Whole Foods Market - An Example of a Food Retailer Using Social Media PART 2

Written by Jana Preissing

This part investigates how Whole Foods Market uses social media activities in its marketing strategy to respond to the changing consumer behavior regarding food consumption. Whole Foods Market’s overall objective is to influence the potential consumers on social media in their purchase decision making, even before they decide to go to a physical grocery store.

Whole Foods Market is an American supermarket chain that offers organic and natural food products and has more than 360 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. It is a mission-driven company, values and guarantees high quality standards for its products and has a high commitment to community and environmental projects. (Whole Foods Market 2, 2015)

Besides classical marketing activities, Whole Foods Market’s marketing concept includes a social media appearance on several platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Google+ and YouTube (Whole Foods Market 3, 2015). Additionally it has its own company website as well as a related mobile application where users that are potential customers can among other things look for recipes within different categories or special diets (Whole Foods Market Mobile Application, 2014). Moreover, they can get educational information about ingredients and watch how-to cook/bake videos of different dishes and for selected occasions which are available on different social media platforms, e.g. Facebook (Whole Foods Market Facebook, 2015). Furthermore, Whole Foods Market has several blogs that includes its own blog where recipes of other bloggers are featured and blogs of the Co-CEOs. On these blogs, readers can on the one hand get inspiring recipes and on the other hand read interesting stories about topics related to society. Users can leave comments or tweet, like or share on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. (Whole Foods Market 3, 2015) 

Another service which Whole Foods Market offers, is the possibility to add ingredients from a recipe directly to a personal created shopping list when looking at recipes on the Whole Foods Market website or the mobile application. Thereby, the consumer knows what to buy the next time he visits a Whole Foods grocery store. Furthermore a recipe or shopping list can be shared on Facebook or Twitter as well as messaged or emailed to a friend. Besides these features the user can also add comments about tips and tricks for a recipe or share a photo to a specific recipe he tried out before. (Whole Foods Market Mobile Application, 2014; Whole Foods Market 3, 2015)

Whole Foods wants to encourage consumers to share their special Whole Foods Market stories by using the hashtag #wholefoodsmarket when uploading pictures on Instagram or Twitter. Whole Foods Market’s intention is to start a conversation with social media users across several social media networks.  After uploading the pictures on Instagram or Twitter, they can be shared on Pinterest as well and sometimes Whole Foods even shares selected pictures on their own platforms, e.g. Facebook or Website. (Whole Foods Market 4, 2015; Whole Foods Market Facebook, 2015)

On the companies Facebook page, Whole Foods publishes on average two posts a day, which can either be an interesting story about food/dishes/ingredients/other products which are available at Whole Foods Market or recipes (for special occasions), videos about how to prepare certain type of dishes or other interesting stories related to the Whole Foods Market Company. Most commonly the post is phrased as a question which has the intention to involve and engage consumers in a conversation. Sometimes users even ask specific questions about a product or its availability at a store which is often answered in a very short time of the Whole Foods Market Facebook-Team. In this term it operates as a customer service. (Whole Foods Market Facebook, 2015)

Depending on the country and store, Whole Foods even offers online purchase possibilities for some of its products (Whole Foods Market 5, 2015). However, predominantly Whole Foods Market pursues a multi-channel approach whereas the customer needs to go to the store to shop food products. With letting the customer create a shopping list on his phone, Whole Foods Market’s intention is to make it more convenient for the customer to shop at the store later on and bond with him already online or on his mobile devices. (Whole Foods Market 3, 2015) 

The customer demand for transparency of a company’s activities is increasing whereby the retailer has the chance to communicate its values and mission on social media through a direct interaction with the consumer (Fournier and Avery, 2011). Furthermore, by representing the brand in social media there is the possibility to create a customer relationship and loyalty probably even before the consumer is a customer of the brand. The consumer’s attitude towards a retailer or brand is crucial for the shopping behavior later on. (Akar and Topçu, 2011) Whole Foods Market is communicating the company’s values on their website and in all its activities (Whole Food Market 3, 2015).

All in all it can be said that Whole Foods Market has an appropriate mix between informational content and selling purposes on its social media platforms. As an example, the retailer educates users about a healthy living and lifestyle and provides him matching recipes and other ideas on how to implement the lifestyle in his daily life. Subsequently Whole Foods entertains the users with recipes first and gives an interaction by providing how-to cook videos and other features. With the provided content (values and offers) Whole Foods triggers the selling decision making step of the user in a positive way. (Armelini and Villanueva, 2011)

Social Media – Implement, Maintain and Harvest

In today’s fast moving world, where consumers are connected to the Internet at all times and places and always look for the most convenient and time-saving solution, it is crucial for food retail businesses to create an ongoing communication with their (potential) customers online, especially in social media networks. Through a social media appearance, food retailers get the chance to directly interact and connect with Internet users even before they make the actual purchase decision in the grocery store. Nowadays, the purchase decision process can already be influenced online, when the consumer is searching for general information about a food product or process. Social media gives retailers the opportunity to influence the consumer’s lives and shopping behavior in an early stage. Furthermore, companies have to encourage users online to create and share UGC. It is crucial to make use of the increasing willingness of consumers to share content online and hence to give them possibilities to share content on different social media platforms with other interested users. 

By being active on social media, a company has the chance to get in the consumers’ mind, increase the visibility and awareness of the retail brand an products whereby long-term trust and loyalty can be built. Food retailers have to make use of a social media presence and leverage the consumer’s high expression of interest in food related topics. By providing social media users with useful content such as ethnic recipes, they get motivated to try out and cook new dishes and at the same time get encouraged indirectly to come to their grocery store where all ingredients are purchasable.

How will the life of the digital cookbook go on? Where are the limits of today’s willingness to share content with others on social media and will the popularity about digital cookbooks remain? Will people look more and more for niched and unique experiences and is it possible that a real (cook-) book reclaims a higher value since cooking from scratch is what gives people the real authentic experience of cooking? 


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