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Tantalizing photographs of food and drinks have always been one of the most popular features on Instagram. If you see someone, and/or are annoyed by someone next to you at your favorite ramen place snapping a photo, it’s a pretty safe bet it’s going to wind up on Instagram. (Over 6 million shots of ramen alone.)

It’s a given that food and beverage brands were early commercial users of the platform, and continue to be wildly popular on it today. Here’s a list of the Top 5 Brands on Instagram for 2018, and what other brands can learn from them. We’ll also give you a taste of other foodie finds we thought were delicious this year.

Top 5 Brands in 2018 (So Far):

Buzzfeed Tasty: In the past 6 months, Tasty has jumped above Starbucks in follower count with a total of 19.3 million followers. If you’re like us, you have to be wondering how many overhead recipes one brand can come up with. Turns out, the limit does not exist. Tasty has posted 1,482 recipes on their Instagram account alone, excluding their spin-off brands like @proper_tasty and @tastyvegetarian. Tasty style videos became a term marketers used to describe clean, quick, overhead videos (in a similar way Kleenex is used as the universal facial tissue term). Some called it a trend, some said the recipes were too hard and unattainable. And yet, we can’t keep our eyes off the aesthetically pleasing aerial-shot recipes — and neither can their millions of followers.

Starbucks: Let us quickly stat drop on you about this iconic Seattle coffee brand. In the past six months, Starbucks has grown its followers by 800,000 and introduced 17 new products on Instagram. Feeds were cluttered with UGC of their new Unicorn Frappuccino when the product was launched. The brand’s following is at 16.5 million today, and its hashtag has been used 30.3 million times, mostly accompanying fans’ highly shareable iconic cup photos. The brand continued to show its social savvy through crisis management around the PR nightmare earlier this year. They publicly addressed it head on and shut down stores for all employees to undergo bias training. Starbucks has been topping our coffee with cream since 1971, and we expect them to continue to top our charts for years to come.

Red Bull: This brand technically makes our list, but is probably more comparable to a Nike or GoPro in terms of content curation. Their Instagram remains a platform to showcase extreme athletes and breakthrough stories. Their brand logo shows up more on helmets, half pipes and parachutes than it does on an actual energy drink in their feed. The brand has grown its followers by 700,000 in the past 6 months to the 8.6 million mark. Red Bull posts videos often — typically more than once per day. We suppose when you’re as cool as Red Bull, you don’t have to abide by the unspoken laws of Instagram. Part of what makes Red Bull so successful is its customer-centric approach putting its audience’s interest in the outdoors and extreme sports at the forefront, rather than the product. Red Bull has created its own content hub with its website, Red Bulletin Magazine, and Red Bull TV, which we took a deeper dive into in our June Digital Trends Report. So, spread your wings and fly Red Bull, we believe in you.

Food Network: The Food Network masters the balance of being mainstream and trendy. With 6.2 million devoted followers, they continue to grow with 1 million followers in just the past 6 months. Sometimes the sentimental value of food, tradition, and our favorite TV shows can stay with us long after the shows were canceled (pour one out for Ace of Cakes).

Monster Energy: Monster is like Red Bull with a motor, as they focus less on the feats of the human body and more on the epicness of motorsports. Still, the energy drink itself is deemphasized compared to the athletes supposedly consuming it. Monster presents its 4.5 million followers with international celebrations of athletes and competitions with the occasional Monster in the gloved hands of a dirt biker.


Food Brand Superlatives:

This list of companies can play with the big kids in terms of setting trends and influencing culture. They range in follower count but deliver on a range of aptness in everything from the best use of mascot to the best at reaching their audience.

The Best Product Placement: Williams Sonoma

Killer UGC, tantalizing recipes and relevant brand partnerships come together to make Williams Sonoma’s Instagram feed an endless stream of delectable cuisines and modern kitchenware. They do a great job producing authentic native content that is both engaging and valuable to their audience, letting their shoppable products live in the background where they build an implicit association with quality cooking and kitchen know-how. By creating content rather than ads, they are able to indirectly-yet-effectively highlight the utility of the Williams Sonoma brand and its place in everyday life.

The Best Use of Color: Sprouts

Scroll through Sprouts’ Instagram feed and tell us it *isn’t* the most visually satisfying thing you’ve seen today. Go ahead, we’ll wait. The collection of images create a natural color gradient that smoothly transitions from one palette to another, encouraging infinite scrolling. Getting creative in curating polished, compelling (and colorful) content can help small brands stand out from the crowd and build dedicated followings. Sprouts’ fresh, vibrant imagery beckons a sense of wholesomeness that epitomizes the grocer.

The Best Artistic Range: Taco Bell

Taco Bell’s feed highlights their immense creativity — wacky product innovations included. Feeling more like a digital art gallery than anything, their feed is segmented into photo sets of three, which makes each of the distinct images feel uniquely curated. Constantly shifting art direction means that there is always something new, unique, and (usually) weird to be found on Taco Bell’s feed.

The Best at Reaching Their Audience: Postmates

Although not technically a food brand, Postmates is a vehicle for creativity and innovation in the food sphere. Their dedication to delivery on-demand has led to hyper-niche targeting in many of their urban locales. Utilizing insights based on data and partnerships with iconic local restaurants, their “We Get It” campaign affirms that Postmates not only gets you stuff (literally), but they get your life and your city.

The Best at Amassing a Cult-Following: California Donuts

Bright, sugary, deep-fried goodness. Despite only having one location, California Donuts has leveraged their range of sweet creations to spread donut-envy nationwide, amassing a following of 437k along the way. Innovative flavors and designs ensure that there is always fresh new content for the ‘gram.

The Best At Making Content for One Product: PBR

Raise a glass (or can) to Pabst Blue Ribbon! They may only have one product to create content around, but they have created a masterpiece. Their Instagram is packed full of artwork, UGC, and tons of videos covering a wide array of topics from immigration to being home for the holidays. They approach a broad array of topics with tact and prove that a little creativity is ale you need.

The Best at Making us Smile: Chipotle

Ironically, Chipotle’s presence on the photo-first platform is not making our list for their photos, but for their copywriting. Whether it’s a photo of a burrito, salsa, or chips, Chipotle is armed with plenty of wit and queso, and we can’t get enough of either.

The Best Use of a Mascot: Cheetos

Chester Cheetah may have Cheeto dust all over his thumbs, but that hasn’t kept him from scrolling Instagram. Cheetos has created a marketable asset with Chester Cheetah, and they’re using it to their advantage on social. With timely content around holidays, contests, recipes, and more, Cheetos has a solid social strategy. Since Cheetos launched their Instagram in 2015, it has been dominated by Chester Cheetah, and Cheetos’ fans are eating him up.

Do trends like this interest you? We do a lot of research for our clients in the food and beverage industry. Subscribe to our Food & Wellness Trends and we’ll ship it right to your inbox once a month.

Caitlin Sherwood

Caitlin Sherwood

Caitlin's expertise is in marketing and branding for natural food and wellness companies. 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 also 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.
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