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A Feast for the Eyes: Social Media Mega-Boost

3.5M food images are posted daily on social media1

The eyes have it in the age of social sharing. The visual appeal of a meal has always been important, but with the rise of social media, where eye-catching culinary concepts and over-the-top desserts and beverages abound, the stage is always set for shareworthy menu items.

When it comes to menu innovation posted on social media, the rule of thumb seems to be no one cares unless there are shares—lots of them. Food has to catch the eye before it can command attention on social media. The greater the wow factor, the more shareworthy the concept—and the more likely it is to generate the buzz that can lead to more traffic and higher sales.

As Diana Kelter, foodservice analyst for the market research firm Mintel, put it: “Social media has permanently altered the concept of a restaurant trend with menu item preparation creating equal—if not more—importance compared to taste among socially engaged consumers.”2

Mintel research has determined that dishes and beverages catered to social media have a positive perception, with “unique” and “fun” as the leading associations.2 Twenty-seven percent of consumers surveyed consider viral social media fare unique, and 21% perceive it to be tasty.2 Positive perceptions far exceed negative, pointing the way for operators to tailor more menu items for visual consumption on social media.2

While Instagram-based fare is often associated with the millennial generation, Gen Z seems to be driving a surge of foodservice posts. Thirty-seven percent of Gen Zers surveyed share an extreme menu item, followed by millennials (25%).3

In addition, foodservice trends are often determined by how well items resonate on social media, and Gen Z edges out millennials when it comes to following trending items. Forty-four percent of Gen Zers surveyed and 40% of millennials consider social media helpful for learning about new food trends.2

From LTO to OMG: Putting the Wow in Shareworthy Dishes

With so many food photos posted on social media, unique concepts and extreme culinary ingenuity are essential to stand out. Limited-time offers, which present a small window of opportunity for the public to experience new and innovative items, tend to be prime social media fodder. (Think Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino, which generated 155,000 Instagram posts in its initial 5-day run in 2017.4) But the onus will be on chefs and operators to step up efforts to ensure their LTOs are unique enough to grab attention.

According to the foodservice research firm Technomic, “Social media and LTO scarcity means that over-the-top LTOs will be most successful at gaining attention and helping to drive traffic. This means that working with suppliers to source suitable amounts of unique ingredients will be increasingly essential for profitable LTO rollouts.”5

What’s more, with 44% of millennials considering themselves foodies (per Datassential survey results),6 it makes sense to ensure visually-oriented recipes reflect culinary influences from a wide range of ethnicities and global regions. Nor should better-for-you dishes be left out of the mix. While 54% of Gen Zers and 40% of millennials are interested in seeing dessert dishes on social media, 40% and 38%, respectively, hunger for posts of healthy dishes.2

Expect to see an ample array of increasingly colorful and unusual fare vying for likes, loves and shares on social media in 2019. To differentiate your product selections from the blur, be sure they capture attention with visual formats that convey taste and texture, such as this recipe for Ice Cream Bombe Made with OREO Cookie Pieces. Serving up a feast for the eyes should prove to be a great way to help feed the bottom line this year and for years to come.

1 Samit, Jay, “Virtual Food Is Coming to a Menu Near You,” Fortune, May 15, 2018
2 Kelter, Diana, Social Media in Foodservice—US (downloadable PDF), Mintel, June 2018
3 Kelter, Diana, Social Media in Foodservice—US, Mintel, August 2017
4 Koltun, Natalie, Mobile Campaign of the Year: Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino, Mobile Marketer, Dec. 4, 2017
5 Technomic, Future of LSR Consumer Trend Report (2018), p. 10
6 Datassential, FoodBytes: Millennials (Feb. 2018), p. 3

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