The growing number of plastic straw bans across the country is 2018’s most-recalled news story in the food arena, according to the latest annual Food News Study from Hunter Public Relations.
Hunter and Libran Research & Consulting conducted an online survey of 1,001 American adults (sample balanced to the U.S. Census on age, race and region, with quotas set for even representation by gender) between October 25 and 30 this year. Respondents were asked to select the most recalled news stories of the past 12 months, as well as about the importance of food news, sources of food news, behavior and attitude changes resulting from the stories, and their food shopping and cooking behaviors.
This marks the first time in the study’s 16-year history that an environmental-advocacy story has emerged as the most memorable one, according to the firm.
The straw-ban movement was galvanized by a disturbing video (below) of marine biologists removing a plastic straw stuck in a sea turtle’s nose that (while shot in 2015) went viral during summer 2018. On YouTube, the video is currently showing more than 33.3 million views.
In July, Seattle and San Francisco passed ordinances banning plastic straws, and Starbucks announced that it would eliminate the straws from its stores around the world by 2020. In September, California became the first state to ban full-service (though not quick-serve) restaurants from offering plastic straws to customers, unless they specifically request them. Companies including American Airlines and Aramark have also vowed to cease offering the straws.
This year’s second most-recalled story was Dunkin’ Donuts’ decision to drop the “Donuts” from its name as part of a major
strategic shift that includes emphasis on the beverages segment.
The rest of the top 10, in order: the romaine lettuce recalls; racial profiling at Starbucks spurs public outrage; Trump’s trade war with China impacts U.S. farmers; the boom in online grocery shopping; the explosion of foods and beverages containing cannabis (infused with THC and CBD); the debate about whether soy-, almond- and other plant-based “milks” should really be called “milks”; the FDA’s suspicion that contaminated whey is behind salmonella-related food contamination/recalls; and Kraft Heinz’s launch of the mayonnaise/ketchup mashup Mayochup.
Despite the plastic straw bans being ranked as the most memorable story, food safety (44%) and food nutrition/health & wellness (23%) were considered the most important overall topics addressed in 2018.
Food News Deemed More Important Than Ever
This year, 35% of those surveyed said that they consider food and nutrition news stories to be very important -- a significant increase from 26% saying the same in both 2017 and 2016. The highest percentage in recent years was 32%, in 2013.
The surge in expressed interest was driven by millennials and Gen Zs: 83% of these cohorts said that food news is very important/important, versus 77% in 2017. In contrast, the percentages of Gen X-ers (76%), baby boomers and matures (77%) remained relatively flat with those for 2017.
The study also found 64% of millennials/Gen Zs saying they view food news as much more/somewhat more important than other types of stories, up from 42% in 2017 -- the largest increase among the cohorts.
Fully 86% of respondents were aware of at least one important food news story in 2018, and about half of that group said these stories resulted in changes in opinion, 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 were associated with the strongest changes in behavior. Opinion changes due to these news stories were higher among younger respondents, those with children, and Hispanics.
For the first time, respondents were asked if they post pictures of food they make at home and food they order in restaurants.
Nearly half (47%) of Americans overall -- and 74% of millennials and Gen Zs -- reported that they post food pictures on social media.
In terms of media sources for general food news (as opposed to nutritional information), 2018’s study confirms a continued shift away from traditional media and toward social media, YouTube and websites -- particularly, as would be expected, among generations younger than boomers and matures.
Across all age groups, 45% -- including 55% of boomers/matures, 42% of Gen X-ers, and 36% of millennials -- cite TV as a key source of general food news. In 2014, the overall average was 58%.
For social media and websites, the overall/cross-generation averages are both 31% -- up from 28% and 44%, respectively, in 2014.
Among boomers/matures, 21% and 29% use social and websites, respectively, as food news sources, versus 38% and 30% for millennials, and 36% for both media among Gen X-ers.
The study report, downloadable at no charge on Hunter’s site, also shows other source breakdowns by various population segments, and by types of information (including recipes and nutrition).