Three keys to tackling trends in product development

by Monica Watrous
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Cauliflower, seaweed, celery, chicory
Cauliflower, chicory, seaweed and celery are all vying to be the new kale.

SAN FRANCISCO — What’s the new kale in 2017? There isn’t one, said Suzy Badaracco, trends forecaster and president of Culinary Tides, Tualatin, Ore.

Suzy Badaracco
Suzy Badaracco, trends forecaster and president of Culinary Tides

“But what there is are five things that think they could be the new kale,” she said, citing seaweed, chicory, cauliflower, celery and weeds. “There’s kind of a cluster coming in; there isn’t a single item. This is true for all categories.

“There’s not a quinoa this year; there’s freekeh and teff and hemp. There are families taking the single spot, which is much more interesting.”

During a presentation at the Winter Fancy Food Show, held Jan. 22-24 in San Francisco, Ms. Badaracco discussed the consumer behaviors driving food and flavor trends and how companies may tackle trends in product development.

Freekeh, teff, hemp seeds
Freekeh, teff and hemp are emerging as competition for quinoa.

Among top themes this year are hybrids and mashups, including pretzel buns, chicken and waffles, cake pops and croissant donuts.

“Cronut was not a trend; it was a poster child for a trend,” Ms. Badaracco noted, adding that beefalo and broccoflower are hybrids, too.

Stuffed foods also are gaining prominence on plates, from Twinkies and turducken to pierogis and pupusas.

Fried chicken and waffles
Among top themes this year are hybrids and mashups, including chicken and waffles.

“These are examples of how widespread the phenomenon is,” she said. “We don’t even think about it, really.”

During periods of economic recovery, consumers become more experimental, giving rise to such concepts as sour and fermented flavors, jackfruit, purple potatoes, insect protein and savory pancakes.

“In recovery, you see extremes coming back to the palate,” she said. “That’s why you don’t see comfort food, unless it’s truffle mac and cheese.”

Adventurous foods - jackfruit, purple potatoes, insect protein
Consumers are becoming more adventurous and trying such products as jackfruit, purple potatoes and insect protein.

Regional and global cuisines emerging this year include Cuban, Nordic and the Deep South, and when it comes to ingredient sourcing, seasonal is the new local, Ms. Badaracco added.

How companies respond to food trends is critical to the success of a new product in the marketplace. Ms. Badaracco outlined several tips and recommendations.

First, understand the birth and lifecycle of a trend prior to entering, she said.

Nordic cuisine
Nordic cuisine is growing in popularity.

“If you’re only looking at one part of a trend or one part of your industry, you’re not going to understand the whole picture around it,” she said. “You’re not going to understand where the trend came from and where it’s going.”

Second, she said, “neither love nor hate a trend… Emotions will fog a trend’s true pattern, and you’ll be blindsided when it shifts. And I promise it will shift. They always do.”

Third, brands should spend more time researching a trend’s personality and trajectory than worrying about what the competition is doing.

“After all,” she said, “they may be idiots.”

Pretzel buns
With hybrids, such as pretzel buns, maintaining the individual integrity and authenticity of each component is critical for success.

With hybrids, mashups and fusion cuisine, maintaining the individual integrity and authenticity of each component is critical for success, Ms. Badaracco said.

“While novelty is commendable, you also have to have restraint,” she added. “Otherwise you’re going to create what we call ‘confusion cuisine.’”

Perhaps most importantly, she noted, “don’t stray from what you do best. Don’t go completely out on a limb, but make sure you stay within what you do best and what you’re known for.”
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