Antler visited the Natural Products Expo East on the 14th and 15th of October. We sought out to explore how organic food companies are implementing social media into their marketing mix.
When I think of natural products, a few words that come to mind are “healthy,” “eco-friendly,” “delicious” and, after last week, “social media.”
The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center recently hosted the Natural Products Expo, a professional festival of products, organizations and corporations within the organic food industry. My colleagues and I immediately took interest in the event, given our own obsession with natural foods and organic food marketing (i.e., Luke’s Home Grown Food Challenge).
At the Expo, I had the privilege of attending a talk given by Gary Hirshberg, the “CE-Yo” of Stonyfield Farm: the self-described former “hippie kid” spin on CEO. Among many scary statistics about U.S. obesity rates and toxic pesticide use, Gary made a remark that nearly made me jump out of my seat and start cheering: “Social media is a gift to our industry.”
He went on to describe one example of Stonyfield’s efforts in the space, in which selected nutrition bloggers were flown to the company’s farms in Vermont and wrote about what they learned there. The whole initiative resulted in what Gary described as “millions of hits” for Stonyfield’s Web presence and cost, in total, roughly $10,000.
Social media is undoubtedly a gift to many businesses, but one that hasn’t garnered overwhelming attention within the organic food industry. Being the curious digital anthropologists we are, fellow Antler Beth and I spoke with some of the exhibitors to find out how they’re leveraging social media.
We were thrilled to discover at least two vendors integrating social media with their offline presence, including Vermont’s own Ben & Jerry’s. Though we were initially wooed by the free ice cream, we couldn’t help but notice a public computer inside the booth. When we asked about it, Karen, a brand marketer for the company, explained that the computer was there for visitors to ‘Like’ Ben & Jerry’s on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.
Then, we stopped in to see Naked Nuggets, which first caught our eyes with their name. But we became even more excited after spotting a pile of stickers with “Like us on Facebook” emblazoned across them. Rob, the Naked Nuggets product manager, said the stickers were made for people to immediately connect with the company on their smartphones.
Before his comment on the value of social media within the natural products industry, Gary Hirshberg also said, “The good news is, we have solutions. Bad news is, we’re only four percent of U.S. sales.” As we interviewed more exhibitors, we discovered that many of them are taking advantage of digital marketing to “spread the word,” as Karen phrased it, and to encourage an organic lifestyle among global consumers. We’d like to thank our new friends from Ben & Jerry’s and Naked Nuggets, but also the great folks we met from Badger, Bamboo Bottle Company, Bulldog Natural Grooming, Glee Gum, Lake Champlain Chocolates and Vermints. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on social media… and for doing your part to diminish Gary Hirshberg’s scary statistics.