How influencers are changing the way food and beverage companies harness social media

This audio is auto-generated. Please let us know if you have feedback.

2024 is the year of the influencer.

Since the pandemic, many food and beverage companies became e-commerce brands overnight, and influencers began to dominate the marketing landscape with nonstop social media presence and an increasing awareness of the power of followers. With a plethora of paid campaigns on platforms like Instagram and TikTok going viral daily, influencers are becoming an integral part of the industry. 

“I really think that 2024 is the year that we see a shift in the way brands show up on social media, particularly larger enterprise brands,” said Marie Le France, vice president of growth at Billion Dollar Boy — a global influencer marketing agency — in an interview with Food Dive. 

“Inherently people want to digest information coming from a trusted source, through things like word of mouth. And this is the year that I think a lot of companies have really realized that.” 

Winners and losers of food and beverage social media strategies

Steven Vigilante, director of growth and partnerships at better-for-you soda brand Olipop, said the social media and influencer boom started with the pandemic in 2020. 

“Everyone had to become an e-commerce brand overnight. No one could do sampling or events or activation, so everyone had to figure out paid social influencer strategies on different channels,” he said in an interview with Food Dive.

Poppi, another better-for-you soft drink company, has shown the industry how this can be done successfully through its grassroots marketing approach.

Allison Ellsworth’s company started as a farmers market hit and now it’s the number one selling soft drink on Amazon. It’s been reported that the company’s organic social and influencer marketing strategies have amounted to 204 million impressions and 2.3 million engagements in 2023. This has helped Poppi enter 5 million monthly new households in 2024 and turned their consumers into a cult following.

Ellsworth said she invested in the company’s TikTok presence years ago, through tactics like gifting influencers unexpected items like matching sweat sets and bathrobes, putting it way ahead of the curve. 

Virality is powerful. And Poppi’s strategy of tying the brand name to people and things that have nothing to do with soda is working. 

“There’s a lot of benefit to thinking outside the box in the way you’re marketing a food brand. It doesn’t just have to be – here’s recipes,” said Le France.

Influencer shows followers her Poppi sweatsuit

Influencer Lauren Gedeon shows followers her Poppi outfit

Retrieved from TikTok on July 10, 2024


It’s these unexpected moments, according to Le France, that can lead to a product taking off.

Olipop sought to create that unexpected moment by hiring for a role that would lead to social media virality.

“I’ve been in the food and beverage space for over ten years, and I’ve never seen a cult fandom like we have,” said Vigilante. 

“We thought what if we actually hired superfans to join the team and travel around the country with us making content,” said Vigilante. It was then that the brand’s senior soda consultant position was born. 

Instead of just sending influencers some product in a sweatshirt, the company wanted to actually put consumers who already loved Olipop on its payroll, he said. And it worked. 

“The role effectively showcased our ethos of bringing people together. Through heartwarming narratives and relatable moments shared over a can of soda, Olipop connected emotionally with its audience, reinforcing the idea that memorable experiences are made even more special with friends,” said Vigilante.

“This approach positioned Olipop as more than just a beverage choice, but a companion in creating cherished memories.”

The company got over 2,000 job applicants for the role, and over 650 million impressions on social media, along with 200 stories from publications including Travel + Leisure, USA Today, Fox Business, Time Out Magazine and more.

“The industry tends to all move in one direction,” said Vigilante. “So we thought what can we do that’s completely different but also not totally off the walls, that can lead into consumer insights.”

“It used to be companies like Coca-Cola just standing around and handing out Vitamin Waters, but that doesn’t do it anymore”

When leveraging influencers to promote products and not just company ethos, however, there may be instances where brands go too far. 

Chobani, for example, recently sent an influencer known as “Acquired Style” — known for viral hair styling techniques —  a plethora of cold brew coffee and creamer products after the content creator began posting her daily coffee creations. 

The comments section of the post revealed a common theme — why send someone who makes more income in one TikTok post than some consumers do in a month free products? 

This leaves a bad taste in some consumer’s mouths. 

Influencer Acquired Style shows followers Chobani's gift to her

Optional Caption

Retrieved from TikTok on July 10, 2024


On the other side of the debate, Waterboy — a hydration packet company offering products for both “Weekend Recovery” and “Workout Hydration” — decided to send its actual customers on an all-expenses paid-for brand trip, instead of influencers with an online presence.

“As a Waterboy subscription gal from the early days and Waterboy merch owner, I appreciate the focus on actual customers and not influencers!!” one comment read. 

CMO of Waterboy Jenna Palek explains Waterboy's customer brand trip

Optional Caption

Retrieved from TikTok on July 10, 2024


Though both companies went about it in different ways, they each achieved the same thing: getting consumers talking.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *