Food trends - Good or... Fad? Here's how to spot the difference


We're all about purpose and the bigger picture these days, doing our best to do more good and do less harm as we munch our way through our days. But on the scale of ‘What’s for dinner?’ and ‘Saving my life, the planet and all of humanity’, fast-moving food trends are fighting for our attention, with seemingly no real hierarchy in the seriousness stakes.

The food trends landscape is a lively, exciting hotbed of ideas, innovation and energetic activity and community. It's a colourful blend of culture, flavour, experimentation, and a great feeling of both being ahead and part of a progressive tribe.

But in terms of brand story, whether we're setting the trends or keeping up with them, it's crucial to keep our heads if we're to avoid mixed messages. Otherwise we can make the mistake of what could have been fab, becoming a fad, and not spotting the warning signs in time.

Breaking down the Food Trends

Each time I see the latest ‘trend’ emerging in the press - whether in magazines, blogs, websites or social media - the more I understand that in order to truly chart the trends landscape, I have to be able to see the difference between the various types of information and insight that comes our way. To spot the critical messages, often presented at the exact same level as marketing fun. Otherwise it's easy to become more than a little confused by the onslaught of mixed information.

    Despite this, food trends are often presented in a time-sensitive list in no particular order, or with any context behind what has brought them about. 'Top 10 Food Trends for 2018', or 'What's Hot for 2018', can have Edible Insects - which are vital for sustainable food futures, and the longevity of life on this planet - next to Unusual Doughnut Fillings. But while Unusual Doughnut Fillings may be fun for a few months, we have to take edible insects seriously, long-term.

    SO. This is how I organise my thoughts. 

    The word Trend can be defined two ways:

    1. a prolonged movement towards permanent change.
    2. a passing fashion.

    And when I see a list of upcoming food trends, I personally break them down into the same two categories, but I call them:

    1. Anchors
      Weighty topics that underpin everything.  Your values, your passion, your purpose, age-old practices and consumer-driven change - never a fashion or fad.
    2. Balloons
      Lightweight marketing buzz - time-limited, seasonal, perennial themes and buzz-words that spark excitement and make some noise.

    Both categories are important and both have their place, but it is important to split them out and assign the appropriate weight.

    The Anchors are still or slow-moving, and need focused research, as they are key to our society's wellbeing and development. They are deep and timeless.

    Once they are firmed up, then (and only then) can we define the Balloons relevant to the brand to create engaging campaigns, which eventually break off and float away to make space for the next.

    Here's how to spot which is which:

    1. When a 'Food Trend' is an ANCHOR

    I see Anchors as gleaned from three distinct areas, and believe it's best to have an up-to-date understanding of them all. These each inform food industry output and communication, as industry professionals listen and react to these influences and entwine them with their product development strategies:

    a. Consumer Need

    Consumer Need is movements and changes in society driven by people, their habits and daily life. The problems in society and the world that we-as-consumers wish to see solved in our lifetime and beyond, that determine the decisions we make, and the expectations we have as buyers and influencers.

    Examples include: 

    • Low Income
    • Environmental Awareness
    • Animal Welfare
    • Eating for Health

    b. Timeless Wisdom

    Timeless Wisdom is centuries of knowledge and generally reflects the human desire for stability and simplicity. Methods of cooking and practices that our great-grandparents would have employed; customs from ancient cultures. These ‘trends’ are steeped in common sense and are embedded in social culture, and, as it's human nature to hark back to the past for proven knowledge and reassurance, are always present. The only thing that makes them appear to be Balloons or a source of occasional inspiration is our periodic interest in them or a specific marketing campaign. They are generally based on solid values and practicable ideals, often leaving people scratching their heads when they're popular for just a season, saying 'But my grandmother taught us that, it's nothing new!', etc.

    Examples include: 

    • Preserving
    • Using every scrap
    • Buying local
    • Provenance

    c. Food Futures

    Food Futures is the stuff of global change - focused on sustainable living, preserving the planet and its inhabitants, feeding a growing population, and improving health for longer life expectancy. They are the heavyweight conversations that may be quite hard to digest, but are (or should be) a constant industry influence nonetheless. Often stemming from the scientific and academic world, they are endeavouring to change everyone's behaviour for the common good, and the current challenge is breaking down the scale of these topics for mass appeal and application at various levels of industry and consumer life. 

    Examples include: 

    • Zero Waste
    • Insect Proteins
    • Micro-Agriculture
    • Meat Alternatives


        2. When a 'Food Trend' is a BALLOON

        also known as 'On-Trend Inspiration'

        On-Trend is 'in fashion', or a fashionable perspective, used to bring emerging products or experiences to life, inspire and uplift their audience, and differentiate in a crowded marketplace.

        Largely what is considered to be the real meaning of the word 'trend' is 'on-trend', passing marketing themes and campaigns connected to popular culture or current affairs to generate engagement and buzz, whether to sell products, communicate changemaking messages, or both. They're topical and seasonal, with catchy terms coined, but must be developed after understanding your undercurrent of purpose and insight, to have the necessary substance and longevity. These are Balloons.

        Examples include: 

        • Great British Bake Off (based on the consumer-driven rise in nostalgia and homegrown values as realised by the popular TV show)
        • 'Insta-Ready' (based on consumer-driven rise of social media usage)
        • 'Flexitarian' (based on consumer-driven increase in veganism and animal welfare concerns)
        • Meal Kits (based on consumer-driven rise in health concerns over ready meals and convenience foods, versus busy working lives)
        • Content Collaborations (based on a more connected and diverse global food network stemming from the broader digital landscape)

        Remember, you can only define your Balloons once you know your Anchors. Often, brands which haven't identified their own purpose effectively, latch on to any example of popular culture, which by nature is momentary and fleeting. There is no Anchor to tie the Balloons to. It may seem buzzy for a while, but it passes, leaving these brands high and dry, without an enduring message to communicate, or falling down under poor research, and, occasionally, feeling a little bit foolish. Or worse! Misleading information or or pseudoscience that can do actual harm...


        Connect the Dots

        Anchors are still or slow-moving, and need focused research, as they are key to our wellbeing and development. They are deep and timeless. Once they are firmed up, we look to the Balloons for ways to create authentic spikes of engagement.

        For example, if a brand ANCHOR is Provenance, a good BALLOON for 2018 may be a case study or product range based on the 2018 upsurge in West African Flavours.

        If a brand ANCHOR is Eating for Health, where colour, texture, and aroma - as well as ingredients - all play a part, a good BALLOON may be a season of pop up events based around the popular 2018 activity of Multisensory Food Experiences.

        If a brand ANCHOR is Environmental Awareness, a good BALLOON may be a Content Collaboration with local campaigners or a prominent charity.

        While some food trends do occasionally straddle both categories, it is only you and your brand who can assign them in your context, in keeping with your brand purpose and position. One brand's Balloon may be another brand's Anchor. The important thing is that you understand the weight approportioned to each, and the consequent depth of understanding required to be authentic and unshakeable. Only when that is absolutely clear, well-researched and cross-referenced, can your marketers seek optimum engagement with the consumersputting a contemporary and solid spin on things with up-and-coming foodie people and places and catchy phrases like Flexitarian or Root-to-Stem.

        Firm up your anchors, and attach some colourful balloons, and your brand story will work its way, via our habits, homes, retailers and restaurants, into our hearts.

        Carra Santos