From an early age, I learned about the social value of food.
My late mum (bless her), committed many horrific food crimes when I was growing up. The arrival of the enormous wood-grained National microwave in the 1970s sparked her culinary nadir; destroying everything that went inside like some sort of nuclear kitchen holocaust. I still glow a bit under a certain light.
But she did also pull out the odd miracle.
Nothing scored better than a platter of her cheese and herb toasties presented to a ravenous band of teenage drinkers late in the evening. Or the day I stopped the school playground in its tracks with a greaseproof wrapper full of mum’s incredibly exotic cream cheese, lettuce, Marmite and walnut sandwiches.
Clearly food has an ability to create social currency – both positively and negatively.
Which brings me to the modern phenomenon of Foodstagramming. The basic idea is that no decent meal can go unphotographed and shared.
Apparently, food is the most popular content item on Instagram, with 438,921,588 food hashtagged images. The most popular food hashtags are #food, #foodporn, #instafood and #yummy. According to a study of 100,000 Instagram images by Photoworld.com the top 10 Instagrammed foods internationally are:
So why all the fuss? It seems that ‘gramming our food satisfies us in several significant ways:
The new grace. A shared ritual before we eat that is designed to celebrate and indicate our gratitude for what we are about to eat.
It makes us happier. Studies have shown that taking food photos is a way of verifying our eating experience that increases our sense of pleasure. It can also make the food actually taste better due to the delayed gratification and repeated, episodic and fixed ritual of ‘gramming’.
Look at me. Instagrammed food conveys messages to our friends about ourselves. They can show how good I am, how lucky I am, how naughty I am, how brave I am, how rich I am, or confirm that I am really here experiencing this extraordinary feast.
Mixed food health. In terms of health, Instagram provides mixed messages. On the positive side, it helps the recovery of people with eating disorders by documenting their meals. However, it can also fuel an unhealthy fixation with eating and the wrong sort of foods.
The implications of this are profound for anyone in the food industry. The visual impact and ‘grammagenic value of meals is increasingly the way that consumers frame their satisfaction.
How ‘grammable is your food offering?
Some brands truly understand the power of the ‘user-generated’ image. For example, Giapo has turned ice-creams into a visual extravaganza. Top restaurants like Sidart create their meals as works of art. Fashionable food trucks like The Lucky Taco understand the power of content potential for customers. And FMCG brands like Pure Delish understand that it is through the eyes of that people fall in love with food products.
In contrast, those that disregard the smartphone empowered customer do so at their peril. One category that is at significant risk in this respect is the large quick-service restaurants. Who hasn’t taken the bait of a delicious looking menu, only to be bitterly disappointed by the tragic and massively underwhelming food that bears no resemblance to the menu image.
Whatever would my mum say?