Memorable Food News

Memorable Food

The war on plastic straws ranks as 2018's No. 1 story in Hunter Public Relations' 16th annual Food News Study.

By Grace Leong

Food news stories dominated headlines in 2018, but which ones cut through the clutter? In order to gather insight into which stories make the greatest impact, Hunter Public Relations commissions an annual Food News Study. In 2018, environmental advocacy broke through as the most memorable story of the year, with news of Plastic Straw Bans ranking as 2018’s No. 1 food news story.

In summer 2018, a powerful video of marine biologists removing a plastic straw stuck in a sea turtle's nose grabbed national attention and galvanized a movement to ban plastic straws. After the video went viral, coffee mega retailer Starbucks announced that it would begin to phase out single-use straws, and California banned full-service restaurants from offering plastic straws, unless customers specifically request them. These major moves ignited a firestorm of consumer conversation and media coverage.

Every year since 2003, Hunter has conducted a study examining the top food news of the year to better understand what types of stories grab consumer attention and impact consumer behavior. Understanding what consumers care about, and what is driving their opinions and resulting behaviors, is central to our agency’s approach and helps inform strategic planning for our many clients in the food and beverage industry.

In addition to uncovering the most popular food news stories of the year, the study also provides a trended perspective on the magnitude of importance food news has to Americans, the types of stories resonating today relative to prior years and the media sources used for gaining information on food, as well as on the impact of these stories across the entire continuum of consumer engagement. And while today’s climate is filled with politically-charged news, it’s interesting to note that the study found the importance of all food news surged amongst Americans in 2018. In fact, almost half of respondents said that food and nutrition news are more important than any other type of news – marking the highest level of importance seen in more than half a decade.

What other headlines rose above the noise?

Occupying 2018's No. 2 spot: Dunkin' Donuts Changes Name to Dunkin’. Dunkin' Donuts officially dropped the "Donuts" and became simply "Dunkin'" in September 2018. The new branding conveys the company's desire to make itself known for more than just doughnuts while embracing Dunkin's heritage and retaining its recognizable pink and orange logo, introduced back in 1973.

Americans of all ages continue to rank food safety stories high, and despite environmental advocacy being the most memorable story, food safety (44 percent) and food nutrition/health & wellness (23 percent) are deemed the most important topics addressed in 2018. The Romaine Lettuce Recall came in as the No. 3 food news story of the year, with more than three major recalls announced during 2018, and the FDA Suspects Contaminated Whey is Culprit in Salmonella-Related Recalls ranked as the No. 9 food news story of the year.

To summarize, the top food news stories of 2018 according to the Hunter Public Relations 16th annual Food News Study are as follows: 

1. Plastic Straw Bans

2. Dunkin’ Donuts Changes Name to Dunkin’

3. Romaine Lettuce Recall

4. Racial Profiling at Starbucks Spurs Outrage

5. China Tariff Impacting U.S. Farmers

6. Online Grocery Shopping Booms

7. Cannabis in Food & Beverage

8. Should Plant-Based ‘Milk’ (Almond, Soy, etc.) Really be Called Milk?

9. FDA Suspects Contaminated Whey is Culprit in Salmonella-Related Recalls

10. Launch of Mayochup Importance of Food News Soars

This year, 35 percent of Americans feel that food and nutrition stories are very important, the highest level the study has seen in recent years. This increase traces to a surge by millennials/gen Z with 83 percent saying food news is very important/important in 2018 versus 77 percent in 2017. The importance attributed to food news stories remained relatively flat for gen X and baby boomers/matures.

Impact of Food News on Consumer Engagement

Almost everyone surveyed (86 percent) was aware of at least one important food news story in 2018, and around half of those aware were impacted through changes in opinion, behavior and/or sharing with others. Food trends, nutrition stories and food safety tend to be associated with the strongest changes in opinion, while food safety news and environmental activism is associated with strongest changes in behavior.

“Sharing” Meals on Social Media

As sharing food experiences through social media appears to become more prominent, the study, for the first time, asked respondents if they post pictures of food they make at home and food they order in restaurants. Almost half of all Americans (47 percent) post their food on social media. However, this activity climbs to 74 percent with Millennials/Gen Z, with nearly 3 in 4 participating in food sharing culture.

For additional information about the Hunter PR 2018 Food News Study, including detailed study results, visit http://www.hunterpr.com/our-pov/foodstudy.html.

Grace Leong is CEO/managing partner of Hunter Public Relations, a top-five food-focused marketing communications agency based in New York City with offices and talent across North America and in London. A founding employee of Hunter, Grace has 30 years of experience in food public relations across brand, restaurants and retail, ranging from large CPG brands to start-up food companies and specialty brands. She has built her career training and encouraging creative and entrepreneurial communications professionals to imagine and execute best-in-class campaigns for Fortune 100 companies, including Mondelez, Kraft Foods and Campbell’s.

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