Horsemeat Scandal: How Organic Food Brands are Using Content Marketing

Black horse in the Swedish countryside

Hello, is it meat you’re looking for?

As easy as it has been over the past few months to joke endlessly about the extent of the horsemeat scandal that besieged some of the largest food retailers in the UK via Twitter and other social media channels, the major brands have been eerily quiet about it.

On the surface it seemed absolutely right that Tesco, Iceland, IKEA and Lidl hang their heads and take the criticism they obviously had coming, but why was nothing even mentioned about the crisis on any of their social news feeds? Instead there seemed to be a heavier focus on printed press and advertising to get their apologies across to the public. The only tweet @UKTesco published that had any reference to the scandal was very early on in the story, reading: “It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay…”.

Ouch. Too soon? Probably, yes. This is just one of the instances where humour in the wrong place can cause more damage than it might initially infer. It was shared over 3000 times at a moment when the seriousness of the news broadcasts was settling into the public consciousness.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, that’s quite a good gag and a very British reaction to what was becoming an almost constant barrage of nutritionists and food critics being wheeled out to tell us how wrong the whole situation is on television, while attempting to explain the food chain. Invariably, as many damage limitation campaigns panned out, Tesco retracted the comment saying, “it was accidentally published before the extent of the story became apparent”.

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Major brands fall at the first fence…

So, while the entirety of the UK were sharing horse puns online at the expense of Tesco and Findus, the organic food companies were given their chance win by a nose. Supermarket organic food sales, accounting for about 70% of all organic food sales in the UK, rose by 8.4% in February 2013 compared to the four weeks before the horsemeat revelation.

Reading up on the reactions seen by many local butchers and organic vegetable retailers, it became clear that customers were suddenly very interested in how their food was produced, where their meat was sourced and whether it had ever been ridden at the Derby? These smaller businesses were suddenly being rewarded for their lack of horseplay with new customers with a refreshed interest in where food comes from.

This is time for organic food production brands to jump on the social media apple cart and promote their products. Use your knowledge of the way organic food is sourced and produced in this country to educate the vast majority of us who assume “it’s all the same, isn’t it?” Promote the farmers you work alongside and build a new digital community as organic as the food you bring to the market.

How can organic brands pull away from the pack?

Here are just some of the ideas that can be adopted from a few organic food companies that have really been capitalising on their unique character and abilities:

Use of video

On Facebook, Bristol establishment Thali Café has been using “behind the curtain” videos to give an insight into the goings-on of its kitchen, including cooking guides for some of its signature dishes.

Encourage contributions

Organic brand Yeo Valley has been enticing followers to send in innovative cooking uses of its yogurt product and posting them online.

Develop a personality

Staying in Bristol, Chinese organic supermarket Wai Yee Hong has developed a character to engage with its customers and tweet creative culinary ideas and customer service advice with humour. (Its takeaway name generator deserves a special mention.)

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