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A study about the influence of food media on food consumption patterns in Flanders

Why this project?

Celebrities, self-claimed experts and laypeople are trusted by their followers. The diets they promote are not based on science but are often very popular, creating hypes in consumer behaviour in Flanders. Science and experts try to respond strongly but they often end up pushing the followers closer towards their influencer. The average consumer is more likely to trust the influencer than the food industry or health organisation. Furthermore, there is an enormous overload of information available that causes confusion in the search for correct information and which can lead to further polarisation. This makes it difficult to communicate with any impact when launching a new innovative product or to get science-based information to be taken seriously. 

Research approach

InFlOOD is a collective, fundamental research project (type SBO) with the objective of building more knowledge about the effect of communication about food via (social) media en influencers. Specifically, the research consists of the following parts:

  • (Historical) research and analysis of the popular food media in Flanders: 
    • What are their characteristics? 
    • How do they communicate? 
    • What do they (not) promote? What is their attitude towards the guidelines from the Belgian Health authorities?
    • Can a link be found between multiple endorsers (framing analysis)?
    • Is there a link between media hypes and food consumption patterns?
  • Research into the role and influence of the celebrity factor on the influence of consumption behaviour
    • What type of food endorsers are there? How can they be classified? How great is the celebrity factor? 
    • What communication strategy is used? What is the impact of certain health communication strategies?
  • Experimental research based on cases in which we apply innovative communication strategies

    • On youths (18-25 years) and older consumers (+25 years)
    • Both in test labs and field experiment
    • Innovative communication such as less used channels (cooking shows, social media, etc.) and other communication styles (more storytelling)
      • In the first instance, communication strategies are fine tuned using focus group conversations, survey & social media sentiment analysis
      • Test lab with psychophysiological and emotional responses
      • Field experiments with consumption data and social media analysis (sentiment analysis & temporal metric analysis of social media messages)
    • With the help of food and communication companies
  • Creating an independent knowledge platform about food and communication
    • Research based on consumer desires (What info? What channels? What communication strategy?)
    • Creating the platform
    • Measuring the impact of the platform: using information, social media sentiment analysis

Expected results and target group

Researching the influence of food media on the Flemish food consumption pattern and learning more about influencers' successful and influential communication strategies makes it possible to test the best strategies in both laboratory and field experiments. This will lead to practical guidelines and tips that will help both food companies and health organisations communicate with consumers more effectively and/or with more impact. Two platforms will also be created. On the one hand, Flanders’ FOOD will create a platform that brings the food industry into closer contact with various media channels which will make matchmaking and advice services from communication experts and bureaus easier. On the other hand, InFlOOD will also lead to a completely independent knowledge platform about food and communication that will provide the consumer with correct, science-based information about a healthy diet. 

Executors and partners

Flanders’ FOOD manages and coordinates the research project. This will also form a bridge between the research group and the supervisory committee with industrial food companies, communication bureaus, health organisations and federations.  

  • Research group ‘Media, ICT and Interpersonal relations in Organisations and Society (MIOS)’ from Antwerp University, under the supervision of Charlotte De Backer, Karolien Poels, Heidi Vandebosch and Hilde Van den Bulck.
  • Research group ‘Institute for Media Studies (OE)’ from KU Leuven, under the supervision of Prof. Tim Smits
  • Research group ‘Clinical and Experimental Endocrinology’ from KU Leuven, under the supervision of Christophe Matthys
  • Research group ‘Cultural History since 1750’ from KU Leuven, under the supervision of Nelleke Teughels
  • Research group ‘Behavioral economics for life’ from Ghent University, under the supervision of Maggie Geuens and Iris Vermeir
  • ‘Center for persuasive communication’ from Ghent University, under the supervision of Liselot Hudders