Skeptical Net-savvy readers will be shocked (shocked!) to learn that food blogs are now targeted by companies that manufacture edibles, and are accepting free samples of said products for review. An AP piece that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle dishes the dirt:

Obsessive Web sites evaluating the newest eats have become must-reads for lovers of every type of food including frozen dinners, potato chips, candy bars and even energy drinks. While the readerships for sites like IAteAPie and Candy Blog are only a few thousand daily, food companies court them as a way to reach an interested audience for the price of shipping a box.

Courting one blog with a couple of thousand daily readers may not have a huge impact, but marketers can easily reach several such blogs with little effort, said Debbie Weil, a corporate blogging consultant based in Washington, D.C.

‘Companies are paying attention to the concept of lots and lots of tiny little markets. Added up, it’s significant,’ Weil said.

Wait wait wait. Corporate blogging consultant? Is that a real job or is that like being a federal breast inspector?

Anyhoo, if a food company can get a blogger to write about a product for its small-but-passionate audience, that’s a lot of marketing for very little investment. And the couple of bucks the blogger saves not having to buy a food for review makes a difference for those who make little to no money on a website. So the parade of FedEx boxes isn’t likely to end soon.

Naturally, the bloggers interviewed for the story claim receiving products free doesn’t taint their reviews. But how can it not? Anything you didn’t have to pay for is automatically viewed in a more positive light than some piece of crap you had to shell out for. It’s the same potential problem with restaurant reviewers who write up comped meals. Does it sway the reviewer’s judgment or just get him to try something he might not have access to otherwise? Well, that’s really the question, isn’t it?

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