How Consumers Use Social Networks to Connect with Food Retailers: Facebook Usage

Posted: May 1, 2012

Last week, we introduced you to research that members of Penn State Extension conducted in 2010 to better understand how consumers use social media to engage with food retailers. This week we are providing some of the highlights of the data related to Facebook.


Retailers sometimes struggle with connecting with customers, especially when unfamiliar with social media tools, their purposes, and the benefits they could provide businesses.  Facebook, the most popular social networking tool, is a great way for businesses to build relationships and therefore build sales.  Ninety-four percent of our survey respondents had an active Facebook page.  This may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that this was an online survey of registered survey panelists who were eligible to participate if they had an active blog, Facebook, or Twitter account. Therefore, we should expect these people to be comfortable with the internet and belong to a social network.

Only 17.5 percent of those with an active Facebook account found Facebook pages developed by fruit and vegetable businesses to be useful to them.  However, when the data was segmented by age, those 36 years of age and younger were much more likely to find these pages useful (Table 1). Therefore, messages posted on Facebook business pages should be created to target to a general audience, yet be most attractive to young adults.  Asking customers who are in the targeted age group to evaluate your Facebook page and postings could provide insight that will assist you in publishing relevant information.

Table1.  Percent of survey participants in each age group that found Facebook business pages developed by fruit and vegetable businesses to be useful.

Age group
 18 to 24
 25 to 36
 37 to 48
 49 to 64
 65 and older


In our survey, we analyzed how demographics affect what respondents expect from a food business on Facebook.  News updates (63%), links to a business’s website (56%), and links to a business’s YouTube account (28%) were some of the main features 18 to 24 year olds wanted to see posted.  This varies significantly from what participants age 49 years and older expected (Table 2).   Data presented may suggest that younger consumers prefer multiple ways to connect with and learn from a business that sells fresh produce and value-added processed produce items.

Table 2.  Components survey participants expect a food business to incorporate into their Facebook page for consumers 18 to 24 years of age and those who were age 49 and older.

18 to 24 years of age
Age 49 and older
 News updates
63.2%  15.4 to 30.3%
 Links to a business's website
56.3%  8.7 to 28.6%
 Links to a business's YouTube channel
28.7%  1.0 to 7.0%

Another example of differences based on demographics was that participants with at least a bachelor’s degree were more likely to want to learn about a food business’s events or connect with a food business via contact information posted on their Facebook Page than participants with less education.  Similarly, those with annual incomes greater than $150,000 were twice as likely to look for a link to a company’s blog on the business’s Facebook Page as consumers with an annual household income less than $150,000. 

If we look at all the survey responses together, it is clear that individuals use Facebook in very different ways.  Targeting several groups, whether based on income, education, or other demographic, requires food businesses to learn how each group perceives Facebook and what components they find valuable.

This is just a small sample of the information gathered from those who participated in the survey.  In the next article, we will present data that discusses how our respondents are using Facebook to share content.  To view the entire YouTube series, please visit


Contact Information

Jeffrey Hyde, Ph.D.
  • Associate Director of Programs
Phone: 814-865-5666
Kathy Kelley
  • Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management
Phone: 814-863-2196
Dana Ollendyke
  • Extension Associate
Phone: 814-863-5567