A powerful component of social media from a business perspective is the ability to listen to what consumers are saying. Social listening technologies are available to track conversations around specific phrases, words or brands. As a result, companies are able to identifying new opportunities that may not have been on their radar, and many are responding with innovative product development or design. Twenty-five years ago, it would have been costly and time consuming to gather focus groups in order to gain feedback. But today, this valuable market information can be gathered in a matter of minutes—assuming of course that people are in fact talking about your brand.
The food industry is a specific sector where product development is critical to success. There are a number of reasons why this specific industry is constantly creating new products or innovating existing ones. I chatted with my colleague, Karen Proper, who is a technical manager in the product and process development department at NSF International to gain more insight on this topic. Karen and her team work with clients in the food and beverage industry to help bring a product concept to life, overcome production challenges or to innovate an existing one. When asked why product development is so integral to business, especially in the food industry, Karen replied,
“Product development keeps companies competitive in the marketplace, compliant to regulations, able to react to ingredient and manufacturing process changes, and also responsive to trends and consumer demands—all of which are critical to success in the food industry today.”
Food is everywhere on social media today. As a seriously connected generation where 50% identify themselves as a ‘foodie‘, it is no surprise that the average Millennial prefaces a meal with a quick Snapchat or Instagram post about it first. Circling back to Karen’s point of food companies responding to consumer demands, within the last decade consumers have used online outlets to not only share what delicious meals they eat, but to also voice their opinions, needs and wants when it comes to food.
In the last few years there have been some great examples of companies who have responded to consumer demands by bringing back favourite food products to market. Here are a few examples:
1) Trix are not just for kids
I don’t know about you, but as an 80s baby it was pretty disappointing to hear that this neon, sugar filled cereal was taken off the shelves. The decision to pull Trix from production lines was a result of parents changing their purchasing habits and buying more nutritional cereals. In 2013, General Mills discovered a Facebook group of Millennials and younger Baby Boomers via social listening who were vocal about wanting their nostalgic cereal back. General Mills responded by bringing Trix back into production and marketing it to adults rather than children. According to General Mills, it was easy to create online buzz at a low-cost. They personally reached out to everyone in the Trix Facebook group, created in-store advertisements and sent boxes to influencers like radio DJ’s. Within no time, the Trix comeback had gone viral.
2) Coke brought Surge back because the Internet said so
Coke ceased production on Surge (a Mountain Dew like soda) in 2002, but following relentless fan-fed social campaigns that went on for over two years, the company decided to revive the product in 2014—the first time in Coca-Cola history where they brought a product back. Within an hour of being released for purchase on Amazon, Surge sold out.
3) Outcries for chicken fries
Sparked by enthusiastic Tweets, change.org petitions, dedicated Tumblr and Facebook groups, Burger King decided to bring back Chicken Fries to its menu in 2014. According to a company press release, “Guest outcries reached a point where we could no longer ignore.” The company then leveraged social media to spread the word by using the hashtag #chickenfriesareback.
4) Tim Hortons asked what menu item to bring back
To mark its 50th Anniversary, Tim Horton asked their followers what item they wanted back. Over one month, the company used the popular hashtag #TBT (throw back Thursday) to reveal one returning item to menu each week. If you’re curious, the chocolate eclair ranked the top item voted for to return. Good choice!
5) Whoop there it is! Crystal Pepsi is back
Again, social media was behind the movement that encouraged Crystal Pepsi to return to store shelves. Their product development and design team ensured that the taste and logos brought consumers back to the days of VHS tapes and playing video games in their parents’ basements. The Pepsico marketing department also made an epic video (seen below) to announce the return of Crystal Pepsi.
Author John. S. Allen explained in his book, The Omnivorous Mind that, “…our food memories are evocative, and can bring back memories not just of eating the food itself but also of the place and setting.” Though Millennials are known for favouring Non-GMO products, organic vegetables and almond milk, it is clear that those tendencies go out the window if it means consuming foods that will remind us of backwards jeans, mushroom cuts and Salt-n-Pepa.
Lessons for Others
Listening = winning
There is no greater time in history for companies to connect with their consumers and listen with intent. Here are a few rules of thumb to leverage social media to ensure your product development and design is aligning with what your customers actually want:
- Treat online conversation and feedback the same way they would treat feedback from a focus group. Even though you received this information for free (excluding internal time), it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable
- Carefully track, analyzing metrics (likes, shares, etc.), and incorporate qualitative data into your business strategy
- Actions speak louder than words. If your company can adjust its product or service to fit the needs of the consumer, it will gain a greater reputation as a company who listens, rather than one who ignores what people have to say
Industry: Product Development and Design
Name of Organization Contact: NSF International
Authored by: Kristy Smith
If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.
10 Cult Favorites Brought Back From the Dead by Popular Demand. (2015, March 26). Retrieved February 24, 2017, from TIME website, http://time.com/money/3756751/chicken-fries-cult-favorite-fast-food/
Food and Memory. (2012, May 18). Retrieved February 24, 2017, from Harvard Press website, http://harvardpress.typepad.com/hup_publicity/2012/05/food-and-memory-john-allen.html
How Social Media Helped Resurrect Three Beloved Cereal Brands. (2015, March 30). Retrieved February 23, 2017, from Marketing Mag website, http://www.marketingmag.ca/brands/how-social-helped-resurrect-three-beloved-cereal-brands-139890
Social Media’s Role in Product Design and Development. (2014, Sept. 17). Retrieved February 24, 2017, from Carabiner Comms website, http://www.carabinercomms.com/social-media/social-medias-role-in-product-design-and-development/
Surge Sells Out After Internet Fans Make Coke Bring it Back. (2014, Sept. 16). Retrieved February 23, 2017, from Today Show website, http://www.today.com/money/surge-sells-out-after-internet-fans-make-coke-bring-it-1D80152617
Tim Hortons asks: which past menu item do you want back? (2014, March 27). Retrieved February 24, 2017, from Toronto Star website, https://www.thestar.com/life/2014/03/27/tim_hortons_asks_what_past_menu_item_do_you_want_back.html
What is Social Listening and Why is it Important? (2015, Nov. 18). Retrieved February 23, 2017 from Sprout Social website, http://sproutsocial.com/insights/social-listening/