Health, authenticity drive latest food trends

by Monica Watrous
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SAN FRANCISCO – From Greek yogurt to global flavors, today’s top trends in retail and food service reflect consumer interests in health and authenticity.

“There are these overarching societal trends like green living that change our values, and as our values change, our needs change, and as our needs change, our consumer goods change,” said Kara Nielsen, a trendologist at CCD Innovation, San Francisco. “If a trend is delivering on enough need states for enough different people, such as meatless dining, that’s the sign of a trend that every C.P.G. company and every food service company should be investing in.”

CCD Innovation uses a five-stage trend map to track and translate trends in retail and food service. In a trend’s first stage, an ingredient, dish or cuisine appears in a fine-dining restaurant or regional ethnic eatery. From there, it may move to a gourmet magazine or specialty retail space, then to a forward-leaning chain restaurant or a high-end cookware retailer. The next stage finds the food in a women’s magazine or recipe web site. Finally, the item lands in a mainstream grocery store or quick-service restaurant menu.

“Our clients who are looking to be trendier will look at different places of the trend map for inspiration,” Ms. Nielsen said. “Every brand has its own angle on where they fit in the trend world. It really depends on the company and who they’re attracting and whether that trend speaks to their consumers.”

C.P.G. manufacturers, for example, have more at stake when investing in a new food or flavor, she said. The risk, however, is less for grocery store chains that may leverage private labels to latch onto a food trend.

“Every company has a different trend aptitude or need to be trendy,” Ms. Nielsen said. “Rice-A-Roni isn’t going to be trendy, but some new natural cereal or ice cream has a different brand equity and a different expectation from consumers.”

Trends are more likely to proliferate if the food or flavor has multiple applications, such as Greek yogurt, which has appeared in smoothies, frozen novelties, granola bars and cereal. Others, such as coconut water, are limited in nature and may not spread as far.

Demographics, too, play a role in determining what’s cool in culinary. The population’s growing diversity has propelled a rise in ethnic flavors.

“I think what we’re seeing now is with the rise of millenials who are very multicultural, things that used to just sit in their ethnic conclaves aren’t sitting there anymore,” Ms. Nielsen said. “We’re in a much more multicultural time and era, and so those multicultural trends are moving much faster than they used to because children of immigrants who are bicultural are bringing their home food into their American lives and are sharing them and opening up businesses around them and turning all of these great flavors onto a wider range of people.”

The American “anything goes” food culture continuously invites new flavors and cuisines, she said.

“There’s always going to be, especially in America, an interest in something new and different,” she said. “What is exciting is we have so many more choices of things to eat, and as a society we’re getting more sophisticated and starting to have a recognition and appreciation of (food’s) role in culture and enjoying it in that way instead of it just being fuel.”
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