Social Media as Digital Cookbooks – Leveraging Web 2.0 in the Food Retail Industry PART 1

Written by Jana Preissing

Experiencing Ethnic Food

Due to today’s globalized world it is possible to experience different and new food cultures in everyday life. Exotic and unusual ingredients are available at foreign food shops but the most convenient and obvious solution for a shopper is to purchase the ingredients at the same supermarket where he does his weekly shopping. Nowadays, almost every supermarket has specific food sections and there are nearly as many options as food cultures in the world to experience different cuisines at home. (Clay, 2012) 

More and more consumers are longing for diversity in their meal plan at home and for this reason seek ethnic recipes and exotic dishes on the Internet regardless of time and place, food retailers need to see and pick up this demand and imply a social media appearance in their marketing strategy in order to reach the consumer online. (Akar and Topçu, 2011; Armelini and Villanueva, 2011) The decision making process of where to shop the ingredients for the chosen recipes starts at the moment of search online (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2013) and social media plays a vital role on the consumers behavior and choice of a retailer or food brand (Whittle, 2014).  

The use of smartphones and other mobile devices is an essential part in the everyday lives of the modern consumer. Consumers are able to be connected to the Internet and thus to other people at almost any time and place, whereby especially social media platforms are visited regularly. (Akar and Topçu, 2011) Social media is a phenomena of Web 2.0 which has impacts for consumer behavior in several ways (Whittle, 2014). 

This paper investigates the impact of social media on food related topics, especially recipe offers online and emphasizes how marketers in the food retail industry have to adjust their marketing strategy in order to reach the modern consumer effectively. 

Recipes on Social Media: Search, Choose, Cook and Share

Whereas a few years ago people were proud to own specialized or even inherited cookbooks on their kitchen shelf, nowadays it is more likely that people search online for recipes from all over the world with ingredients they have never heard or used before (Barclay, 2012). It is convenient, easy and fast and most recipe sites are accessible for free whereby usually the user has to sign up and become a member of the network to get full access of the offered services (Whole Foods Market 1, 2015;, 2015).

The availability of recipes reaches from social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest to personal or public oriented food blogs (Peters et al., 2013). Consumers nowadays dare trying to cook something new and challenging (Mintel, 2011). Besides the Internet made time and place irrelevant whereas today’s consumer is more independent (Labrecque et al., 2013). Many cooking sites give the consumer the opportunity to search specifically for certain food categories or types such as a special type of meal or course, a main ingredient, a special diet, special cuisine, another specific category, special occasions and much more (Whole Foods Market 1, 2015,, 2015).

According to Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) “Social Media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content.” (p. 61). Besides, the way social media influences the communication between users and the effects on their lives is another aspect which is important to take into consideration (Akar and Topçu, 2011). Regarding User Generated Content (UGC), Akar and Topçu (2011) refer to “amateur contributors” (p. 38) who are characterized by creating content which they later share on the Internet on several social media platforms. Hence, UGC is available to the entire Internet society (Akar and Topçu, 2011).

The way people nowadays create and cook their food underlines the concept of UGC since after searching for recipes online, preparing and cooking a dish, users take pictures of their personal end result and are willing to share the recipe with strangers on different social media platforms and communicate the extraordinary story behind the picture (Akar and Topçu, 2011; Barclay, 2012). The willingness to share food creations with other foodies on social media is a way of showing self-expression as well as self-esteem. In addition, they inspire and motivate others in their social community to try and eat something unusual dishes. (Daugherty et al., 2008) By showing interest in a certain lifestyle and connecting with other people who have the same interests, needs and values, a user expresses his belonging to a certain online community (Sahelices-Pinto and Gutierrez-Rodriguez, 2014).

