Social media has irrevocably altered American society on all levels, from politics and marketing to personal interactions. The food industry has not been immune to its effects. Rather, social media has changed the way we view and discuss food, the relationship restaurants and manufacturers have with their customers, and the reach of even the smallest brands and operators to an almost limitless audience. 

Perhaps the most significant effect social media has had on the food industry involves the visual narrative around food and beverages. Instagram and the “Instragrammability” of food elevated the importance of the visual impact food and beverage items. Consider the rise of “freak shakes,” unicorn foods, rainbow bagels or charcoal lemonade. There’s no question that food and beverages should be visually appealing. 

Before the advent of Instagram and Millennial food culture, it’s safe to say consumers had placed both a greater importance on product convenience and cost. Meanwhile, they were resigned to the fact that these convenient, less expensive offerings likely were not going to be visually appealing. Now, that sacrifice is less acceptable. In fact, food and beverage innovation has as much focused on “Instagrammability” as on any other attribute.

Indications are, however, that static imagery—that most common of frequently accessed social media platforms—will be less relevant than what is being termed “tactile” imagery. Though the term being used at the moment is tactile, it encompasses a great deal more than just touch. The idea here is that food and beverage can no longer only look good but they must convey a tactile, auditory and/ or dynamic visual (movement) experience.

Several shifts are driving this broader trend. First, there’s the general restlessness US consumers exhibit with any trend that’s been around for a certain length of time. We’ve all seen gorgeous food shots. There are nearly 320 million #food postings on Instagram. So static food images are no longer unique, exciting, or inventive. 

Second, based on work done with the Gen Z generation thus far, it appears YouTube may be supplanting other social media platforms. According to research reported by Adweek, 95% of Gen Z uses YouTube versus 69% indicating Instagram, 67% Facebook and 67% Snapchat. Additionally, 50% of Gen Z consumers say they can’t live without YouTube. That is why this is relevant. Think of this as the “Snap, Crackle and Pop” effect. 

When marketing moved from radio and static print ads to television, suddenly marketers could convey a food experience with movement and sound and, to a degree, tactile attributes. The sound a cereal makes when it comes in contact with milk is simply not possible to convey in a static environment. With Gen Z’ers moving to YouTube from Instagram and Facebook, it’s a similar situation. YouTube is a dynamic visual platform that can very effectively convey the entire food or beverage experience, and this is what Gen Z likely will expect in communications.

Finally, there are a growing number of sites and, more impactfully, YouTube channels that focus on ASMR or autonomous sensory meridian response. ASMR is the feeling of well-being or the tingling sensation somethings felt in the scalp or down the back of the neck in response to gentle sounds. According to Google Trends, there are more searches for ASMR on YouTube than for chocolate or candy, for example. Couple this trend with growing interest in functional health benefits and the impact of foods and ingredients on moods, it’s inevitable that innovation turns to ASMR-based foods and beverages.