Generally speaking, past and present music powerhouses such as The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson or Beyoncé Knowles Carter may elicit words such as frenzy, exhilaration, craze or mania among their fans similar to how pumpkin, Cronuts®, ramen burgers and gluten-free products have evoked the same for foodies. Much like entertainment, food trends create excitement, interest, wonder and a sense of adventure in what’s new, what’s now, and what’s in.
In today’s foodie nation, where headline news consists of craft beer recipes, food foraging, pumpkin spice lattes and fashion accessories that are created to look like edible food (as in the case of the Bagel No.5 Chanel knockoff purse), it would be safe to surmise that trends, surrounding food have also harnessed the power of the fashion industry in the sense that it is full of fads – some successful and long-lasting, and some a bust. But why is it that certain food trends maintain long-term success, while fads that never graduate to the trend level suddenly bite the dust?
In the first segment of this two-part series discussing the reasons behind the success or failure of food trends – we will examine why some food trends thrive through the ages.
fashionSideOn the topic of the lifespan of a food trend, David Sax, author of The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue, helps to decipher this inquiry by sharing, “The trends that last are easily replicable – not too technical or expensive. They fit in, in different ways. It’s not just something that’s one specific dish, eaten one way. It’s something that can work for desserts, for cocktails, for a main course; for high-end and for low-end. Think about the extra-virgin olive oil trend of the ’90s. That’s no longer trendy; no one’s really bragging about using extra-virgin olive oil anymore. It’s just the default oil. We absorb it and move on.”
It’s Something New and Different
When it comes to menu options, being able to find the latest and greatest trending cuisine is what most of today’s consumers seek. Aside from standard menu items such as salad, soda or fries introducing something new on the menu is like redecorating your establishment. It draws attention and a sense of excitement and newness. “Time to Jump on the Bandwagon,” published by qsrmagazine.com, suggests building on a concept which taps into an idea that is gaining popularity, but is not so common that everyone’s “been there, done that.” The truth is consumers only want to be doing what’s “cool” at that moment. As Sax stated, “We crave the new; we want to be in the know. That’s how it [trends] manifests itself.”
Staying in the loop of the most current and hottest trends, keeping up-to-date with domestic and international flavor wants, is critical for survival. Additionally, following social media and review sites is a microscope into the minds of consumers to understand what they’ve seen, heard about, tasted and what they want. Successful trends are items that people can relate to. Keep in mind that similar to entertainment and fashion, consumers want what’s new, what’s fashionable, what’s now in food as well.
You Can’t Escape the Trend: It’s Everywhere and Makes the Most Noise
In the last few years, a myriad of food-related trends have emerged. Part of pinpointing the success of some is to understand how to weed through all the noise in the industry. Food blogs, television shows and food-related newsletters keep us up-to-date on everything from the explosion of food truck cuisine to supermarkets being the new dining destination over home-cooked meals. The trend of the QSR dollar menu was bid farewell and welcomed the value menu in its place for more customized options at a higher price (since many consumers believe they are getting more quality if there is an elevated cost to pay). Dining alone at full-service restaurants has become a hot trending topic, while large plates are dying out in light of tapas (portion controlled servings). And who could forget the rising popularity of insect flour and consuming chocolate covered insects as a delicacy? To understand what rises above the noise, a case in point is the “heat” trend, fueled by trend superstar sriracha.
Shortly following the food fad of kimchi – a Korean side dish usually consisting of Chinese cabbage, radish, garlic, red pepper, spring onion, ginger, salt and sugar – sriracha hot sauce blazed onto the food scene with fiery intensity similar to its bright red color. Conceptualized in the 1980s by Vietnamese immigrant David Tran, sriracha quickly became a hot commodity from its initial selling station (the back of his van) throughout the city of Los Angeles – a success that later birthed what is now one of the fastest growing food producers in America, Huy Fung Foods.
Made from red chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, salt and sugar, this addictive blend of hot, sweet and tangy, sauce has influenced the flavor of everything from dips to stews, marinades and drinks. As of late, sriracha has even intensified the lure of potato chips, ice cream, vodka, popcorn, etc. Named Bon Appetit magazine’s 2010 Ingredient of the Year, people are obsessed with sriracha simply because they like it and restaurateurs appreciate the fact that it never goes bad. Sriracha is the epitome of a successful trend because it can be used in numerous ways. Imposters have already tried to duplicate the “rooster sauce.” It has created a cult-like following; and it’s on the cusp of graduating from trendy to the next standard hot sauce, such as the example of olive oil in the ’90s. Simply put, this rooster sauce is going to continue to crow.
