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by Kate McMahon

The time-honored and now time-challenged family meal has an unlikely ally – social media.

I’m sure anyone who has noted and/or complained about the omnipresence of mobile phones at the table and everywhere else is questioning that assertion right now.

But research from the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) found that online and social channels helped boost the awareness and efficacy of its National Family Meals Month initiative. More importantly, Nielsen data showed that consumers who saw the campaign on social media said their consumption and/or shopping behavior changed, with an emphasis on eating together as a family more often and advance meal planning.

FMI launched National Family Meals Month in September 2015, encouraging households to add one more breakfast, lunch or dinner together each week. Studies have repeatedly shown that children who regularly share meals with their family achieve higher grades and self-esteem, healthier eating habits and weight, and less risky behavior.

According to FMI, 70 percent of respondents in a 2017 survey are committed to participating in National Family Meals Month this September, up from 40 percent in 2015. The most successful efforts in the last two years have employed omnichannel marketing campaigns, utilizing traditional and social media and in-store promotion to provide a seamless access to products, services and information.

Last year, Hy-Vee took it to a new level. More than 302,000 families posted photos of themselves having a meal together, using the hashtag #HyVeeFamilyMeals. In return, the Iowa-based employee-owned chain donated $100,000 to Meals from the Heartland, a non-profit dedicated to feeding the hungry. Nearly 2.5 million people received messages about the program from Hy-Vee and its more than 240 Midwest stores vie email, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Additionally, more than 41,500 kids had a free meal at one of the 90-plus restaurants in Hy-Vee stores when dining with an adult. Rounding out the effort, Hy-Vee dietitians conducted in-store cooking classes and were interviewed on radio and TV, and collateral materials were distributed in the store and to the print media and local school districts.

Citing the Hy-Vee campaign as a leader, FMI Foundation program and development manager Tom Cosgrove said successful social media campaigns are blossoming across the country and will continue to drive positive change.

For retailers that do not have an in-house social media team, FMI is offering a toolkit that can be customized for social media and in-store promotion.

It’s important to note that social media is but one piece of the omnichannel marketing puzzle. Retailers need to further engage the customer. That’s where targeted in-store engagement comes in to play. The folks at Dorothy Lane Markets last year provided weekly “What’s for Dinner” displays with recipe “hacks,” showcasing all the products necessary to prepare the dish in the front lobby of each store and sampling it one evening a week. Not surprisingly, sales of those products increased. And I’m betting the parent in charge of dinner that night was appreciative.

It’s clear the goal for all parties should be to highlight family meals in September, but emphasize offering healthy options and meal prep advice throughout the year. Because the evidence continues to show that the more families come back to the table together, the better it is for their children and the culture.

We’re always interested to learn what retailers, marketers and manufacturers are doing to promote healthy family meals – on social media and in the store -- so please share your examples by emailing me at kate@morningnewsbeat.com
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