurement have earned the respect of consumers, and gotten many of them talking.  A popular example is Welch’s Grape Juice.  Employing the services of popular food personality, Alton Brown, Welch’s has made a splash touting the benefits of its anti-oxidant-rich product, and also brings you right to the farm to have a close look at who is producing its fruit. While it’s not cynical to point out that cute little farmers hauling baskets of grapes onto a beat-up truck is not representative of the manufacturing process as a whole, it does use an everyman, human marketing strategy on which companies in other industries, including Ford and Microsoft, have started using as well.

As of now it’s still relatively easy to mislead consumers about product origin and ingredients, as regulatory oversight is still being established.  But businesses must be more truthful with their offerings, because if any evidence to the contrary (real or implied, the bloggers don’t care) could spell disaster for your brand.  So if you’re trying to carve out a niche in your market, and lend some credibility to your product, it might not be a bad idea for you to bet the farm.

Here’s What’s Blending at IB:

 

FOR VANCOUVER, VOYA IS THE BEAU IDEAL

The 21st century dining and nightlife scene in Vancouver reached new heights this fall with the launch of Voya Restaurant and Lounge at the new Louden Vancouver Hotel… (read the whole article).

 

FROM IB’S PROMOTION OF THE WEEK FEATURE:

Send out a Newsletter! (read the whole article).

 

EVENTS: Cournicopia – Whistler’s Celebration of Food and Wine

Cournicopia is Whistler’s premiere wine and food extravaganza. The annual event is a unique opportunity to…
(read the whole article).

 

FORUM: SPUD LOCAL AND ORGANIC DELIVERY SERVICE AND OUR FOOD FUTURE

With high food costs, an unsteady global economy, and food security issues on everyone’s mind, community is going to be a primary means for humans to continue to thrive in our changing world…
(read the whole article).

 

DISCOUNTS: MY CHEF SOLUTIONS CONSULTING SERVICES

Mention to us that you are a member on Industry Blender and we will take an extra 10% off you bill
(More Discounts).

The number of children with food allergies has increased 18% in the past decade, according to a large national study.

About 4% of kids under 18 — or 3 million
children — had food allergies in 2007, according to a report released
today from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Some children had particularly severe reactions.
About 9,500 a year were hospitalized for food allergies from 2004 to
2006 — more than 3½ times as many as in 1998 to 2000, according to the
study. Researchers based their analysis on the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention’s 2007 National Health Interview Study, which
included 9,500 children, and the National Hospital Discharge Survey,
which includes 270,000 patient records.

The foods most likely to cause allergies are
milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts such as walnuts, fish, shellfish, soy
and wheat, according to the study. Allergic reactions can include
respiratory problems, such as wheezing, as well as a rash, diarrhea or
vomiting, says study co-author Amy Branum, a CDC health statistician.

Researchers noted that children with food
allergies are two to four times as likely to have related conditions,
such as asthma or other allergies, compared to kids without food
allergies.

The survey confirms the findings of a Food and Drug Administration study in this month’s Pediatrics.

In the FDA study, which surveyed 2,441 mothers,
doctors found that food allergies tend to show up very early — usually
within the first six months. About 6% of babies have food allergies by
the end of their first year.

Babies often “grow out of” food allergies, as
well as skin problems such as eczema, as they age, says Scott Sicherer,
associate professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute
at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

These same children, however, often develop hay
fever and asthma, says Sicherer, who was not involved with the new
studies. Researchers need to learn why allergies are increasing, and
how to prevent them, he says. Doctors today have relatively few proven
ways to reduce a child’s risk for allergies, although Sicherer says
breastfeeding appears to offer some protection.

Authors of the FDA study note that it’s
important for parents to bring children with suspected food allergies
to the doctor. Although nearly 21% of children in the FDA study had
some food-related problem, such as gas or cramps, only 8% of all
children saw a doctor.

That could prevent children from getting the
proper care, says co-author Stefano Luccioli, a medical officer at the
FDA. Also, parents who mistakenly believe their children have food
allergies may unnecessarily restrict their diets, depriving children of
important sources of calories and essential nutrients.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-10-22-food-allergies_N.htm 

40 Hours of Food and Flicks- Follow-Up
by Nathalie Carriere

An eye on grace-gallery, and 12B, before, and after-shift, on the weekend of the 40 Hours of Food and Flicks:

Big Night: Friday (July 11, 10:45 pm): The gallery windows are papered over to inspire a sense of perpetual night. The total of 20 tops are white linen covered, and the candelabras stuffed with long candles illuminate the tone set by gallery curator Rachel Zottenberg, and the committed staff at grace.

