For such a big industry, food and drink has surprisingly few blogs. The Grocer rounds up 20 of the best and asks why companies have taken so long to catch on. Simon Creasey reports

Make no mistake: blogging is a serious business these days. What started in the early 90s as an online soapbox for tech geeks to vent their spleen is today a multi-million pound industry. Consultants charge small fortunes to help companies plot blogging strategies and a growing number of companies employ people whose sole task is to update their company blog daily. Some even pay journalists to ghostwrite blogs on their CEO's behalf.

It's not hard to see why. There are bloggers who've built up such a powerful presence disseminating information and misinformation that a vote of confidence or word of criticism from them can prompt shoppers to flock to or away from brands (which is why Nestlé has just launched a hunt for a PR company to help combat negative comment online).

Yet the blogosphere is surprisingly bereft of grocery-related blogs. Indeed, we were hard pushed to find enough candidates for The Grocer's inaugural Top 20 Food and Drink Blogs. But after quizzing the social media experts and asking the most important people you to rate the best from the rest, we've pulled together a diverse list of the most influential, interesting and plain entertaining blogs around (see over).

As the list demonstrates, blogs allow companies to really punch above their weight. Conversely, food and drink players who remain blasé about blogging may be missing a trick.

The multiples, in particular, should reassess their stance, believes Daljit Bhurji, MD of social media agency Diffusion. "Many supermarkets have a huge amount of content on their websites, such as special offers, recipes and household tips and advice, but it is all presented in a very unappealing and static way," he says.

"Blogs would allow that same information to be communicated in a more human and compelling format. Blogging recipes, for instance, would allow customers to leave feedback, rate their favourites or share tips on other ingredients to try."

Sainsbury's encourages consumers to do just this via its Tuck into the Debate online community. But this is a consumer forum, rather than a company-controlled blog, something that is conspicuous by its absence from the Sainsbury's site, as it is from other supermarket websites.

There are a few notable exceptions. Tesco's technology guru, Nick Lansley, for instance, regularly updates his Tech for Tesco blog. And who can forget Mark Price's Not So Chubby blog for Waitrose? But although this remains online, it is no longer live (the final posting was made in December 2008). And supermarket blogs are massively outnumbered by anti-supermarket blogs.

They can't afford to continue taking a backseat, argues Bhurji. But they'll need to ensure they strike a balance between interesting content and self promotion. Blogs that are too self-engrossed run the risk of becoming boring and turning readers off, he warns. To avoid such a fate, retailers could do worse than take a leaf out of a few suppliers' books. One brand that has successfully brought its values to life online is Innocent with its Daily Thoughts blog. The brand has a well-defined blogging strategy and an in-house writer and creative team.

Dan Germain, head of creative at Innocent, advises prospective bloggers to steer clear of being too stuffy and corporate. "If you have a blog that's a series of press releases that have been slightly altered then nobody is going to read it," he says. "You need real stuff written by real people. Some of it needs to be serious about the business and some of it should be as dumb as you can make it."

The blog has proved a rich tool for Innocent, helping it to engage with its customers and even informing its business strategy. For instance, when it was approached by McDonald's to trial its products in stores back in 2007, it blogged about the plans and asked customers for feedback. "You have to step back and let the people who buy our drinks, who ultimately run our business, decide," says Germain. "If they don't like something and threaten to stop spending money with us as a result, we'd have to react as a business. We'd be stupid not to."

Blogs can also be a useful tool for business growth. Belvoir Fruit Farms reached out to its customers with its nostalgic, feel-good 'Belvoir on for Britain' blog, which launched in March 2009. "The recession was upon us and we felt people were getting fed up with the doom and gloom so we decided to begin blogging about good things: picnics, poetry and of course our drinks," explains Becky McCaul, Belvoir Fruits marketing manager. "We didn't know if it would work or if anybody would care, but we had to get it going before we could work out how to improve it."

The results were pretty instant. A poetry competition run in conjunction with cereal brand Jordans attracted more than 100 entries. Realising its customers were willing to engage with the company via the blog, Belvoir started to post regular entries two to three times a month.

Today, the company has a 3,000-strong database of website visitors and MD Pev Manners says that in addition to providing valuable information about its customers, the blog has helped improve its bottom line. "Website hits are up and trade sales have risen. After seeing that it can be successful, we've just given the go-ahead for a revamp of our website and we will be blogging for another year."

But a blog won't necessarily work for all. Global food giants with lots of brands under their control would struggle to produce a blog covering all their products. Unilever has dabbled with blogging on an ad-hoc basis for brands such as Dove, Impulse and Sure For Men, but hasn't as yet committed to an ongoing blog for a brand or the parent company.

