One of the hottest topics at IFT15 in Chicago in early July was the serious concern throughout the food industry around how to communicate the food science message to an increasingly skeptical consumer audience. In the age of the Food Babe and other opinion-driven food advocates, the food science message is increasingly lost inside the clutter of fear mongering and unfounded opinions that seem to surround otherwise healthy food ingredients and the food science that helps feed a hungry planet.
We have written about this subject often in recent months. Our infographic series on “Food Science vs The Food Babe – Who Controls the Story?” received a lot of attention and comment from the food science community. Food ingredient manufacturers want to know how to defend its products from attack and how to use sound food science to communicate the value of its products.
One of the most interesting sessions at IFT15 was the well-attended “Communicating Food Science to the Masses” panel discussion. Experienced food communication professionals joined in with accomplished food science academics from leading universities to discuss the current environment and how food manufacturers can help effectively communicate the food science message. Kim Essex, the director of the food and ag practice at Ketchum, a public relations firm, talked about the rise of “food evangelists” and their opinion-driven advocacy that regularly attacks processed foods and ingredients through social media. She addressed the need to engage with these advocates, understand their concerns and join the dialogue with them on the same social media platforms they regularly use.
We think that directly engaging with these “evangelists” is an important first step for food ingredient companies that want to successfully communicate the food science message. The top communication strategies we see being employed could be summarized in five key areas:
- Speak Up – Don’t be silent, engage with the food activists on their own terms
- Be Swift – Responding quickly to negative claims is essential
- Have a Strategy – Use the same media channels as the activists to reach their audiences
- Use Science – Use facts and objective information to set the record straight
- Make it Simple – Make your scientific evidence clear and concise
As the clean-label movement continues its momentum, communicating the food science message will be essential as food companies re-evaluate its product labels and the need to justify the inclusion of certain functional ingredients that are essential to the quality of an application. In fact, I will be speaking at Fi Europe in Paris in December as part of a panel discussion on the topic: Improving the reputation of the food industry: How can consumer engagement help?
Have you seen any examples from food companies or food ingredient companies supporting the food science message?