In the next couple of weeks, Mintel Menu Insights will debut a new feature designed to let our subscribers tune in to the inner workings of nearly 300 restaurants. We will be adding a real-time Twitter feed from about 280 restaurant operators. Anybody who has ever spent any time on Twitter already understands that the media platform is being used in multiple ways by these restaurant brands: to make direct consumers connections for offers, special events and menu news, to raise awareness of company initiatives and to reward loyal “followers” and customers.

While it’s clear that restaurant operators have been quick to recognize the importance of social media – whether by tweeting out announcements or setting up pages on Facebook, foodservice suppliers and manufacturers haven’t yet fully embraced the tools as an integral piece of their information gathering or marketing strategies.

In the past two weeks, I’ve attended a couple presentations and conferences where the benefits of social media were discussed. And throughout these discussions, manufacturers were largely dismissive of these media platforms. Maybe this attitude has to do with foodservice being a direct sales environment compared to CPG, but it seems that social media can only help to strengthen the partnership between operators and suppliers.

Like any form of communication, social media must be used wisely. Certainly, manufacturers can’t send out tweets recommending followers visit one restaurant over another. Account conflicts would make that a messy situation. However, they do have the ability promote their own branded products in a general, yet meaningful way. McCormick and Co.’s foodservice division, McCormick For Chefs (@McCormick4Chefs) uses Twitter to promote recipes that make use of the company’s ingredients, hitting two audiences: general consumers and chefs looking for inspiration.

And for those operator accounts that have seen their marketing teams cut in size and spend, manufacturers and suppliers can assist in setting up and maintaining these relatively inexpensive communication strategies. Selling products into national accounts is one thing, being a partner in their businesses is another.

We hope that the addition of the Twitter feed will inspire new ideas for marketing yourself and your foodservice customers. In addition to restaurant chain accounts, our Twitter feed will also feature the ramblings and musings of myself (@Eric_Mintel) and Mintel’s UK foodservice analyst, Helena Spicer (@HelenaMintel).