Saturday, December 9, 2023

New York foodie now a Kiwi fan

Neal Wallace
Every day Ben Hon is invited to eat at six to eight New York restaurants, each hoping he will accept its invitation and share photographs and comments on his meal with his 56,000 Instagram followers.
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He’s a food influencer, a new vocation created by social media, which, in Hon’s case, allows him to combine his twin loves of photography and food.

But for grass-fed meat exporting nations like New Zealand, influencers like Hon provide a direct link to a crucial demographic labelled conscious foodies, people who are digitally engaged and who care about what they eat.

“A food influencer influences people on what they buy, what they try and what they explore. It’s a silly name to have and I don’t care for it,” Hon says.

“I consider myself a photographer first who happens to be an influencer.”

Hon and five other food influencers from the United States were recently brought to NZ by Beef + Lamb and several meat companies, to visit farms and restaurants from which they posted videos, photographs and comments about their experience.

Hons says the eight posts he put up attracted 30,000 to 40,000 views.

B+LNZ marketing manager Nick Beeby says research before the United States launch of Taste Pure Nature identified conscious foodies as a core target.

They are active on social media and trust influencers to help them decide what food to buy and where and what to eat.

Hon has lived his whole life in New York city but after a 12-year career in finance decided he needed a change.

His mother ran a restaurant and he had experience in the industry but loved photography – especially of food dishes.

After he posted images on Instagram a magazine approached him and featured them as part of a food influencers series.

From there he was asked to manage a restaurant’s Instagram account for a monthly fee.

“It is crazy but this is what happens,” he says.

He now manages Instagram accounts for five restaurants in addition to appraising restaurants and chefs for his Instagram followers.

“My palate is different to everyone else’s palate. 

“I may love it but someone else may hate it so I say what I like but I don’t post what I don’t like.”

Beeby says the visiting influencers contrasted the US public’s perception of feedlot farming with NZ’s free-range, all grass system by seeing how animals are raised, talking to farmers and tasting the end product.

“These guys literally have no idea of NZ farming systems and when they see it they understand how unique we are and they tell our story through their eyes.

“It’s not us, a meat company or a retailer telling this story.”

Hons says he was impressed with the space available to sheep and cattle and the natural environment in which they are farmed.

But he was similarly impressed with the taste and texture of NZ lamb saying US lamb has a much more gamey taste.

“What I am taking back with me is how much care farmers show towards their animals and how that is reflected in the final product.

“I want to share that with chefs and people.”

Word of mouth is a powerful link with a food audience.

In addition to extolling the virtues of NZ livestock farming, farmers and the quality of food Hon will use his posts to direct consumers and chefs to supermarkets that stock NZ red meat.

Beeby says the beauty of social media is that its reach, engagement and impact can be measured by the number of clicks and comments on a post and those who click through to retailers or to a B+LNZ landing page it has established.

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