James N. Klapthor

Unlike some aspects of food research, media relations is an inexact science. Because news media in general and journalists specifically provide no guarantees on the information or opinions they’ll publish or broadcast, there are no assurances short of paid advertising that any—much less every—message will be delivered to mass audiences via the press or broadcast media. 

Yet, similar to food science—where research often begets more research—what keeps media relations viable is the promise of perpetual opportunities for success, and the recognition of areas where refined tactics may result in increased accomplishments. Thus, IFT and its members deliver messages to news media, and the resulting coverage varies from limited to extensive. This IFT Newsmakers column notes examples each month.

Food Technology regularly highlights trends in food and food science that are found interesting to journalists and the audiences they serve. Thus, its messages can be delivered beyond the scope of its subscriber-based readership. That was the case February 11 when the Detroit Free Press referenced Food Technology reports in an article entitled “Sandwich making advice and secrets from the experts” that noted the rise in popularity among different types of sandwiches. Vegetarian and seafood fillings in sandwiches are strong new trends on restaurant menus according to the magazine, the paper reported. Then, via the parent company’s Knight Ridder news wire service, this reference to Food Technology made in into the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times, and others. These four newspapers are easily among the 100 largest newspapers nationally, boasting a combined circulation of more than 1 million.

It was more of the same, only in a larger news outlet, on March 16, when the Boston Globe referenced IFT information—as published in Food Technology—in the article, “What science is cooking up,” on trends in the functional food category. The paper attributed to IFT that more than 50% of food buyers make purchases benefitting their health, and that functional food purchases are growing at a 10% rate annually. Proving that there can be no complete control over the messages news media provide their audiences, the Globe article erroneously referred to the IFT as an industry nonprofit group rather than a not-for-profit scientific society. Nevertheless, IFT-published information earned the potential to reach a new audience of nearly 500,000 Globe readers.

One week later, research by IFT member Hoon Sunwoo, University of Alberta, Canada, was found attractive by one of the largest news agencies in the world, providing the potential for reaching audiences in the millions, regardless of nationality. Sunwoo’s research on a blend of antibodies developed within ordinary poultry eggs that may prevent the spread of foodborne illness was published March 23 in the Reuters news agency article, “Egg cocktail may prevent foodborne illness.” “It is very hard to detect” foodborne pathogens, Sunwoo was quoted. “If we prove our antibody prevents bacteria on the commercial level, then as a customer I feel comfortable . . . to buy these products.” Reuters publishes news in 26 different languages in 150 countries and has 500,000 subscribers, which includes print and broadcast news outlets throughout North America.

What many proclaim as the pinnacle in news coverage—placement within The New York Times—was achieved by Food Science Communicator Joanne Slavin, University of Minnesota, on March 4 in the article, “For unrefined healthfulness: Whole grains.” The article countered recently popular claims against carbohydrates with a comprehensive assessment of their healthful benefits, specifically the inclusion of whole grains as part of a proper diet. Slavin’s perspective noted, “Whole grains are rich sources of a wide range of phytochemicals with anticarcinogenic properties. Some of these phytochemicals block DNA damage and suppress cancer cell growth.” Additionally, data provided by Slavin were included and referenced in graphics that accompanied the article, generated to enhance the information within. Circulation of The New York Times is 1.1 million, making it the nation’s second-most-read daily newspaper.

Media Relations Manager