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How to use food holidays in your marketing plan

The Salvation Army still observes National Donut Day, June 3, which commemorates how Salvation Army "lassies" introduced donuts to troops fighting during World War I.  (Photo credit: Salvation Army USA West, taken June 3, 2016 at the USS Iowa Battleship Museum in Los Angeles.) 

The Salvation Army still observes National Donut Day, June 3, which commemorates how Salvation Army "lassies" introduced donuts to troops fighting during World War I.  (Photo credit: Salvation Army USA West, taken June 3, 2016 at the USS Iowa Battleship Museum in Los Angeles.) 

What is up with all of these food holidays? A couple of weeks ago while listening to 11 Alive’s Crash and Chesley’s updates on weather and traffic while getting ready for work, I was distracted by the crew chatting about National Donut Day and noshing on some fried sugary dough. 

It got me thinking: Who started all of these culinary-focused holidays and how much of this is a PR stunt?

After doing a little digging, it was clear that these social media trending food holidays were indeed created by PR and marketing professionals. John-Bryan Hopkins, a Birmingham food writer that began Foodimentary—a blog dedicated to food holidays—came up with many of the others. Hopkins noticed that the food calendar was incomplete, so he added more holidays like Cupcake Lover’s Day, National Cheese Lover’s Day and many other obscure days. As an early adopter of Twitter, he used the platform to push his food-loving agenda by making up these commemorative days and creating hashtags that quickly started to trend.

Some of the other food holidays have a more colorful history highlighted by cultural significance and commemoration of the American spirit: 

National Waffle Day was established on August 24, 1869 to honor Cornelius Swartwout, who received the first U.S. patent for the waffle iron. 

National Beer Day began on April 7, 1933 to celebrate the end of prohibition and the passing of the Cullen-Harrison Act. Crowds of people lined up to receive their first legal beer at midnight.

National Donut Day was created by the Chicago Salvation Army in 1938 to honor the female volunteers that gave donuts to WWI soldiers in France and raised funds during the Great Depression.

Other U.S.-sanctioned food holidays were established by joint House and Senate resolutions that were signed into law by the president. Some U.S. presidents actually took it upon themselves to create their own food holidays, such as President Eisenhower approving National Walnut Day on May 17, 1958 and President Ronald Reagan declaring National Catfish Day on June 25, 1987.

Even states have gotten involved with naming food holidays. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger dedicated several months in honor of food: July is California King Salmon Month, September is California Wine Month, and January is California Dried Plum Digestive Health Month.

Obvious food holiday agendas were created by U.S. Department of Agriculture, lobbying groups, and trade organizations. Many used innocent food holidays, like National Milk Month, and began promoting them for their own profit. A big player in this field is the National Peanut Board, who, as of 2016, has derived more than ten food holidays related to the peanut. 

If you look at Foodimentary, you’ll notice that there is at least one food holiday each day, and sometimes more than one. With that many holidays, it is no surprise that there would be a few duplicates or similarly named holidays. For example, National Pie Day on January 23, established by the American Pie Council, may be confused with National Peach Pie Day on August 24, National Pie Day on December 1, or National Pi Day on March 14 (3-14).

If you decide to use holidays in your food marketing strategy, try these suggestions:

  • Plan, create, and publish content before the actual holiday. Encourage people to plan to observe it, even if it’s just something they can celebrate for a few moments with a snack (like a donut). This will be really useful if you have a local retail outlet for people to visit or if you want to drive online sales and will make a special offer for the food holiday.
  • Help people observe the holiday. Have fun with it by offering them recipes or special holiday-only product offerings. Give them some historical trivia to share. 
  • Encourage social media participation by getting people to submit pictures, video, or other user-generated content that everyone can have fun with. 
  • Join forces. Your impact will get a boost if other companies and organizations are also participating in the holiday. If the day isn’t something others are already participating in, engage people and companies who will join you. 
  • Research hashtags for the day. If there aren’t any, create them (and research the ones you create to make sure there aren’t any negative associations). Start using the hashtags before the actual holiday. 
  • Encourage in-person events: You can host one, or encourage others to host events. Or, if there are local events already planned (you’ll find Pi Day parties, for example) get your company involved. Be sure to promote and share the event on social media with pictures and video. 

All in all, it’s up to you and your company to determine which holidays are worth celebrating and which to dismiss. But I’ll leave you with a quote from Bon Appetit that pretty much sums up these Hallmark holidays: “whenever you’re celebrating a food holiday, you’re really celebrating a great marketer.”