In 2015, high-profile food crusader Food Babe took aim at the beloved pumpkin spice latte by publishing a list of what she deemed “harmful” ingredients in the fall favorite. Among them: “milk from cows fed GMO corn, a ‘toxic’ dose of sugar, caramel coloring made with ammonia and artificial flavors made from substances like petroleum.”  

Given Food Babe’s popularity at the time and an increasingly food-conscious public one might have expected sales to plummet. Nope. In fact, from 2015 to 2016, pumpkin spice latte sales increased by nearly 50 percent, according to the firm 1010data. Although sales increases slowed to 21 percent the following year, the passion for pumpkin is still alive and well.

In other instances, the food system did not fare nearly as well. Consider the 2012 blogger-led boycott against lean finely textured beef (later known as “pink slime”) – a safe source of protein that has been on the market for years and is derived from separating otherwise wasted beef from fat in beef trimmings. That movement led to alarming headlines, changes in school lunch programs, closed plants, lost jobs and defamation lawsuits.

We’ve seen other examples of consumer pushback including the growing number of demands for the removal of antibiotics from protein production, use of non-GMO ingredients and changes to hen housing protocols.

So why, in some cases, is negative information met with an ambivalent shrug (think pumpkin spice latte) and other times instant outrage, demand for change and shifts in purchasing behavior? As experts in food and ag, these are the questions we love to answer.

We used our digital intelligence tool MagnifySM, which can analyze millions of online behaviors in real time, to dive deeper into the demographics and psychographics of conversations about this topic.

The intelligence revealed the key attitudinal differences:

First, the pumpkin spice latte is a beloved brand, that evokes positive feelings and signifies the crisp air and changing colors of the fall season. The drink is a bit of a novelty for those who choose to splurge.  

Lean finely textured beef was unfamiliar, and the emotion attached grew from alarming and misleading headlines, particularly about it being fed to children in lunchrooms across the country. Parents didn’t have a choice in the matter and felt betrayed.   

Also, by using Magnify to segment consumers most engaged in online discussions around pumpkin spice latte, we uncovered their number one motivation: self-indulgence.

Be it food, clothes, skincare or expensive coffee-type drinks, the last thing they want is to hear bad news about their favorite things. Even though their top fear is being exposed and held accountable for their unhealthy habits, latte lovers revere the drink so highly, they’re willing to   ignore any negative health consequences. We witness the same behaviors when it comes vaping, drinking to excess and overeating.   

Another predominant motivation for this group is to be seen as good and responsible, which they often find difficult to do when they’re bombarded with and confused by mixed messages about everything they buy. However, in the battle between self-indulgence and morality, self-indulgence will turn a blind eye to doing “what’s right.”  

Look East Magnify Digital Intelligence

Magnify’s digital intelligence can pinpoint trends when it comes to how consumers feel about your products and brands, their fears, motivations, influential sources and purchasing behaviors. These insights allow us to help you shape your messaging and strategy, and prepare for a potential crisis.

It doesn’t matter if your brand is 100 years old or just getting started, keeping a pulse on consumer conversations is important to your success. So, take a break from your computer, sip your pumpkin spice latte and give us a call.

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