Think food allergies only affect the 15 million Americans (including 6 million children) who are actually allergic? Think again. Food allergies drive life-changing decisions for entire families, sometimes whole communities: from schools to offices to playgroups. Moreover, some experts believe that the circle of Americans touched by food allergy concerns greatly exceeds15 million.
And therein lies an often-ignored opportunity for brands.
Each and every day, a family with a food-allergic child must think hard about such simple decisions as where to eat, what products to buy for the house (to reduce chances of cross-contamination), which airline to fly or hotel to stay at, what personal care products to use, which pet food or cleaning products to buy—even arts and crafts, vitamins/supplements, and gardening supplies. If you or your child is allergic to dairy, the range of products and services affected goes way beyond the dairy aisle.
Food-allergy Moms are inveterate networkers and information sharers — “leading edge” in their own spheres. (I should know, because I am one.) We compare notes on dozens of closed social media groups: safe and tasty recipes, best new finds (like vegan cheese and egg replacers), manufacturing practices of companies, experiences with airlines, coffee shops, and best epinephrine cases and safe over-the-counter medicines. The conversations are honest and passionate; we share our best and worst brand experiences. And word travels fast.
For all of these reasons, food-allergy Moms (FAMs) represent a powerful opportunity for manufacturers and service providers to create a contingent of deeply passionate advocates. If a brand’s ideal consumer is one who is strongly engaged in the purchase decision, likely to be moved by a product that performs well, and very motivated to share her positive story with friends, then FAMs are extremely attractive targets.
And, of course, ignoring the needs of FAMs is potentially hazardous; so it is important to think about whether your brand touches food allergy families and their circles in any way.
One gold standard is Disney, which delivers a truly magical experience to many food-allergic families, beginning with seeing your child eat a meal at a restaurant for the very first time like a “normal” kid. Seeing other food-allergy parents share photos and stories from their Disney stays is truly magical. And it’s great marketing for a family-oriented company like Disney.
The same goes for airlines that understand and accommodate FA sufferers; maybe you have heard the story of the airline that refused to let a family board for their vacation flight due to a child’s allergy. That story was shared far and wide among FAMs and, trust me, the reviews were not good. What can we learn from these shining stars and troubling disappointers? What are the practical lessons that brands can and should take from food allergy Moms?
Look for hidden opportunities and a sense of inclusion.
When you get the food allergy community to trust you, they will be your tireless brand ambassadors. They can easily explain the origin of “lactic acid,” as it could be a dairy derivative or not. They know that FRIO, the insulin-cooling carrying case, has been widely popular among allergy moms for carrying epinephrine during hot summer months, but that it is only marketed to diabetes patients. And they would suggest designating a fryer at a restaurant for just fries because this action can attract an entire family to the restaurant if there is one simple meal. Yes, even if it’s just fries that could be safely eaten.
Innovate for the future.
Despite the promise of Oral Immunotherapy, food allergies are called an “epidemic” for a reason. Millennials are more likely to report food allergies than Boomers or Pre-Boomers. Think about the white spaces and innovation opportunities potentially hiding in surprising places. Are there simple changes you could make to the product recipe to be more “allergy inclusive”? Could brands voluntarily apply allergy warnings on food labels (e.g., contains milk, nuts) to other products—for example, personal care items? Could your website be more explicit to save you that one more phone call inquiry?
This article originally appeared in MediaPost.