"We're not entirely sure that's the best way to engage our audiences and that we'd get enough followers to make it worthwhile," admits Rachel Bristow, Unilever media director for UK and Ireland, but, she adds, the company is assessing whether blogs could be more widely used.

"We need to get better at using our people," she says. "We've got some real experts within our business, and we are looking at using them for education and engagement. They can bring to life the quality of our ingredients, the way our products are made and our level of sustainability."

For a blog to hit the ground running, it's important the brand has strong values, says Ged Carroll, director of digital strategies at Ruder Finn.

"A consumer doesn't just shop at Whole Foods Market for their groceries. They do it because they care about purity, the environment and healthy eating," he says. "But for other brands, blogging would be challenging. What voice should a Kit Kat have, for example?"

It is this development of an online personality that can be tricky. Innocent's Germain bypassed the issue by quietly launching the company's blog without the marketing department's knowledge. But few companies would allow such a liberal approach. They need to understand that launching a blog needn't be akin to opening Pandora's box, says Bhurji.

"There remains a fear of publicly opening up to feedback and having conversations with customers online," he says, "and there is still a misguided belief that if you don't have a blog then people won't be able to answer back. The truth is that, on any given day, there could be hundreds of thousands of conversations going on about your brand. Why not enable them to happen on a platform you control?"

One that consumers increasingly expect you to communicate on.

Twenty food blogs worth bookmarking

Aisle Spy
Who's behind it? Various members of Asda staff, including buyers
What does it cover? The blog claims to take you behind the scenes at Asda through a mix of lighthearted news and company updates

Belvoir on for Britain
Who's behind it? UK drinks company Belvoir Fruit Farms
What does it cover? All things Belvoir, from company news through to quirky stories, recipe ideas using Belvoir cordials and competitions

Boycott Nestlé
Who's behind it? Baby Milk Action
What does it cover? This is as much a campaigning site as it is a blog, full of anti-Nestlé stories and commentary

Daily Thoughts
Who's behind it? The creative team at Innocent, including the dedicated in-house writer
What does it cover? Company news, humourous pictures and videos and general goings on in the offices at Fruit Towers

Food Poison Journal
Who's behind it? Marler Clark, a US firm that helps individuals lodge legal claims against food companies
What does it cover? Food poison updates

Food Politics
Who's behind it? Marion Nestle, an American professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health
What does it cover? Healthy eating, nutrition, food safety issues, politics and sustanability

Who's behind it? TV super-chef, restaurateur, face of Sainsbury's, etc Jamie Oliver
What does it cover? Users can "share their knowledge of all things food-related" and get hints and tips from the great man himself

Hungry for Science
Who's behind it? Andrew Wadge, chief FSA scientist
What does it cover? Information about what the FSA is up to, plus commentary about stories in the wider world surrounding food standards

Who's behind it? Martin Lewis, the TV, radio and newspaper journalist
What does it cover? Money-saving advice on everything from mortgages through to loyalty card points

Who's behind it? Sports journalist Justine Roberts and TV producer Carrie Longton
What does it cover? Anything and everything parenting-related with a large section on food. Mumsnet's boards attract 20,000 posts per day

Peston's Picks
Who's behind it? The Beeb's top financial hack Robert Peston
What does it cover? Commentary about the big business stories of the moment

Phil Clarke's Business Blog
Who's behind it? Farmers Weekly writer Phil Clarke
What does it cover? Agribusiness, commodity markets, exchange rates, corporate news, world trade

Simple Pleasures
Who's behind it? Dorset Cereals
What does it cover? Gardening tips, cultural happenings a smorgasbord of information, games and suggestions

Supermarket Wine
Who's behind it? The content is provided by newspaper wine reviewers and the general public
What does it cover? Cheap wine, tasty wine, great deals on supermarket wine

Tech for Tesco
Who's behind it? Tesco's tech guru Nick Lansley
What does it cover? Information and updates on all things Tesco technology-related with the recent emphasis being on the company's iPhone apps

Tesco Complaint
Who's behind it? It has an administrator, but is basically for customers to moan
What does it cover? Tesco's failings, from not asking customers if they want a bag to trolleys smashing into cars

Who's behind it? Set up in 2005 by bodies "concerned about market power of supermarkets".
What does it cover? "A one-stop shop for information on the negative impacts of supermarket power"

Walmart Watch
Who's behind it? A number of 'partner' organisations including environmental and employment rights groups
What does it cover? Walmart's failings with the emphasis on perceived skulduggery

Whole Story
Who's behind it? Various members of Whole Foods Market staff, from Value Guru through to Wine Guys
What does it cover? Company news, recipe ideas and information about Whole Foods' suppliers

Word of Mouth
Who's behind it? The Guardian's food writers
What does it cover? Everything, with the emphasis on quirkier stories such as a virtual farmers' market about to go live