You know the type: the person who wants to talk with you about artificial ingredients, about GMOs, about where the new neighborhood restaurant sources its pork. A lot of people care a lot about food, and not just whether Per Se had two stars taken away from the New York Times restaurant critic. No, food isn’t just about pleasure of sustenance for this group of people—it’s also about ethics and morals. According to a new report from the public relations firm Ketchum, which has dubbed this cohort the Food eVangelists, there are more of them then ever.
In just two years, Food eVangelists have gone from representing 10 percent of global consumers to 24 percent, according to the new Food 2020 report, an annual consumer trends study published by Ketchum.
According to the study, which is based on survey responses from people in China, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Italy, and Argentina, 54 percent of this cohort maintains that the best food comes from local farmers, and 49 percent would rather buy groceries from a small, local business instead of a supermarket. These consumers not only are buying differently but they talk about what they buy—and don’t buy—too. As Ketchum puts it, “Food eVangelists listen to everyone, trust no one, and take action.”
While the industry has often ignored its most vocal consumer-critics, their mounting numbers—and the rise of social media—have changed how big food companies respond to complaints. Just last year, a number of major food manufacturers and retailers announced changes to products and processes—such as removing artificial colors and flavors from products or switching to antibiotic-free poultry—that some have been advocating over the course of years, if not decades. But with rising numbers, that slow response is going to change, according to Ketchum.
“Food eVangelists are becoming a mainstream, dominant market force, exacting marked change on the way the food industry operates and communicates, and we predict they will become the ‘new normal’ among consumers,” Linda Eatherton, partner and managing director of Ketchum’s Global Food & Beverage Practice, said in a statement. “While Food eVangelists have a desire to influence others, it’s important to remember that they don’t promote a specific agenda. Rather they seek information from multiple sources, listen to varying opinions, and make their own decisions.”
The shift could profoundly change the way the food industry operates or at the very least, how it communicates with its customers. As the report notes, children “are even more strident in their beliefs than their parents,” with 49 percent of respondents saying that kids “take an active role” in deciding what foods the family buys. Which is to say, Food eVangelists representing 24 percent of the market is just the beginning.