How to win on Instagram in 2023 as a food brand

It’s 2023, and in our ever-evolving digital landscape, Instagram continues to be a crucial platform for food brands. Yes, TikTok is a thing, but the good ol’ IG is still trucking along.

With a visually appealing interface and vast user base, it continues to offer ample opportunities for brands to connect with their chosen audience.

The team at Hubspot has just published a major study on the state of The Gram in 2023. You can download the full report here after you checked our take on the data below.

Follower Count is important on Instagram – or is it?

According to the data in the report, Instagram accounts, in general, are growing. About half of all Instagram accounts now have between 1,000 and 10k followers, a slight jump from last year’s numbers.

However, follower count isn’t everything; in fact, many people (including our team at Audacious) consider it a vanity metric. Having lots of followers might look good, but it’s not necessarily getting you closer to your business goals. Loads of unengaged followers will do exactly nothing for your food or drinks business; in fact, they can damage your reputation and reach.

Especially for smaller food businesses, smaller followings can be better for building trust and relationships. Nike, for example, chooses to complement its corporate mega-account with multiple smaller accounts for this very reason!

Instead of using follower count as your main KPI, think about what you’re actually trying to get out of posting on Instagram

After all, everything you do in food marketing needs to have a business outcome. Unfortunately, many food businesses seem to post mainly out of a feeling of obligation rather than following a strategy, wasting money, time and effort.

Your Instagram account might be:

  • top-of-funnel, helping you build brand awareness for your food business
  • mid-funnel, encouraging newsletter signups or offering product demos from your direct to consumer store
  • bottom-of-funnel, helping you close sales in retail channels

Choose your KPIs wisely, ideally before you launch your account.

The Role of Engagement on Instagram – does it matter in 2023?

Now, to the juicy stuff that matters. Engagement is a key metric on Instagram; far more important than follower count for example.

Last year, average global engagement was 6.01%, compared to 5.86% in 2021. Engagement was much higher in the Asia-Pacific region at 9.63%, compared to North America at 6.5%, or the UK and Ireland, where it was below average at just 5%.

Social media behaviour is much more engagement-heavy in Asian-Pacific countries. Across the board, frequent liking and commenting was the norm compared to more reserved North American and European users.

The Power of Hashtags

Hashtags have had a strange year. Some people feel they’re a dated strategy that doesn’t help engagement or can make your content look spammy. There’s also much conversation about the fact that the Algorithm is now clever enough to understand context without needing hashtags anymore.

However, the picture appears to be a lot more complex. The most recent hashtag data reflects the rise of short-form video. Reels-related hashtags were among the most engaging, with tags like #ReelsTrending, #FunnyVideos, and #FunnyReels dominating the top 10.

We recommend using a few different types of hashtags at varying levels of popularity. Mid-sized hashtags, with between 10k and 200k posts, will often get you the best engagement.

But you can also throw in super-specific tags, like your own branded ones, and maybe some more popular hashtags if they’re an especially good fit.

The Impact of Post Tags

Tagging other users in your posts is a great way to get more eyes on your content. Tagging more people will get you more engagement.

That makes sense, since your post is showing up on their profile, too. And it truly is the more the merrier! There’s no drop-off, with posts that tagged over 11 people showing the highest engagement.

The Influence of Timing on Engagement

Evenings (around 8 p.m.) and weekends remain the most engaging time to post. Globally, there was more late-night engagement than before.

Tuesdays, not the weekend, were the most engaging time to post in Asia-Pacific, and the gap between peak and bottom engagement was three times larger. North American engagement spiked at 9 p.m. but otherwise wasn’t as dependent on time and day. UK and Ireland’s engagement was highest around 2 a.m. on the weekends.


In conclusion, winning on Instagram as a food brand in 2023 involves a strategic mix of follower engagement, effective use of hashtags, post tags, and the timing of your posts. While follower count is important, it’s not the only metric to focus on.

Engagement, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, is a key factor to consider.

Hashtags, despite some criticism, remain a powerful tool, especially when used in conjunction with Instagram’s Reels feature.

Tagging other relevant users in your posts can also boost engagement. Lastly, understanding the best times to post for your audience can significantly impact engagement rates. By understanding and implementing these strategies, food brands can truly leverage the power of Instagram in 2023.

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Andreas Duess, food marketing expert
Andreas Duess, Food Marketing Expert

Whether you need help figuring out how to make your social media deliver positive ROI or your packaging actually support sales off shelf, or any other food-related challenge, we’re here for you. 

Book a free 15-minute discovery call with me. I am happy to discuss your food or drinks business and any questions you may have.

 No sales, no obligations, just straightforward advice. 

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