As we approach the end of the year, we will see more articles on next year’s food trends. You would think that regardless of who writes the articles, there should be some agreement as to what consumers will be buying more of in the future. However, it seems to be almost the opposite. Among the articles I have read, there is only some agreement. I looked over 10 different trends articles and found some agreement and some big differences.
Most of the articles mention some form of healthy eating. It may be stated as “healthy eating” or “wellness,” but most agree this trend will continue. Some articles talk about “better-for-you” beverages and dairy alternatives. Of course, just saying healthy does not suggest specific actions. Should it be less fat, more fiber, less sugar or more protein? Most of the trends have different interpretations of “healthy.”
Asian or Pacific Rim flavors were mentioned, but it was not clear if they're talking about flavors such as ginger or food such as sushi or pho. Should a company venture into shrimp flavor or make more authentic Asian cuisine meals?
Snacking is an oft mentioned trend. This is really big if your target market is Gen Z or Millennials. They have totally changed the concept of three meals a day. The younger generation is snacking three or four times a day and replacing one to two meals per day. You can see some large companies like Campbell Soup moving toward being a snack food company with its own Pepperidge Farms brand plus the purchase of Snyder’s.
Another frequently mentioned trend is “faux meat” like the Impossible Burger. The various seers see plant-based “meat” as a big new trend. It is hard to distinguish a trend from a lot of PR, but Burger King believes this will be around for a while. Maybe for good reason: While sales of the plant-based burger are still low, the average check size is larger among people who bought the Impossible Burger. The $64k question is should meat companies be making plant protein analogues? Most are.
Once you get past these first trends, I see more variation in the trends suggested. Some include a version of being “green.” Their talk centers around being sustainable, being biodegradable, ancient grains and proteins. The issue is: What do you hitch your wagon to? One problem with forecasters is they frequently have a bias. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you know that when evaluating the results.
So, as I looked at the trends from the 10 articles, I came to the conclusion that no one really knows what will happen.
What should a food company do and what should they not do? First of all, dig deep into the trends. Make sure you see some of the evidence that suggests a trend is real and not a fad. An indicator of a trend is that the changes can be seen across multiple categories, and not just in one. Follow the ABCD rule ("always be collecting data"). Don’t take someone’s word for it. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, "show me the data."
On the other hand, you can’t be too conservative. Being first in a market has positive and long-term advantages. If you wait until the “trend” is absolutely apparent, you may be too late. It takes faith as well as data analysis to get into the growing markets before everyone else is there.
Don’t be taken in by what you see and hear in the market. While Burger King is advertising the Impossible Burger like crazy, it is reported that the company is selling 45 per day per store, versus hundreds of real meat hamburgers. Shelf space is also not a great indicator, either, as you can buy that space. I remember when Silk soymilk had a huge section in the dairy department and I thought it must be doing really well. I later found out the company was paying for the space.
Don’t be afraid to talk to consumers in the market place. As John Le Carré said, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” While marketing research may be the main source of information, don’t undervalue walking and talking to the market. So many managers have given up on observation and rely solely on focus group reports to tell them what is important to consumers.
You should not just visit grocery stores but conventions in other food categories. So many marketing managers only go to conventions where their products belong. Visit other categories. See if the trends you believe are pertinent to your products are pertinent to other categories.
Finally, don’t be afraid to put a toe in the water. You don’t have to be “all in” until you are more convinced it is where to be. Test, test, test! While it can be expensive if a product fails, it can be much more costly if you miss a burgeoning trend. Evaluating new products is not like a batting average. In many cases if you try 10 products and nine fail, you may find the one successful product pays for all the losers and then some.
No one has future vision, but some careful steps in evaluating today’s consumer can make us more successful in the future.