These days, anything and everything is online. From recipes and do-it-yourself solutions to blogs and reviews, the worldwide web is chock-full of “information.” Sometimes it can be overwhelming (where do you start?), it can be cumbersome (who do you trust?) and even flat-out frustrating, yet more and more Americans still go online to learn, converse, share and voice their opinions.

In fact, according to a new study conducted by The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., and Publicis Consultants USA, New York, “social and digital media is replacing mom as the go-to culinary source of knowledge for many people.”

Results from the study, “Clicks & Cravings: The Impact of Social Technology on Food Culture,” show almost half of consumers learn about food via social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, and 40% learn via websites, apps or blogs.

“Consumers used to rely on mom and family traditions for meal planning, but now search online for what to cook, without ever tasting or smelling,” says Laurie Demeritt, president and COO at The Hartman Group. “Digital food selection is less of a sensory experience and more of a visual and rational process—What’s on the label? What’s in the recipe? Show me the picture!”

What’s more, the infiltration of social media into the food experience goes far beyond purchasing and preparing food. Now, it includes the actual meal experience.

While eating or drinking at home, nearly one-third of Americans use social networking sites. Among Millennials (18-32 years old), this figure jumps to 47%.

“The ‘table for one’ rarely exists anymore, even among single people eating alone at home,” adds Demeriit. “If you are eating alone, chances are you are also texting friends who live miles away or posting food photos to a review site.”

The study also reveals that it’s not enough for food and grocery brands to just be present in the virtual space. The payoff is a long-term and personal relationship that creates brand advocates and an emotional connection that drives influence.

“The best social and digital campaigns reflect the audiences’ values, interests, concerns and aspirations,” says Steve Bryant, president of Publicis.

Attention processors and suppliers, if you’re not already on social media, create an account and start communicating with your customers, consumers and peers today.

Looking ahead. Our November 2013 cover story focuses on Food Plants of the Year, which profiles a food processor in each of the six categories that exemplifies food safety, worker safety, environmental initiatives, plant expansions, cutting-edge innovations and product developments, etc. If your company or customers fit the bill, please send nominations to