Bacon, Kale and an Industry in Flux

Bacon, Kale and an Industry in Flux
By James Lovejoy


Growing up, I can distinctly remember the one friend in our group whose kitchen cabinet always boasted an incredible array of Ring Dings, Ho Hos, Devil Dogs, Twinkies, Fruit Rollups, Gushers and YooHoos. Coming from a healthy household, my excitement was palpable every time I opened that cabinet.Looking across grocery store shelves today it’s hard to imagine such a cabinet could still exist.

Indeed, an analysis of the current conversations on social media reveals just how mainstream the health food trend has become. Brandwatch’s latest social media report on food and beverage outlines the way conversations around food are changing, how brands are adapting to these changes, and the role social media plays in understanding, shaping and propelling such discussions.

For starters, let’s take a look at the map below, which shows how the ratio of “kale” to “bacon” mentions differs across the US.



Sure, bacon outweighs kale overall, but 10 years ago kale would have hardly been on the map. Now social data shows that kale, a food synonymous with the health trend, is gaining significant ground in the Northeast and West.As Bloomberg reporter Eric Chemi astutely notices, Kale areas are predominantly Democratic, indicating a correlation between political lean and interest in Kale.

While the relationship is not causational and eating Kale does not magically turn a conservative into a liberal, social media data clearly indicates that our discussions of food play an increasingly important role in our identities (or vice versa).

Indeed, as our unique dietary tastes and needs expand, so do the options on grocery store shelves. Consider the figure below, comparing interest groups among a few healthy snack bar options.



Clif Bar, Kind Bar and Larabar effectively generate conversations as energy-providing, healthy and gluten-free options respectively. Again, we see here how social media conversations are indicative of the very specific differences between brands.So what does this mean for brands in the food and beverage industry?

Knowing that the industry is undergoing significant change, it is imperative that brands are prepared to adapt and stay ahead of those changes. While traditional media only permitted brands to reach out or advertise to consumers, the social sphere allows that communication to become a two-way relationship.



Consumers are empowered by the ability to easily post complaints on the highly public platform of social media. This poses a serious threat to brands but also an immense opportunity.Consumers are not shy about their opinions. They’ve gone to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and obscure blogs to publicly express their views.

All that brands have to do is open up their ears and listen to the public feedback. They need to be empathetically listening to consumers before they can really understand specific needs and interests.

James Lovejoy, the Content Researcher at Brandwatch, a leading social media analytics tech company. With a background in Psychology and Economics, his role is understanding and conveying how the social world affects businesses. Analyzing large volumes of social media data, James heads many of Brandwatch’s industry research reports.