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Byte this! Why food blogs are a powerful tool

More and more, supermarket consumers are using blogs to share tips and information. Phil Lempert looks at this phenomenon.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of blogs. Chances are you’ve even entered a comment or two on one. Or you may even have one of your own.

My hope is that some interaction you have had with this exciting new medium is with a food blog. I say this because I predict that this new medium may well be one of the most important for the food world.

Word-of-mouth has long been considered one of the most valued assets in the food world. Word soon gets out about the butcher who takes the time to explain how to prepare a certain cut of meat perfectly, the baker who always has a warm cookie ready for the after-school treat, the restaurant that serves consistently great meals.

It’s all about the continuing evolution of consumer power. What started out as backyard discussions over clotheslines, where our mothers would discuss their opinions about retailers and products, evolved into 24 hour toll-free consumer hotlines, full-time consumer affairs staffs, letters to the editor and, at times, even protests and boycotts. Consumers want to be heard. They want to actively communicate their thoughts and preferences; as well as expose dishonest practices, false claims and bad service.

Twenty years ago, food shopping was different. Most consumers were satisfied if their store offered a wide selection of products, had weekly specials and kept the floors clean. Since then we have changed the way we work, how we play, how we get our entertainment, and how we shop.

Much of that change, especially in recent times, has to do with computerization and the Internet. A vast majority of shoppers today are using the Internet to research product claims before they buy.

The consumer is now more in control. Our cell phones and Blackberrys have us wired in real time to be able to find the latest information on just about any product. The DoCoMo phone in Japan is enabling shoppers to compare pricing between stores, discuss product features and scan the product, which is then billed on their phone bill. The ScanBuy phone here in the U.S. actually allows you to take a photo of an item and then, with a click of a button, will show you stores in the area that offer that product at a cheaper price.

And that’s just interaction with the retailer. Enter the “blog.”

Blogs are now commonplace, with high-speed Web access edging toward 40 million lines, available to over a third of the people on the Internet.

A blog is created about every 2.2 seconds. In simple terms, a blog is a Web site where people write on an ongoing basis. The latest postings show up at the top, so your Web visitors can read what's new first. Then they can add their own comments directly on the blog, or e-mail you.

Since blogging first came on the scene, blogs have reshaped the Web, impacted politics (think Matt Drudge), shaken up journalism (think Matt Drudge), and enabled, at last count, about 35 million people to have their voice heard.

Now, smart retailers and brands are using them to create buzz — the new terminology for word-of-mouth — and measure how new products, store formats and promotions are being accepted by their customers. When we consumers notice that our voice is being heard, we respond with a stronger tie to the retailer (or brand) and become more involved. We blog more, shop more, buy more … and spread the word. Shoppers who know they are being heard and listened to talk more, and that’s exactly what supermarket retailers need — to have their most loyal shoppers spread the word about just how good their store is, or bad. And that saves all of us time, money and frustration.

Blogs offer a unique opportunity to reach out and do the exact same thing that the corner store shopkeeper did 100 years ago — listen to what the shopper has to say.

Be sure to check out the “Today” Show blog at and Phil’s “food issues” blog at

Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to