For the first time in the 16-year history of the Annual Food News Study, produced by Hunter Public Relations, New York, environmental advocacy broke through as the most memorable story of 2018. In addition, the study found the importance of all food news surged amongst Americans, with almost half saying that food and nutrition news are more important than any other type of news, marking the highest level of importance seen in more than half a decade. 

Hunter Public Relations commissioned a study to identify the top food news stories according to the opinions of Americans, providing a trended perspective on the magnitude of importance food news has to Americans, the types of news stories resonating today relative to prior years and the media sources used for gaining information on food. The study goes on to identify the impact of these stories across the entire continuum of consumer engagement by measuring the degree to which these stories changed consumer opinion, behavior and spurred advocacy.

Hunter, in partnership with Libran Research & Consulting, Scarborough, Maine, surveyed 1,001 American adults and asked respondents to select the most recalled news stories of the past 12 months. The data is reviewed overall and by key demographics, including the age cohorts of Millennials/Gen Zs, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers/Matures.

The news of plastic straw bans across America ranked as 2018’s No. 1 food news story, followed by Dunkin’ Donuts, Canton, Mass., changing its name to Dunkin’.

Americans of all ages continue to rank food safety stories high in the survey, and despite environmental advocacy being the most memorable story, food safety (44%) and food nutrition/health and wellness (23%) are deemed the most important topics addressed in 2018. The Romaine lettuce recall came in as the No. 3 food news story of the year, with more than three major recalls announced over the course of the year, and the FDA suspecting contaminated whey as the culprit in Salmonella-related recalls ranked as the No. 9 food news story of the year.

This year’s most shareable stories appear to have more “water cooler” potential, meaning that Americans are more open to talking about these stories with friends, family or co-workers as compared to sharing the original articles or sharing personal photos/comments via social media. Two of the most sharable stories of the year included racial profiling at Starbucks, ranking the No. 4 top food news story of the year, and how the China tariff impacts U.S. farmers as No. 5.

Also included in the Top 10 food news stories of 2018:

With online retailers and click-and-collect services gaining new users each day, it’s no surprise that online grocery shopping booms captured the No. 6 spot on this year’s list. According to a study by the Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va., conducted by Nielsen, Chicago, online grocery sales are predicted to capture 20% of total grocery retail by 2025 to reach $100 billion in consumer sales.

Forget unicorn food and kombucha, THC and CBD-infused products were everywhere in 2018, with cannabis in food and beverages snagging the No. 7 spot on the list.

Got milk? It’s up for debate. Coming in at No. 8 is should plant-based milk really be called milk? In July, the Food and Drug Administration signaled plans to start enforcing a federal standard that defines “milk” as coming from the “milking source of one or more healthy cows.” Almond, soy, oat and other “milks” are on notice.

Combining mayo and ketchup as a dipping sauce is nothing new, but the launch of Mayochup from Kraft Heinz, Philadelphia, Pa., ranked the No. 10 food news story on the list.

Importance of food news soars

This year, 35% of Americans feel that food and nutrition news stories are very important, the highest level the study has seen in recent years. This increase traces to a surge by Millennials/Gen Zs with 83% saying food news is very important/important in 2018 vs. 77% in 2017, while the importance attributed to food news stories remained relatively flat for Gen X and Baby Boomers/Matures. With regard to food news’ importance vs. other types of news stories, the study found a substantial increase by Millennials/Gen Zs this year, with 64% claiming food news is much more/somewhat more important than other types of stories vs. 42% in 2017, although Boomers are also seeing the increased relevance of this year’s food news stories.

Impact of food news on consumer engagement

Almost everyone surveyed (86%) was aware of at least one important food news story in 2018, and around half of those aware were impacted through changes in opinion, changes in behavior and/or sharing with others. Food trends, nutrition stories and food safety tend to be associated with the strongest changes in opinion, while food safety news and environmental activism is associated with strongest changes in behavior. Opinion change due to these news stories is higher for younger Americans, those with kids and Hispanics.

Popularity of “sharing” a meal on social media

As sharing food experiences through social media appears to become more prominent, for the first time, the study asked respondents if they post pictures of food they make at home and food they order in restaurants. Almost half of all Americans (47%) post their food on social media. However, this activity climbs to 74% with Millennials/Gen Z, with nearly three in four participating in food sharing culture.

Digital media reigns supreme for consuming food news and information

The reveals a continued shift in how Americans access general food news, with respondents reporting they are turning more to digital discovery platforms (such as social media and YouTube) and less to traditional media (such as TV, direct mail, books, magazines or newspapers) for food information. However, older Americans continue to more strongly utilize these more traditional sources of media. In prior years, Hispanics were more frequently early adopters in turning to digital media for food information, however in 2018, the gap narrowed somewhat, as Hispanics and non-Hispanics are largely turning to similar types of media for food information. Exceptions are podcasts and YouTube, where Hispanics (17% and 24%, respectively) are more likely to turn than non-Hispanics (11% and 15%, respectively).

About the study

The 16th annual Food News Study examined the top food news stories of 2018 in terms of awareness, consideration, intent and advocacy. The study also explored the top media sources for food information broken out by recipes, general food news and nutrition.

Libran Research surveyed 1,001 Americans ages 18 years and older via an email invitation and online survey. The respondent sample was balanced to the U.S. population on key demographics. Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 3.1 percentage points.

The survey was conducted Oct. 25-Oct. 30.