People Want to Put Their Star Power Behind It
In our entertainment-driven society, celebrity endorsement, influence and the media play a large part in the popularity of a food trend, giving it its own star power. For example, the cable television show “Sex and the City” allegedly helped to transform cupcakes from a mere handheld mini-cake with icing to the queen of baked goods. The cupcake was therefore inducted into “pop culture“ – a widely accepted mainstream phenomena of a given culture. There wasn’t much work for business owners to do to create a following except carry the newest trend. An additional example of star power is when famed socialite Paris Hilton helped to ignite the tart frozen yogurt craze among adolescents and young adults simply by being spotted eating the frozen treat (which, immediately helped to rocket the sweet indulgence to superstardom).
In “Why Should Anyone Care About Food Trends,“ published on www.bonappetit.com, David Sax explains that food trends would also spread without the power of the media, though it would take much longer than it does nowadays. “The speed of trends, the cycle of trends, and the volume of their impact is exacerbated by the food media,” which is an important fact to keep in mind when it comes to researching food trends and what’s in or what’s out.
Leaves Little Question to Quality
It is a fact that we test food with our eyes before allowing it into our mouths, and no matter how good something sounds or how popular it may be for the delicious taste it offers, if the fare doesn’t look correct it’s an instant turnoff. Quality and presentation come before anything in regard to ingredients. Quality makes the food taste fresher, enhances presentation and helps the establishment build a repertoire for high grade service and food. Dr. Luciano Rabboni, founder of PreGel, s.P.a, insists, “Business owners who try to save and cut corners on ingredients will result in lower sales and less success.”
The millennial generation has put a spotlight on quality ingredients. Having made food establishments such as Panera Bread, Subway and Chipotle the royalty of dining choices, it has become apparent that fresh quality and customizable ingredients are of utter importance.
According to Bonnie Riggs in qsrmagazine.com’s article “8 Fast Food Trends for ’14,” “Customers’ definition of value is fresh ingredients, quality food and good tasting food at reasonable price;” hence the growing popularity of farmer’s markets and local sourcing. Providing quality ingredients is also great for your bottom line, as consumers will pay premium prices for this benefit. Quality is a leading factor in the staying power of a trend.
Supply and Demand – Not Enough to Go Around
As proven by limited-time offers (such as the McRib) and the highly publicized Cronut® phenomenon, playing hard to get is a strategy that works extremely well on foodies and curious connoisseurs, facilitating major trends. Scarcity drives people toward food trends. Why? Because according to “Americans Hunger for Hip, Hard to Get Food,” published by nydailynews.com, experiencing an exclusive food item “is the trophy mentality. It gives you bragging rights.” Much like knowing what’s on the secret menu at Chipotle (or even that one exists), a consumer is excited because they’re in the know; they’re part of the “in” group, which leads other consumers to want to feel the same elation, thereby prolonging the life of a trend. The truth is, people want what they can’t have. As long as companies keep a steady flow of supply and stay relevant, it paves the way for the trend to not only gain momentum but leads to copycats, therefore catapulting the trend to a level where it does become readily available and commonplace, which is the ultimate goal.
Media and the entertainment industry affect food trends, but societal influences play a part in the success of certain fare, as research shows that socioeconomic status food choices help individuals identify where they fit within society. Nevertheless, one of the biggest factors surrounding the lifespan of a food trend is lifestyle choice.
Regular yogurt vs. Greek yogurt. Organic produce vs. regular produce. Wild-caught fish vs. farm-raised. Carnivorous vs. vegetarian vs. vegan. Processed foods vs. fresh. The list goes on and on in the saga of this lifestyle trend vs. that lifestyle trend. And bacon is a great example of a fad turned trend that almost didn’t happen based on the lifestyle trend of the 1980s that bolstered fat-free living. It wasn’t until bacon was marketed as a flavor-enhancer for the lean burgers that fast food restaurants were pushing in light of the “healthy” lifestyle movement that bacon began to get a footing in the market again. Now bacon is found in everything from burgers to shakes to being paired with chocolate, making it the most popular condiment following salt and pepper. The change? People find it to be delicious and useful in all areas of dining – this means breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack time.
Keeping the pulse of a food trend heavily depends on many factors – quality, scarcity, lifestyle influence – and a little push from the rich and famous doesn’t hurt. But old fashioned innovation, fresh preparation and use in more than one application keep the trend exciting and interesting. In the next issue of Key Notes, Part 2 of “The Lifespan of Trends,“ we’ll discuss the inverse of a trend’s success to understand why fads fail to reach trend status.