Tapping the 'world's largest focus group' for top holiday food trends

by Monica Watrous
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SAN FRANCISCO — Breakfast casseroles and Mexican hot chocolate are among top trending ideas this holiday season on Pinterest, the content sharing service and social networking platform.

The web site, which allows users to “pin” images and other content to a virtual pinboard, has more than 150 million monthly members and more than 75 billion ideas. This year, the platform has seen a 24% increase in holiday food and drink pins, said Stephanie Kumar, head of category insights at San Francisco-based Pinterest.

“We reach one in two U.S. millennials,” Ms. Kumar said. “We know that millennials in general are disruptors and are reshaping the way we think about food and the way we buy food. A lot of what we see on Pinterest are very unique, nascent trends, especially with food and drink, which is our No. 1 category on the platform.

Pinterest Mexican hot chocolate
Mexican hot chocolate is a top trending idea his holiday season on Pinterest.

“With the holidays specifically, there’s actually a mix of tradition and new, interesting trends.”

Examples of traditional food and beverage ideas trending on Pinterest include cookie exchanges, trifle desserts and breakfast casseroles.

“Christmas breakfast is the biggest moment for breakfast on the platform,” Ms. Kumar noted. “People are searching for Christmas breakfast ideas.”

Pinterest breakfast bake
Paleo Breakfast Casseroles are trending.

Trending breakfast casserole pins range from indulgent Biscuits and Gravy Casserole and French Toast Bake to more health-conscious dishes such as Paleo Breakfast Casserole and Veggie Loaded Breakfast Casserole. The most popular holiday cookie of the year, saved nearly 240,000 times, is a recipe for Buttery Jam Thumbprint Cookies. Other hot baked goods for the season include crinkle cookies, saved more than 3 million times on Pinterest; cranberry-infused cookies, including a cranberry white chocolate chip cookie and a cranberry orange shortbread cookie; and red velvet cake inspired treats.

A quirkier concept cropping up on pinboards are food and beverages inspired by Dr. Seuss’ curmudgeonly cartoon character, The Grinch.

“We see Grinch popcorn, Grinch juice, Grinch cookies,” Ms. Kumar said. “My favorite, which intersects the movement that we’ve seen to health and bite-size snacks for millennials, are fruit kebabs that look like the Grinch.”

Pinterest jam thumbprint cookies
The most popular holiday cookie of the year, saved nearly 240,000 times, is a recipe for Buttery Jam Thumbprint Cookies.

Christmas-related snacks have grown 60% year-over-year on the platform, Ms. Kumar added.

“People are saving 9,000 ideas every day related to Christmas snacks,” she said. “This also aligns with what we see with millennials wanting things that are easy but unique conversation starters.”

Such snacks include reindeer rice crispy treats, snowman truffles and white chocolate peppermint coated pretzels.

Pinterest cranberry cookies
Cranberry-infused cookies, such as cranberry white chocolate chip cookies, are popular on Pinterest.

“What we’ve actually seen in our holiday food are ideas using traditional nostalgic ingredients, but with a surprising or unexpected twist,” Ms. Kumar said.

A seasonal beverage gaining steam on Pinterest is Mexican hot chocolate, which features the flavors of cinnamon and chili powder. Interest in the sweet and spicy drink aligns with a broader desire for global cuisines and flavors, Ms. Kumar said.

“Beyond the holiday timeframe, as one of the big emerging trends we see within food and drink, a Mexican beer drink, the Michelada, is something we see trending on Pinterest as well,” she said. “We just came out with a food trend report where a lot of what we saw there were international flavors.”

Pinterest breakfast bake
Holiday breakfast ideas, such as the cheesy tater tot breakfast bake, are also trending.

Also popular on Pinterest are gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan recipes, she said.

“These are things that are all trending right now with really high volumes of daily ideas being saved in addition to really strong continuous year-over-year growth,” Ms. Kumar said. “I think we have our finger on the pulse on the bigger food movement, but a little more granular than that, we can also see specific topics emerge before they even hit the shelves.

“For example, on Pinterest, we see these things called protein bites or energy bites. We’ve actually seen this as a topic that has been trending for many months. But you don’t quite see it on the shelves yet, so the way we think of our users is as the world’s largest focus group. We can see what people are wanting that may not be on shelves yet, so they are making it themselves. We can start to see this ideas crowdsourced and emerge, and I think that is an incredibly powerful thing about our data that makes us really unique.”

Pinterest energy bites
The topic of protein and energy bites has been trending for months.

Pinterest has partnered with consumer packaged goods companies to leverage these insights in marketing and innovation.

“When we see something interesting and powerful in our data, we want to make sure our partners are aware of that as they’re designing their products or putting together their menus or establishing their marketing campaign for 2017,” Ms. Kumar said. “But we also do find inspiration in working with our partners when they say, ‘Hey, our own research has found x,y and z. Is that something you can validate or help us understand with your data as well?’”

Pinterest red velvet crinkle cookie
Crinkle cookies have been saved more than 3 million times on Pinterest.

Pinterest users begin seeking holiday inspiration as early as August and September, suggesting an opportunity for brands to introduce seasonal items early.

“We think that Pinterest is a platform of intent,” Ms. Kumar said. “Our users come here with the idea that they want to do something or plan something or bring something into real life. When they come either searching or browsing within their feed, they are already in that mindset of wanting to do something today or in the near future. So we definitely think that activating early is a good opportunity for brands.”
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