Among the many innovations Tesco’s Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has brought to the U.S. market is a blog on the chain’s website by Chief Marketing Officer Simon Uwins.
In the blog, Uwins talks about Fresh & Easy’s store openings in various West Coast markets, as well as the marketing amenities that U.K.-based Tesco is introducing in the U.S. But he also uses the blog as a way to publicly interface with Fresh & Easy shoppers. One link in a recent entry was to “our friend and fellow foodie, Oakley, whose many blogs talk about her experiences and recipes using f&e ingredients.”
Uwins also suggested that readers check out Chowhound. com, a community for “those who live to eat.” Among the topics on Chowhound’s “browse board” is “chains,” where Fresh & Easy, Trader Joe’s and a variety of fast-food outlets were recent topics of conversation.
Uwins and his fellow foodies are examples of a phenomenon — The Food Blogger — whose opinions are gaining the attention of the food industry.
A handful of other food retailers feature executive bloggers on their websites — notably Whole Food Markets, whose Chief Executive Officer John Mackey is well known for his blogging activities on and off the Whole Foods website.
But it’s not so much retail executives whose opinions are valued as those of food-loving consumers who have their own blogs or contribute their two cents to the thousands of amateur or commercial websites such as allrecipes.com, epicurious.com, chow.com, chewswise.com and zeer.com.
“A lot of people will write on the Internet for their friends, and will say things to friends that they won’t say in standard surveys or in a more formal medium,” said Janet Eden-Harris, CEO of market research firm Umbria, Boulder, Colo.
The blogosphere can be a harsh environment for companies with unfavorable news. Last year, when Vander Eyk Dairy, a large California farm, had its organic certification suspended, the news media only learned about it when bloggers and activist groups posted the development on their websites.
Jungle Jim’s International Market, Fairfield, Ohio, has taken the unusual step of hosting its own online community, the “FoodieTalk Forum,” on its website at www.junglejims.com. Participants chat about everything from beer, wine and bakery to recipes, meat and natural foods. One recent submission praised the German beer selection at a local Whole Foods outlet; another submission defended Jungle Jim’s selection, saying if the store didn’t carry one brand, “I’m sure they can get it.” Jungle Jim’s uses the forum as a vehicle for answering shoppers’ questions about the store.
Jim Bonaminio, the eldest son of the owner of Jungle Jim’s, and manager of the store’s website, said the store uses what is posted in the FoodieTalk Forum “as part of our collection of information on consumers,” adding, “We like that consumers can speak freely on it to each other like they’re on the sales floor.”
But most retailers “are just beginning to open up to the possibility” of tapping into an online community via their own sites or sponsored sites, said Eden-Harris. Many retailers tend to perceive such endeavors as risky, she said, but “it can be a hugely powerful way to connect with consumers.”
— MICHAEL GARRY