For the first time ever, a social media-led story ranked as the most memorable story of the year, with news of the “Fast Food Chicken Sandwich Throwdown On Twitter” ranking as 2019's No. 1 food news story, according to the HUNTER Annual Food News Study, released by Hunter Public Relations, New York.

What's not new is the presence of fast food in the No. 1 spot. From 2010-2019, nearly half of the top food news stories were related to fast food. Throughout the past decade, food safety, social policy and menu evolutions consistently made for memorable headlines, underscoring the impact fast food establishments have in food and contemporary culture.

"Americans are hungry for food news. Nearly half believe that food and nutrition stories are more important than other types of news stories," says Heddy DeMaria, chief insights officer. "Our annual study not only helps to identify which stories are capturing the most attention, but also measures their impact and influence on consumers' awareness, attitudes, behaviors and advocacy."

The study examines not only what food news is important to consumers today, but also how that is changing over time. HUNTER, in partnership with Libran Research & Consulting, Orchard Beach, Maine, surveyed 1,003 American adults asking 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.

A “Video of a Woman Licking Blue Bell Ice Cream Goes Viral” occupies 2019's No. 2 spot.

Meanwhile, food safety (40%) and food nutrition/health (24%) continue to be ranked as the most important and second most important food news topics to Americans of all ages. The “Keto Diet Gains in Popularity” came in as the No. 3 food news story of the year, with nearly one-third of respondents selecting that topic as most memorable, followed closely by the No. 4 food news story of the year—“Thousands of Pounds of Chicken Recalled” due to possible contamination and labeling concerns.

Despite only 10% of respondents selecting sustainability as the most important food news topic, three of this year's Top 10 most memorable stories were related to the topic. On the heels of “Plastic Straw Bans” being the lead story in 2018, straw news continued to drive conversation this year with “The Downside of Ditching Plastic Straws” ranking No. 5. Coming in at No. 8 is “Ban to End Sales of Plastic Water Bottles Gains Momentum.” The “Styrofoam Food Container Ban” is this year's No. 9 story. 

Also included in the Top 10 food news stories of 2019:

  • “The Impact of Tariffs on Food Items” captured the No. 6 spot on this year's list.
  • Prolonged wet weather and historic flooding left fields across parts of Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska submerged. Lingering high water delayed planting for growers across America's Heartland, which resulted in “Farmers Facing Big Losses and Poor Crops After Devastating Flooding,” the No. 7 food news story on the list.

Impact of food news on behavior
With Americans claiming food safety and food nutrition/health as the most important food news topics covered, it's no surprise that stories related to these topics drove the most engagement among consumers in 2019. This is particularly true for Millennials/GenZs (61%) and Gen Xers (53%) as compared to Boomers/Matures (34%). Millennials/GenZs and Gen Xers are more likely to educate themselves on food, try new foods/flavors and share information about food with others. As a result, they are changing the foods they are buying.

Digital consumption and analog sharing
Despite growing popularity of digital connectivity, there is no replacing face-to-face communication. While the most popular source for general food news remains television (46%), Americans are increasingly turning to websites (44%) and social media (40%) as their go-to for information. Households with kids are more likely to use social media, blogs and podcasts than those without kids. Despite the growing predilection for digital news consumption, news sharing remains largely an analog behavior. In fact, face-to-face interaction still leads as the most popular way to share the news of the day, with water cooler talk outpacing social sharing by 2:1.