Leveraging Influencers On Any Foodservice Budget

Let’s get straight to the point: Are you spending too much on influencer campaigns, or at the very least, questioning the ROI of your current spend?

When it comes to foodservice influencer marketing, I have some good news. Spending more doesn’t necessarily equate to getting more when it comes to meeting your business objectives. This may seem like an obvious statement, but many of us fail to realize we may be underutilizing some of our most valuable (and affordable) foodservice marketing options.

You likely got where you are today through determination, creativity, lots of networking, a bit of luck, and many late nights. Just as the McDonald’s empire wasn’t built overnight, the launch of your food brand, too, probably beganwith some hardworking founders and a relatively small budget. The same holds true for your current marketing plan. A great deal can be accomplished without a huge spend as long as there is a strong foundation and the proper investment of time.
As with any industry, the bottom line comes down to meaningful and measurable KPI’s. Influencers perform a key role in the F&B industry, yet celebrity chefs aren’t always the best or only option for your foodservice campaign. They’re nice to have and certainly garner attention, but they come with risks and aren’t always the workhorse that delivers the greatest impact. Instead of taking the high-profile approach, which stretches your budget and can often be difficult to measure, let’s explore a few alternative solutions that can produce a great return and keep your budget out of the red.

It’s important for marketing professionals to be clear about what they can expect from influencer campaigns, regardless of budget. While budget undoubtedly matters, successful influencer campaigns can, in fact, be conducted at a range of levels. Here are some approaches to consider:

Rising Stars

If you’re steadfast on going the celebrity route, I’d suggest hitching your campaign to a rising star. Not only are they hungrier and more likely to work with you, but they tend to be more affordable. Working with a chef from a conference or organization like StarChefs or Chef’s Roll allows you to work with a credible and successful individual who also holds some weight amongst their peers. Remember, popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to credibility. A trustworthy individual who speaks the language and directly relates to your audience may hold more clout. In the foodservice world, a celebrity chef is often seen as someone who has not worked as a restaurant or banquet chef in quite some time, thus having little in common with your target audience. So, if you want to pursue a chef with a strong following, work through one of these networks to find someone up-and-coming to fit your brand (and your budget.) They may lack mega-star power, but they will move volume, which is likely your ultimate goal.

Go Organic

Lower-cost, grassroots campaigns can deliver a high ROI, but being successful through this strategy comes down to knowing your target audience, identifying influencers that reach them, and finally, creating compelling content. By informing and inspiring these influencers with your content, they become priceless industry “ambassadors” supporting your brand simply because they connect to your message and believe in it. They’re often the foot in the door to that vital meeting you’ve been trying to get on the books. However, we frequently grow impatient and forget that to achieve this, you need to think long-term. Taking key steps and the time to identify the right partners and invest in ways to authentically engage with them, will cultivate the best results.


As an example, a symbiotic relationship with someone like a master mixologist with a robust client roster will open the door to working with dozens of big-name national beverage accounts. The trick is to find someone who is both passionate about your brand or product and carries industry influence. Allow them a long enough lead and some creative reign so as not to hinder potential partnerships and promotions. This trust and lack of restrictions allows the snowball to form, leading to opportunities.

There are numerous partnerships and promotions I’ve seen come together organically from developing relationships with influential industry professionals. Taking the time to build long-term relationships and authentic content helps inspire your audience to engage with your brand/product in new and innovative ways which is a win-win for all parties involved.

No Budget, No Problem

Let’s say you have very little to no budget for a significant influencer campaign. You can still find ways to “influence the influencer.” In this case, everything circles back to leveraging authentic relationships and inspiring your ambassadors. Brand collaboration can seem more credible when fueled by an influencer’s passion. So, leverage the story behind your product as a key stimulus for foodservice industry influence. Articulate your story in a fresh way that not only informs, but also inspires, and watch your enthusiasm spread! After all, earned media is the most impactful media. Look for people in your industry who already have a passion for your product. Fostering and utilizing brand journalism when backed by motivated ambassadors leads to a sturdy foundation upon which to build and grow your campaigns.

Yes, money matters, but so do people, content, and genuine relationships. To ensure your strategies deliver the ROI you’re after, regardless of budget, make sure you’re clear on your target audience, your messages resonate with these targets, and you’re building the right long-term relationships that will deliver lasting results. At the end of the day, if your chosen influencers have a reason to be inspired, they could become just as impactful as the flashy celebrity of the moment… and save your budget the big-ticket gamble. 

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Taylor DeVries PR Senior Account Executive EvansHardy+Young
Taylor DeVries, PR Sr Account Executive

Growing up on a farm with macadamia nuts and various tropical fruits, Taylor truly knows the ins and outs of farm-to-table. She currently works on the National Honey Board and California Walnut accounts.