#Love Pairs Well With #Food
Dig into your memory: When was the last time you pulled out your phone and snapped a shot of your [insert name of boutique donut, flavored iced coffee, or fully loaded burger here]? If you’re embarrassed to say it was sometime last week, don’t be: Instagram is the fastest growing major social network, and #Food is the 24th most popular hashtag today, behind #friends, #fun, and the reigning champion #love.

In 2013, we published a report on the Top Food Brands of Instagram. Only one brand on our 2013 list still makes the list in 2015. Who has stayed on top, and who’s slipped off the radar? What are they doing right? And how is Instagram delivering in ways that other social media platforms fall short?

Delivery: Not Just for Pizza
Starbucks InstagramCompared to other platforms, Instagram delivers. While Facebook continues to force brands to pay for reach, Instagram (owned by Facebook) provides brands with a ballooning reach–thanks to hashtags. The icing on top is an average engagement rate of over 4%. In 2014, brands generated an average engagement rate of .07% on Facebook and .03% on Twitter.

This return could be big news for food brands. Instagram’s visually centric platform is a perfect fit for food because it gives our senses one more thing to gnaw on. We all have to eat, right? Pictures of food stimulate our minds, and our senses. Breakfast may be an everyday thing, but a really beautiful stack of pancakes has the potential to mean so much more, alluding to common human experiences like a lazy Saturday morning, a holiday dinner, or a night on the town.

Frappuccinos Take the Cake
Frappucino InstagramWith a blend of UGC (user generated content) and almost-perfect branded lifestyle shots, Starbucks wins big on Instagram. The brand has over 2 million more users than the next most popular food brand, Red Bull. For being a food product, Red Bull doesn’t post much about food, at all. Instead they use videos and action shots to show how their beverage can give you wings. Endorsements from professional athletes and musicians don’t hurt, either. Red Bull and Starbucks may have two very different strategies but both brands promote several posts a month with ad spend. Clearly, the extra dough is paying off.

When it comes to branded hashtag use, Starbucks maintains its leading stance by far. What can we say? Instagramers just love to show off their half-sipped Frappes. Hashtag-usage isn’t always peachy: #McDonalds may get a lot of mileage, but a good number of those posts correspond with #unhappymeal. Oreo, on the other hand, has their hashtag game nailed. The dark horse of the hashtag race, Oreo manages to rank among the big dogs. While the Oreo Brand account focuses on eating the cookie plain, fans are finding all sort of new ways to use their favorite little sandwich. 

Top Brands by FollowersTop Brands by Hashtag Use
Red Bull2,693,349McDonald’s5,405,515
Food Network1,195,763Coca-Cola4,075,306
Bon Appetit Magazine555,842Red Bull3,691,185
Taco Bell533,625KFC2,056,674
Gatorade518,940Taco Bell1,571,372
Ben & Jerry’s490,608Heineken1,404,893
Oreo477,518Whole Foods1,296,424

Bringing Home the Bacon (without buying likes)
Jamie Oliver InstagramAdvertising might go far for Starbucks and Red Bull, but most mid- to small-sized companies just flat out can’t afford it. Plenty of brands see success without buying it. These are our top picks:

Jamie Oliver. With 2.76M followers, Jamie has transformed his name into a brand. He even has his own hashtag, #jamieoliver, which has been used over 23.1k times.

Food52. A retailer disguised as a food blog, Food52 manages to publish copious amounts of relevant content, fueling their social channels. Their posts will either make you hungry or tempt you to impulsively purchase their entire stock of serveware. With almost 500k followers, they’re changing what it means to be a small business.

Chobani. The brand masterfully promotes hundred of ways to use their product on their Instagram account, turning their yogurt into more than just a breakfast food. 224k images have been tagged #Chobani to date.

Whole Foods. This may not be a small brand but it sure acts like one, only dabbling with promoting posts. Would it be going too far to say this grocer likes to keep things “organic”?

Caitlin Sherwood

Caitlin Sherwood is an experienced marketer with an expertise in CPG branding. She’s passionate about both the creative and analytical aspects of digital marketing. In addition to working with our food and organics industry clients, she runs a blog and develops healthy recipes. When she’s not at work or in the kitchen, she’s rock climbing, biking or practicing yoga.