There's a lot of talk about where our food comes from these days, and local is apparently the way to go. Terms such as organic, hormone-free, free-range, non-genetically altered are making the rounds in our food vocabulary. But our Internet food habits tell a different story.
The 2,404 food-related sites that we track at Hitwise, when combined, account for under 0.5% of all Internet visits in the U.S. Of all of those visits, the Food Network's site (www.foodtv.com) is the most popular, accounting for 12.6% of all visits for the category, over three times the size in visits as the next most popular, Allrecipes.com. The popularity of the Food Network's site reveals a likely behavioral pattern we're watching cooking shows and, unlike the old days, we don't have to sit there with pen and paper in hand. The combination of television cooking and a website that provides the recipes featured on those shows is a powerful combination.
Our Internet habits reveal a lot about our food preferences, and if our Internet searches are any reflection of our daily menu, we're having chicken for dinner. If we examine the search terms that send traffic to the top recipe sites such as Allrecipes.com and Epicurious, we find that chicken remains the most searched for main ingredient. In fact, I can tell you what time of year it is based on the most popular chicken recipe searches.
There are the mainstays that appear within the top five of all chicken searches year-round; "chicken parmesan," "fried chicken" and "chicken marsala" (so much for healthy eating). During the summer months "chicken salad" and its variations are the most searched for recipe. As winter approaches, chicken salad begins its slide to be replaced by "chicken noodle soup" and "chicken pot pie."
One thing is very clear from our Internet habits: our food focus is influenced by where we live. If you're an affluent urban dweller (I concentrated on affluent Internet users for this column, as they are more likely to visit food-related sites than their less affluent counterparts), you're eating out in an informed way, being most likely to visit Zagat for restaurant reviews, Opentable to make an online reservation or Chowhound to discuss your favorite food topics.
Suburbanites are most likely to visit websites for national chain restaurants such as Hard Rock Cafe, Macaroni Grill or P.F. Chang's China Bistro. Perhaps the commute home from work leaves less time to cook, making the convenience of eating out more popular. In contrast, rural Internet users seem more likely to be cooking in the home, with recipe-rich sites such as Food & Wine Magazine, Recipes.com and FoodTV website "Cooking with Paula Deen" dominating the list.
While searches for "organic" food terms are on the rise, increasing about 30% over the last year alone, they are dwarfed by our searches for culinary convenience. All this food talk is making me hungry. Note to self: don't write a column about food on an empty stomach.
Bill Tancer is general manager of global research at Hitwise.