Social Media – Where the Decision Making Process Starts 

Within the information age we live in, consumers tend to “(…) share more content, from more sources, with more people, more often, more quickly.” (The New York Times, 2011, p.12)

Since consumers are spending a major part of their daily time connected to the Internet on their smartphone and on social media websites, it is crucial for food retailers to be present and active on social media networks (MDG Advertising Blog, 2014). The Web 2.0 created a new marketplace that entails advantages as well as challenges for marketers, which have to be implied in the company’s marketing strategy. Marketing activities should not only be implemented on one media platform but rather combine online, mobile and in-store marketing which leads to a higher visibility and awareness overall. The Internet in general can be seen as a place where consumers are influenced in the first way. (Hanna et al., 2011) 

Nowadays, it is vital for a company to be present in social media in order to get in the consumers mind and hence being able to establish loyalty in the online and offline world. In social media networks the company gets the chance to strengthen its offer and value towards the consumer as well as the possibility to interact with him directly. (Armelini and Villanueva, 2011) 

Consumers are often willing to be active and engaged in expressing their thoughts and experiences about a brand or product in social media. Companies have to realize this opportunity, leverage the willingness and encourage consumers to share their stories on behalf of the brand. Moreover, building brand communities helps the company to bond the consumer to a product or brand. (Gensler et al., 2013) 

According to Peters et al. (2013) social media networks are classified in the following different categories: blogs and microblogging sites, collective projects, social networking sites, content community sites, social virtual worlds and massively multi-player online role playing games. As mentioned before, social media has to be one part of a company’s marketing strategy, although the company needs to identify first which social media platform is the most relevant one to promote its products and brands with as well as the frequency of the activities on the platform. (Akar and Topçu, 2011; Armelini and Villanueva, 2011) 

It is necessary to identify the effects that every platform has on the marketing performance of a brand (Akar and Topçu, 2011). Today’s social media landscape is characterized by UGC which is created, shared, discussed and modified by users continuously (Kietzmann et al., 2011). 

Another important aspect marketers have to take into account is the fact that consumer power is rising. Therefore it is crucial for marketers to use this power to influence consumers in their decision making process early on which can be achieved best within network based sources that include network-based and crowd based power. (Labrecque et al., 2013)

Especially the young generation, which is going to be the company’s future customers, is mainly using social media to get information about products and service possibilities. Hence, it is an indispensable necessity for companies to be active in social media to reach this target group. (MDG Advertising Blog, 2014) The retailers have to realize that they can win those consumers as loyal customers in the future, when engaging with them in social media networks early on (Hanna et al., 2011). 

With regard of today’s consumers food habits, the majority of shoppers still purchase food in a food store and not online. The opportunity to influence the consumer in social media, where the decision making process of which local shopping store to go to begins, needs to be grasped from the company. (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2013) Furthermore, social media represents one important touch point after a purchase is made because that is where the consumer shares his experience with the product and about the brand (Edelman, 2010). However, in terms of future trends, it is vital to have a social media presence as a food retailer since there will be a change in the way how consumers shop due to increasing online shopping offers as well as home delivery possibilities (MDG Advertising Blog, 2014).

When applying social media activities to their Marketing strategy, retailers have to keep in mind that it is important to create an appropriate mix of informational content and selling purposes on each social media platform. In addition, a business has to identify the most relevant social media platform according to its target group. (Armelini and Villanueva, 2011)

Due to the limitation of this paper, Pinterest is highlighted at this point as one good example of a social media network that implies an audience which is highly valuable for retailers. The members are predominantly female with a high educational level and a disposable income. By either creating its own Pinboards as well as placing a Pinit-button on the website or encouraging followers to share and pin their own pictures on the company’s Pinboard, a business can establish a visibility and consumer interaction. (MDG Advertising Blog, 2013)

Some food retail companies have already implemented social media activities in their marketing strategy. Hence, it can be said that the food retail industry in general has to react to the changes of the consumer behavior which has emerged through Web 2.0. The following part will examine in what ways Whole Foods Market is active on social media and what goals it intends to achieve by doing so.