Food allergies make for passionate brand advocates

June 25, 2010

My daughter recently was diagnosed with wheat and soy allergies (in addition to tree nut allergies that we already knew about). I’ve quickly had to immerse myself in a new way of shopping as I hunt for food items that are free of wheat, soy and tree nuts – which trust me, has been extremely overwhelming.

Not surprisingly, the Internet has been an incredible resource for helping me find the best places to shop, food to buy and local restaurants our family can eat at. Those in the food allergy community (and others with similar dietary restrictions, such as Celiac) are eager to share information with newbies like myself. As a stressed-out mother, I have been really grateful for the assistance. But as a marketer, I’ve found it really interesting to observe this new world of very passionate brand advocates and the value of Word of Mouth (WOM) among this group.

Because of our combination of allergies, Enjoy Life products have become my go-to brand because they are free of the eight most common food allergens. I really appreciate the fact that when I see the Enjoy Life label among the sea of tens of thousands of food choices in the grocery store, I know they are safe for my daughter. And I find myself passionately going on about the brand to anyone who will listen.

As more and more of my conversations are centeringĀ on food these days, I find that everyone in the food allergy community has their favorites. A friend who has two kids with Celiac has raved about Udi‘s brand. Another parent at the baseball field was going on about Tinkyada rice pasta. I’ve even picked up voice mails from friends who were somewhere where they sampled a great new gluten-free item. And the list goes on.

Sure, having favorite brands is nothing new, but I feel like there is a heightened level of passion and a bit more power behind the WOM conversations related to these niche food items. (For example, I can’t think of a time where I called someone just to tell them about a great product I tried.) And, since the options are still fairly limited – and the potential for life-threatening consequences to occur if the wrong products are consumed – this community also is willing to pay top dollar for “safe foods,” which obviously is great for manufacturers.

It’s no wonder mainstream companies like General Mills are introducing new items such as gluten-free cake mixes or that manufacturers are calling out more prominently on packaging what ingredients the products are “free of” (even if the product never had that ingredient to begin with). Not only have I recently talked with other parents of kids with food allergies, but I’ve been surprised by the number of people I’ve talked with who are adopting a new diet (e.g., gluten free) simply for lifestyle or general health reasons. Hopefully all this attention will continue to drive the category and the variety of available “safe” food options will continue to grow.

Have you recently been part of a conversation where WOM was fueled by a bit more passion and enthusiasm than normal?