Reflections on 10 Years in Food and Nutrition Communications

gr-jaime-nutritionIn 2006, the first tweet was published on March 21, Facebook opened its registration beyond college campuses on September 26, and Google purchased YouTube on October 9. As these soon-to-be ubiquitous social platforms were just taking shape, I joined Ketchum on March 13th (on the very day Blogger was named “Best Web Application for Weblogs” at SXSW). I was a registered dietitian with a few years of experience working in the food industry but Ketchum was my first PR agency role. The fact that the industry, and every industry for that matter, was changing every single day was lost on me at that moment. I was just trying to navigate my way through this new territory. As I celebrate and reflect on a decade at Ketchum, here are some examples from my personal journey that punctuate the transformation of food and nutrition communications, along with the implications to consider for the continued evolution of the industry.

My expertise is in breaking down barriers between brands and gatekeepers of public opinion about food and nutrition. When I first joined Ketchum, there were limited vehicles and channels available to connect brands with health influencers, and for influencers to reach consumers as well. And those channels that did exist did not allow for a two-way dialogue. In 2006, an earned mention in HungryGirl’s new e-newsletter was considered an important win for a food brand. Ten years later, HungryGrls, two recent college grads who started an Instagram account dedicated to all things food, now have a larger following than the original moniker.
Implication: The influencer landscape continues to evolve as anyone with a laptop or phone has the potential to be a thought leader – especially in the food space, a category where so many have a passionate point of view. Now, more than ever, it’s important for the industry to define what influence and expertise really means.

The evolution of food trends and social media’s role in accelerating what’s hot is another area that stands out upon reflection. I recall working with my team to develop a novel way to incorporate avocados into a recipe. We landed on a twist on a caprese salad, swapping fresh mozzarella for slices of avocado – which is hardly unique today. Can you remember a world without avocado toast? I recall another occasion when a spokesperson had to explain to a host on a live morning broadcast what hummus is. Not only does it need no explanation in 2016, but now plummus is a thing (#client).
Implication: A new level of culinary creativity will be inspired by new platforms that continue to break down regional and global barriers in food like and even emojis.

Brand storytellers have also changed over the past decade. Two years in, I supported an innovative campaign for a CPG brand that focused on the farmers behind the product. Before this, brands weren’t talking about farmers and consumers weren’t necessarily asking who was growing their food. According to Ketchum’s recent Food 2020 research, farmers are only 2nd to family as the source consumers in the U.S. trust most for information about food.
Implication: The voices closest to farming and agriculture will help brands break through the food conversation.

In 2006, there were just a few on-staff registered dietitians at Ketchum. Our team has now quadrupled in size to meet the needs of our clients and colleagues. Our team has deepened our understanding of the business objectives of our clients and we help them navigate the marketing landscape responsibly. Not only has the size of our team increased, but so has our role.
Implication: From food manufacturers to supermarkets, it has never been a more important time to have registered dietitians on your team.

Jaime Schwartz Cohen MS, RD, is SVP, Director of Nutrition, based in Ketchum’s New York office. When she’s not consuming food and nutrition news, she’s practicing portion control to satisfy her sweet tooth and finding balance with running and yoga. Jaime was a 2014 Ketchum Global Scholar, spending time with London, Amsterdam and Brussels colleagues and continues to support Ketchum teams around the world. In 2016, she launched Ketchum’s Borderless Nutrition News, an e-newsletter reporting on insights and observations from the global nutrition community.