The Art of Forecasting Food Trends
July 05, 2017

The Art of Forecasting Food Trends

Food trends are becoming seemingly more popular than fashion trends these days, taking over restaurants, fast casual chains, and social media. We can even see the effects of food trends reflected in packaged foods at grocery stores. However, the way food trends manifest is not just a coincidence. Each part of the food industry listens closely to the demands and behavior of consumers.

Do you remember when wraps were all the rage? What about when tiny desserts became popular? Can you recall a time when kale wasn’t on almost every restaurant menu?

Food trends are always coming and going, but, it’s important to make the distinction between a legitimate food trend and a fleeting food obsession. For example, the use of kale in just about everything was a trend. On the other hand, mashup pastries like cronuts and rainbow-colored food, which is something we saw take over social media this year, are simply food obsessions.

Experts have said that food trends tend to fall into one of four categories: convenience, health, indulgence, and environment. By looking at a few core sources where food trends are first spotted, we can break down how forecasting them works.

Social Media

Social media and the growing popularity of Pinterest and Instagram have had a huge effect on the food trends of the last few years. Before those platforms existed, it would take a couple years for a trend to come into the mainstream and then get replaced by a new one. Now, trends evolve much faster.

One of the main reasons social media is a factor of predicting food trends is the data that backs their predictions up. Experts can analyze how popular a type of food or ingredient is by how many users on each platform are tagging it, taking photos of it, engaging with relevant content, and more.

Pinterest has become a powerful food trend predicting engine by analyzing the interest of its huge user base every year. In 2016, Pinterest reported having over 150 Million monthly users. This platform has become so influential we are now finding nationally recognized brands like Oreo and using it to promote their recipes and keep their brands top of mind in this food trend craziness.

This year, Pinterest shared their food trend list which included jackfruit, the national fruit of Bangladesh. Its growing popularity is credited to the vegan and vegetarian communities who hail it as a superfood that’s rich with nutrients, vitamins, and protein. The craze over foods that fit well with vegan and vegetarian diets fit perfectly with the predictions of other sources, which we go into further below.

For any food trend list that included “food in bowls,” Pinterest has the data to back it up. Not only is food more photogenic in bowls (and thus better for aesthetically pleasing social media posts), but eating from a bowl promotes “mindful” food consumption as well, which is yet another trend on the 2017 list.

The data that social media brings to the table is strong; however, it’s not the only factor in predicting food.

Talking to Experts & Brands

Another way food trends are predicted are by tapping into the knowledge of chefs, food retailers and dietitians.

Nutrition magazine Today’s Dietitian recently published the results of their fifth annual “What’s Trending In Nutrition” national food trend survey. The survey polled more than 1,700 registered dietitians (RD) all over the country on 2017’s big food trends.

Just like the ones pulled from Pinterest, one trend that stuck out to RDs was the push towards eating “mindfully” instead of dieting. Another notable figure is that according the poll, 59 percent of consumers are choosing to “eat clean” instead of going for processed, packaged foods.

Aside from experts like RDs, food brands and grocery stores have a say in predicting trends as well, since they also have plenty of consumer data to analyze. For example, the experts in charge of tracking consumer behavior at Whole Foods put a list together that also highlights the growing focus toward products that boost health and well-being.

One of their predictions included a rise in popularity of wellness tonics made with botanicals that have roots in alternative, holistic medicine. Maybe tonics will replace green juice?

Another one of their predictions was the rise in popularity of purple foods, like purple cauliflower. This was on Pinterest’s list as well, which makes perfect sense – as purple foods add a splash of color to the plate (and photographs of food for social media), plus deeply-colored vegetables tend to be high in nutritious carotenoids.

It's Both a Science & an Art

If you’re wondering how a certain food or cuisine became popular, all you have to do is take a closer look at the why behind it.

Take fermentation, for example, which was on many 2017 food trend prediction lists. While it might seem random, there are several reasons why fermentation is taking off this year. It definitely has something to with America’s ever-growing fascination with Korean food, particularly kimchi. It is also a result of chefs’ efforts to reduce food waste by pickling odds and ends of vegetables that would normally be thrown out. Another factor is the growing interest in gut health, which is why probiotics and kombucha have gotten more popular. Combine all of these factors and you can call fermentation a legitimate food trend.

Like trends in fashion, art and film, you have to consider the context of what’s going on in the world too. The clean eating trend makes so much sense since the American public (and chefs as well) are becoming more focused on mindful, healthy eating and using organic, natural, whole ingredients. That’s why related food trends are likely to follow.

The organic lead

While it might seem like something of a recent food trend, organic farming has been around since the 1940s. J.I. Rodale, who founded Rodale, Inc. first tested organic gardening methods at his experimental farm in Pennsylvania and is generally considered the father of organic farming in the U.S. But it was California that led the way when it came to mainstreaming organic farming in the 1970s.

Some of the first standards in organic farming were established by the California Certified Organic Farmers, formed in 1973. Their first newsletter, which outlined a set of 13 rules governing organic farming, was done out of a home in Santa Cruz. Their rules, such as refraining from using pesticides, were integrated with state laws adopted by California in the 1990s and went on to form the basis for USDA’s national organic program.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation pegs California as the state with the highest number of certified organic farms in the country – there are a little over 2,800 such farms. That’s no surprise, considering the fact that the Golden State has always pioneered new food trends. Today, it is in the grip of going local, organic, and seasonal. A 2014 study by the USDA showed that the number of farmer’s markets in the state have quadrupled in the past two decades alone. California is also the state with the highest number of farms selling produce directly to restaurants and retailers.

What Gen Z wants
 
This trend toward going organic and local can be seen in juxtaposition with how Generation Z views the current food scene. Between ages five and 20, this new generation has a clear preference for meals that are fresh and made at home. Believing that cooking is trendy, they are going back to the basics. Shaped by recession and terrorism, they are predisposed towards striving for stability. It’s a generation that demands value from food they consume anywhere, and they aren’t buying simply because they recognize a brand.

In the next few years, we’ll probably start to see more and more food brands, retailers, and chains start making healthy food available to the masses by finding cheaper ways to meet the demands and behavior of American consumers. The mindful, healthy eating trend is just one example of how social media, experts and the science behind forecasting food trends come together to inform what we’ll all be eating in the years to come.

As one of the richest culinary and agricultural production regions in the world, you can be certain that you will catch the latest food trends at this year’s Fresno Food Expo. To learn more about the region’s food trendsetters and  cuisine, check out our website and visit the Fresno Food Expo coming up in just a few short weeks!!

The Fresno Food Expo is the nation’s largest regional food tradeshow. The Expo will be held on July 26-27, 2017 in Fresno, California, during Central California’s prime growing season. Our mission is to provide a platform that increases the commerce and connectivity of Central California’s food and beverage related companies, while creating a regional identity centered around the celebration of food production and the experience food inspires.

 

 

 

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