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How Consumers Use Social Networks to Connect with Food Retailers

Posted: April 23, 2012

Earlier this year, a podcast series “Social Media and Food Retailers: Consumer Perspectives” was released on YouTube to describe the results of a consumer study designed to better understand how consumers use social media to engage with food retailers. Social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) allow for two-way communication between the consumer and the food retailer, and these research results provide important insights for food retailers interested in enhancing their marketing efforts.
Dr. Jeff Hyde, Dr. Kathy Kelley, and Dana Ollendyke, Penn State
Departments of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology and Horticulture 

Earlier this year, a podcast series “Social Media and Food Retailers: Consumer Perspectives” was released on YouTube to describe the results of  a consumer study designed to better understand how consumers use social media to engage with food retailers.  Social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) allow for two-way communication between the consumer and the food retailer, and these research results provide important insights for food retailers interested in enhancing their marketing efforts. 

We realize that some stakeholders may have difficulty viewing the videos or prefer to read articles, so we have decided to create a series of short reports, with survey results and interpretations, which will be published in the Fruit Times during the next few weeks.  

There were three specific issues we wanted to explore when conducting this research.  First, we wanted to know which potential media outlets (including print advertisements, TV and Radio, websites and email, and social media) were seen as “good fits” for various types of food retailers (e.g., on-farm markets, farmers’ markets, supermarkets).  Second, we wanted to understand why consumers used various social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, in relation to these retailers.  Third, we wanted to understand which aspects of a food retailer’s social media presence (e.g., advanced notification of sales or promotions, recipes, information about the business) were most appealing to the consumers. 

To address these issues we administered an online consumer survey between May 14 and 17, 2010 and targeted individuals who: 1) had an active Facebook, Twitter, or blog account; 2) were the primary food shopper for the household; and 3) resided in one of the following mid-Atlantic metropolitan areas: Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. (Figure 1).  

Figure 1.  Breakdown of the number of survey participants based on metropolitan area of residence.

Metro Area
Number of participants
% of total participants
Baltimore 109 9%
NY City 467 39.3%
Philadelphia 302 25%
Pittsburgh 129 10.7%
Washington D.C. 194 16%


In total, 1,210 consumers participated in the survey with some demographics being:

  • 71% of participants were female,
  • over 60% responded that there were no children in their household,
  • 46% were 49 years or older, and
  • over 64% had a yearly household income below $75,000 (Figure 2).

Figure 2.  Survey participant age range and income levels.
 

Age Range
% of participants
18 to 24 years 7.3%
25 to 36 years 21.8%
37 to 48 years 25.3%
49 to 64 years 35.6%
65 and older 10.0%
Income
% of participants
<$24K 13.3%
$25 to 49K 26.3%
$50 to 75K 25.1%
$76 to 99 K 16.6%
$100 to 149 K 11.8%
$150K or more 6.9%

Figure 2.  Survey participant age range and income levels.

In the survey, we asked consumers to tell us a little bit about their fresh produce and value-added product purchasing and consumption.  Some noteworthy facts include:

  • Nearly 96% of consumers reported consuming at least one serving of fresh fruits and vegetables during a typical day, with nearly 40% consuming three or more servings.
  • Approximately 72% of consumers reported consuming at least one serving of processed fruit and vegetables, though fewer than 10% consumed three or more servings.  Consumption of processed fruits and vegetables declined with age (Figure 3).
  • 44% purchased fresh produce and value-added produce products from direct market outlets (farmers’ markets, on-farm markets and Community Supported Agriculture) when in season.

Figure 3.  Percentage of survey participants in each age group that consumed processed fruits and vegetables.

Age Range
% of participants
18-24 83.9%
25-36 77.6%
37-48 74.4%
49-64 66.1%
65+ 60.7%

Figure 3.  Percentage of survey participants in each age group that consumed processed fruits and vegetables.
 
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 connect with businesses selling both fresh and processed fruit and vegetable products.  View the entire YouTube series.

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