Food retailers know they need to have a social media presence, and now they’re figuring out which channels work best to help them form stronger relationships with their core customers. A study done last year by Unmetric revealed that Whole Foods’ visual messages worked best on Pinterest, while Wal-Mart and Target came out ahead on Facebook, Meijer found an audience on Twitter and Kmart’s quirky videos captured the imagination of YouTube users.

Facebook has proven the most effective social channel for Boulder, Colo.-based Alfalfa’s Market, especially when it comes to reaching millennials with notices about in-store events like Monday’s Memorial Day cookout, said Marketing Coordinator Craig Spalding.

Gen-Y shoppers are more likely to look at, and share, social media notices than in-store posters, he said, so getting the information up on Facebook boosts turnout. “And we also blast out sale items for people who don’t get our flier mailed to them,” he said.

Alfalfa’s has also found a loyal following for its e-newsletter, but Twitter hasn’t turned out to be a very effective channel for the retailer to reach out to shoppers. Messages get lost too easily, for one thing. Secondly, most of the time, the messages Alfalfa’s wants to get out don’t fit easily into 140-characters, which makes them link-heavy and less effective, he said.

“It’s OK for a quick sale item, but for promoting an event or starting a conversation, it’s better on Facebook,” he said. The retailer also uses Foursquare to draw in prospective shoppers when they’re nearby and it just launched an Instagram account that will allow the marketing team to create more visual campaigns, he said.

Along the way, there have been some things that haven’t always worked — a 15% off coupon on Facebook around the holidays kind of fell flat, especially compared to the big response the store received for a contest that invited shoppers to share their favorite family holiday recipes for a chance to win a cooked meal.

That said, the store didn’t give up on the idea of a coupon — it just changed channels. The 15% off offer worked great on Foursquare, he said, because it popped up when users were nearby and brought them into the store when they might not otherwise stop to shop.

Alfalfa’s, a grocer with a focus on natural and organic foods, has also found success partnering with vendors and suppliers, including on a recent celiac-awareness event done in conjunction with Lovely Lady Products, a local company that specializes in gluten-free beauty products. “It was an opportunity to partner with two different audience groups that have the same ideals and standards for the products they buy. It’s a good idea to share customers that way,” he said.

Like traditional supermarkets, online grocers have also been experimenting to find out which social channels work best. They’re also using those social channels to not only find out what their shoppers like about them, but also tailor their offerings and marketing accordingly. A report from ForSight analyzed the Facebook and Twitter mentions about Peapod, FreshDirect and Amazon, and found that each companies’ shoppers had different reasons for using their services.

Peapod customers tend to see that service as a luxury, and choose it largely for convenience — 37% of customers surveyed said they opt for Peapod to avoid going to the store, the study found, while shoppers pick FreshDirect for the food quality and AmazonFresh for the product mix. Social channels also helped FreshDirect address a brewing boycott head-on. As the company prepared to enter the South Bronx, some residents protested the additional pollution that would be created by delivery trucks. In response, FreshDirect developed a green initiative that touts the environmental benefits of home delivery.

Which social channels have worked best for your food stores? Tell us about it in the comments.

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