Rogue Chef Todd Braiden has set up 3 little camping gas burners and an impeccable mise on long linen covered L shaped tables. One top for cooking, and the other, for plating and finishing, gallery, stage left. He has a fridge to the right, a B-B-Q in the parking lot, and access to a holding and finishing oven in the Narrow’s galley kitchen.

The main wall of the gallery is the screening surface for the 40 hours of indi flicks, rounding out the event.

The Narrow Restaurant, just down the hall, is packed with the sweet sounds of well-executed mixes and Friday night regulars chillin’.

By this time, the gallery is staging its second of many 2 hour turn-overs. Rachel is rushing down the quieter hall between the 2 venues, where the photographic exhibition of Matthew Walker Timmons is interestingly displayed, clutching a cell, taking an 8 top rezo for 2 am that night.

It’s hard to know where to focus, at first- the sizzle of the halibut hitting the hot pan, the flicker of the candles hitting people’s faces, or the whites of the eyes all staring at the rad French/English rap video projected on the wall. Rachel says hello for a quick second.

A new flick is on (Todd is plating).

It’s a dark yarn about a young boy trying to absorb a world of bullies (mom included?) everyone is transfixed. This incredibly poignant little flick is followed with more bold moves and takes from others. This is hot. There is a whiff of truffle oil. This is serious business, but it’s easy, right, 2 hours into 20 tops with a movie, and what you’ve been setting up as ‘what you do for a living’ for years?

Twenty-seven hours in (Saturday July 12, 10:55 pm): Rachel’s eyes, although beautiful, are now doing an all too familiar, tired, yet skilled peripheral vision dance. Something requiring her attention has just caught the eye on the back of her head.

Service crew is standing at attention at the make-shift pass. Chef Todd is plating, punching out a variety of eye and under the breath commands. The plates levitate toward a well-rested, comfortable and entertained audience. The zone is on.

Fortieth hour (Sunday, July 13, 1:20 pm): The place is packed. The final seating is enjoying the flick as Chef Todd stirs feverishly at an ice cream gone ‘not going to listen to you.’

He reaches for a spoon to plate, misses it entirely, forgets, for a second, what he was after, and finally nails the decisive pissed off grab.

He puts the finishing touches on the last course. The audience, btw, is no longer watching the movie. They are watching him.

Rachel stares wildly at these final moments, her eyes, quite literally, spinning in their sockets. Hard to watch, but understood.

The indi film seems now to pathetically flicker on the wall like some bizarre, out of context relic. The plates go out. No one knows what to do or how to react. Chef Todd glares at the plates going out. Everything stops.

A member of the gallery staff, over a loud speaker, announces that this concludes the 40 Hours of Food portion of the event. “Thank you, Chef Todd of 12B.”

RCT: Yeah, so, this is mocha cheesecake, with ummm, a strawberry ice, errr
mousse, and berry coulis. Yeah, thanks for coming.

Two days later.

NC: Was it all you hoped it would be?

RCT: Oh yeah, and more. I remember Chef Tony (NWCAV) talking about that place when you you’ve cooked long enough. And one day you hit your stride. You find your voice, like a personal style. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I caught a glimpse of that. I got to feel a sense of, that. It felt amazing. It was both freeing and inspiring. Like, I can do this my way. I’m starting to have my own ideas about how do to this, can’t wait to take this ‘tude, to 12B.

NC: How was the turn-out?

RCT: It was great. Surprisingly, for a weekend, a lot of cooks came down to support the event. The crew from Boneta came down, even. I loved it, was good to see those people. It was cool to see the coming together of the culinary and artistic culture. Good times.

NC: Was this a success for grace-gallery as well?

RCT: Sure, the buzz around the gallery was awesome, sold some pieces. The flicks really captured a broader audience. People, who would never come down to Main to check the scene, came to satisfy a curiosity and got blown away. The photographs by Matt are now on display at 12B. Some are for sale, book a night by emailing 12breservations@gmail.com. Come down and check it out!

NC: After cooking for 40 hours, do you still feel the way you did when you first challenged the restauranteurs in this town to stay open all night?

RCT: “ya, more than ever. It can be done, I know it. Just takes initiative, foresight, and the balls to make it happen. Yeah, I really hope someone goes for it.” Make the food great, I’ll be there.