How Whole Foods is Cornering the Market on Instagram

September 29, 2014

Whole Foods makes Instagram not only about the food, but about the person who makes the food.

Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform in the world — and yet the majority of supermarkets aren’t on it.

Which isn’t surprising. A number of supermarket chains have been slow adapters when it comes to social media. When SupermarketGuru conducted its 2014 supermarket Twitter study, while chains like Whole Foods, Walmart and Target were using the platform to communicate with customers, share recipes, advertise specials and operate a sort of online customer service department, others like Trader Joes weren’t even using the platform.  

With millennials actively ditching Facebook and shifting their focus to Instagram, it makes sense that a grocery chain with a predominantly young clientele would be interested in what the platform has to offer.

Enter Whole Foods, which true to form has found new and unique ways to promote its brand and build business using social media.

Take @The_Pizza_Series. It’s an Instagram handle started by a Whole Foods Market pizza chef (from the comments, we learn his name is Matt) to showcase “what I love doing for work — making pizza. Whole Foods took notice and featured Matt on its Instagram account, which boasts more than 250,000 followers. Their caption? “Rock the toss! Meet @the_pizza_series from our Campbell, CA store. #pizza”

Of course, the bulk of Whole Foods’ instagram photos feature food — dishes created from ingredients sold at Whole Foods utilizing movers and shakers in the food and nutrition industries. A photo posted last week of a scoop of vegan pistachio ice cream was made with Whole Foods’ 365 brand full-fat coconut milk and taken by @HealthyJulie, a Board certified Health Coach and Plant-Based Chef, according to her Instagram bio.

Another photo showcases “#DairyFree #Shrimp Jalapeño Poppers” and lists the special pricing for shrimp at Whole Foods locations across the country.

On occasion, Whole Foods uses Instagram to highlight store openings — the chain opened a location in Augusta, George last week — one of two store openings that week, they bragged.

What Whole Foods is doing on Instagram isn’t reinventing the wheel — they’re simply tapping into a demographic that often goes ignored by the vast majority of supermarket chains —young people. Instead of courting customers with coupons and in store specials, Whole Foods is continuing with an approach that first noted in an article praising the chain’s social media dominance back in 2009, before Instagram even existed. 

The article noted that while Whole Foods was a nationwide chain, its social media approach was focused on local, with the parent company encouraging individual stores to create their own Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote events, communicate with customers, and spotlight employees. 

Not much has changed in the five years since that article was written, it’s just that now, Instagram has allowed Whole Foods to tell its story through pictures. And just as it was the case back in 2009, Whole Foods is the chain other supermarkets should look to — and look out for — when it comes to social media. 

Five tips Whole Foods can teach other supermarkets about social media. 

  1. It’s not always about the product. Tell your brand’s story in a way that requires thinking outside the box. Nobody wants to see a bunch of posts about sales on milk and produce.
  2. Stay relevant. Stores with their own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts can post information of relevance to locals that might not appeal to customers from outside the area.
  3. Be active. Whole Foods posts on social media multiple times throughout the day. Set a routine and follow it.
  4. Don’t share secrets. Whole Foods company policy is not to discuss approaches to social media and PR with the media. And with good reason. They’re doing everything right.
  5. Have fun. Whole Foods posts are never boring. It’s information you’d be interested in seeing even if you weren’t a customer.