The role of the “Food eVangelist” to influence food trends has evolved to the point it must be recognized by food and ingredient manufacturers, Kim Essex, partner and director at Ketchum Food and Beverage North America and one of the architects of Ketchum’s Food 2020 research, said at the International Sweetener Colloquium held Feb. 28 in Dana Point.

“Once small and influential, this group appears on the precipice of becoming the new mainstream consumer,” Ms. Essex said. She defined a Food eVangelist as “a new class of empowered and influential food critics” first labeled by Ketchum in its 2013 edition of Food 2020 Study who share information about food four or more times a week either on-line or off-line.

Food eVangelists make decisions for themselves and their families, and “want to make decisions for you,” Ms. Essex said. She described them as powerful, opinionated and skeptical “self-appointed change agents” who were value-driven leaders but not activists.

“Their point of view is their most important thing in life,” Ms. Essex said. “It’s their currency. They listen to everyone but trust no one.”

They see “perfection as impossible,” which everyone in the food industry knows, Ms. Essex said, noting that “honesty trumps perfection” for Food eVangelists, and “transparency builds confidence.”

Food ingredient suppliers that have been behind the scenes for a long time need to tell their stories to Food eVangelists, who will listen, Ms. Essex said.

“They expect manufacturers to have a point of view and to share it, and they will read it,” she said. “They want access to detailed information rather than being given ‘bits and bytes.’ Accessibility to information is super important.”

Food eVangelists do not shop on the price of food but are price sensitive, Ms. Essex said. They “lean to” fresh over packaged and processed and are the consumer group driving the need for simpler foods.

“Food eVangelists need help discovering things for themselves,” she said. “They need food manufacturers’ attention.”