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Social media impacts consumer eating decisions

Social media likes influence consumer eating habits.jpg
Social media engagement and likes can influence consumer eating habits, a recent study indicates.

The 21st century has become the age of social media, for better and for worse. Everything from the products consumers buy to the media they consume is dictated by social media, and a recent study indicates the food and beverage they choose is no different (Appetite. 2021;165:105424).

The study, led by researchers at Aston University's College of Health and Life Sciences, “aimed to investigate the acute effect of socially endorsed social media posts on participants' eating behavior.” Overall, 169 adult women aged 18-65 (mean age of 21 years old) participated. These participants were asked to look at a mock Instagram feed which included images and videos of several different foods—including fruits, vegetables, cookies and cakes, as well as non-food images; the posts either had a high or low level of engagement via “Likes.” Following this exercise, participants were given access to a buffet which included both grapes and cookies.

Ultimately, the researchers found those participants who viewed highly liked images of healthier food options consumed more grapes than those participants who did not.

“The findings of the study suggest that not only exposure to healthy food images on social media, but those that are also heavily endorsed with 'likes,' may nudge people to choose to eat more healthy foods, in place of less nutritious food,” noted Lily Hawkins, Ph.D. student and one of the study’s authors. "One reason for this may be because thinking that others 'like' and eat fruit and vegetables nudges participants to alter their behavior in order to fit in with what they perceive to be the norm."

Food & Beverage Insider insights

The average American only consumes about half the recommended daily intake of fiber. Nearly 80% of consumers are actively looking to reduce or eliminate sugar from their diets. Better-for-you confectionery, beverages and snacks are trending across food and beverage. All of this is to say, consumers are seeking out healthier ways to eat and drink in ever-increasing numbers.

Social media plays an enormous part in these and all other trends within food and beverage. As the researchers noted, people want to feel like they are part of a community; consumers will naturally want to get in on whatever trending options the people they follow on social media have discovered.

Brands would be wise to take note here and to tailor their marketing for this social media generation. Bright, fun and playful food and beverage options can stand out on social media; influencers can alter public perception and jumpstart trends. If consumers see better-for-you, sustainable and ethically produced food and beverage is trending on social media and gathering likes, the natural inclination will be to join in for fear of being left out.

Having a good food or beverage product is only part of the battle. Making that product healthy and sustainable is another. And marketing that product to consumers who are constantly plugged in and attuned to the latest social trends—and, based on this study, fairly impressionable to those social trends—is yet another. Brands which can leverage the current state of social media and best promote themselves, their products and their mission will stand to benefit.

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