There is usually at least one food trend that has the public, and the media, enthralled at any given moment.
A few years ago, it was low carb; before that, it was low-fat foods. What all these diet and food fads indicate is that Americans are increasingly cognizant of the nutritional value of foods, and they expect media to zero in on that aspect in their coverage.
"They are no longer low-carb obsessed, but they are healthy-living focused," notes Stacey Bender, president of the Bender Hammerling Group, which represents a number of different packaged-food clients. "This year, the emphasis is on 'tastes great, but is healthy, as well,' so you want to make sure you highlight the nutritional information on all of your pitches."
Christopher Speed, Ogilvy PR's senior food and nutrition specialist, suggests that the healthy food trend is even impacting coverage beyond the culinary pages. "A lot of the cerebral nutritional articles now include recipes," he explains. "Because at the end of the day, editors and health experts realize people will not eat better unless they also enjoy the meal."
Along with healthy living, there also seems to be an increased focus on restaurant-themed stories in food sections, says Pam Becker, senior manager of brand PR for General Mills. That, along with increased coverage of wine, beer, and spirits, means the news hole for traditional food products may be getting smaller at many outlets. "A lot of food page staffs got massacred, so many are using more wire stories," she notes. "But that can work to your advantage if you can place stories with the right syndicated writer."
Linda Eatherton, EVP and director of Ketchum's global food and nutrition practice, adds that many consumers remain fascinated by high-end, exotic cuisine, even if they're unlikely to ever re-create those meals at home. "Many years ago, people actually cooked," she says. "Now it's a voyeuristic sport and not a contact sport, but readers still want to know how great food gets made."
The voyeuristic aspects of food are especially prevalent on TV, says Chris Volk, VP at LA-based Murphy O'Brien Public Relations, who adds, "It's not just the Food Network. The Travel Channel does food segments, especially for things like factory tours, and even the History Channel has covered the process on how foods are made."
There's also an increased interest among food editors in more local stories, says Becker. "One way to take advantage of that is to partner with area restaurants that are using your products," she adds.
PITCHING... Food Stories
Get the nutritional benefits of your client's products up front in any food story pitch
Look to partner with local chefs on food stories, and then emphasize how your client's products can be used to re-create their signature meals at home
Look to pitch food trend stories to lifestyle outlets, especially online sites like iVillage that have a huge daily news hole to fill