From the exotic to the obscure, annual industry forecasts for hot new food trends don’t always come to fruition. In 2015 we were all expected to be going wild for insects, millet and seaweed, and topping 2016’s lists were poke, baobab and algae.
Of course, sometimes they get it right (see coconuts, kale, avocados), but for the most part, your average consumer isn’t about to ditch their chips for a bowlful of fried beetles.
So can we trust food trend lists or are they just PR puffery?
A look back
In 2015, insects topped the food prediction lists. So what happened? At first glance, it might seem like they were wildly off (after all, few of us are eating bugs), but a closer look reveals a different story.
A report from GMinsights shows that the consumption of insects (known as entomophagy) has in fact been increasing steadily. In 2015, the edible insect market was worth over $33 million, with industry growth expected to be more than 40% CAGR by 2023, and according to New Food Magazine, between 2016 to 2024, Europe and North America are estimated to witness the highest CAGRs of 7.3% and 6.9%.
So is it a bonafide food trend? Yes and no. If the success of a food trend is measured in financial terms, then yes - the market growth has been strong and looks set to continue. But, if it’s defined as a significant shift in consumer food preferences, then no.
Although globally (especially in the US), there has been a steady rise in the use of insect protein in protein bars and shakes - not to mention a significant number of edible insect startups - there’s no sign of entomophagy hitting the mainstream any time soon.
One of the biggest food predictions for 2014 was vegetarianism. So what happened there? In a nutshell, the predictions were spot on. Factors like clean-eating, environmental concerns and endorsements for meat-free eating from celebrity chefs have all spurred this trend to take off and keep growing.
Earlier this year, Tesco reported a 40% increase in the sales of vegetarian food, and according to a poll by Ipsos Mori, the number of vegans in the UK rose by 360% between 2006 and 2016.
One predicted food trend that has been hitting the headlines since 2011 is cultured meat, i.e. meat grown in petri dishes as opposed to taken from animals. So what happened? Despite the hype, this meat-free ‘meat’ is not yet available to consumers and hasn’t even been given FDA approval.
Mark Post, creator of the first cultured hamburger, had this to say: ‘There has been a lot of news coverage for almost seven years now… It seems a bit excessive. The reality is that we don’t have a product yet. It’s taking quite some time and there are still hurdles to overcome on getting there.’ A survey by YouGov in 2012 found that 62% of people said they would not try genetically engineered meat, 19% were unsure and only 19% said they would try it.
While cultured meat is yet to make it to the mainstream, one trend that's gaining traction is plant-based meat alternatives. US brand, Beyond Burger (purveyors of the ‘bleeding’ meat-free burger) is set to hit the UK high street in 2018, and Bill Gates’ backed Impossible Burger is already widely available in US food stores.
So what do the experts think we’ll be eating in 2018? And are we seeing a shift in attitudes towards the provenance and ethical implications of what we consume?
Trends for 2018
According to Whole Foods’ trend report, drinkable and powdered mushrooms are predicted to be the next big thing. So will we soon be shunning our regular cappuccino in favour of the hot-tipped, antioxidant-packed mushroom coffee? Maybe. And we can look towards an older predicted coffee trend for comparison.
In 2014, ‘bulletproof’ or ‘paleo’ coffee was predicted to be the new ‘it’ drink. A blend of coffee, butter and oil, it purported to give drinkers prolonged energy, sharper focus and a feeling of fullness. Although this beverage did rise in popularity amongst the ranks of gym bunnies, most people have never tried it.
However, wellness brand Bulletproof blazed a trail in the sector, using brilliant soft power techniques to make a product that was more than simply ‘oily coffee’. Bulletproof founder, Dave Asprey, realised that the only way the business could thrive would be through clever messaging, positioning, tone and design. He didn’t create a product, he built a movement under the banner of ‘Power, Mind and Body’. Bulletproof coffee wasn’t a fad, he said, it was aimed at ‘anyone that wants to perform better’. It took something that could have been considered a fad, and built a movement around it that allowed the line to diversify and grow
The brand recently secured $19 million in Series B funding and launched its ready-to-drink buttery coffee - a drink which sold 48 million cups from their LA cafe in 2016. And in the past 2 years, paleo coffee has become the beverage of choice amongst Silicon Valley tech workers, millionaire high flyers and celebrities. So, mushroom coffee could take off, but it won’t be overnight and it’s likely to either be a short-lived fad or a niche trend.
Bulletproof serves as a great example of whether something is a short lived fad or a long term trend. Bulletproof coffee could easily have disappeared without a trace. But what Asprey did was to tap into a wider trend of peak performance, of wellbeing, of being a better you. That’s a trend that certainly isn’t going anywhere.
Mintel's 2018 Food and Drink Report, for instance, predicts that rising stress levels and more hectic lifestyles will see more consumers focussing on self-care and actively reducing or avoiding sugary or high-fat foods. This in turn is expected to have further impact on the number of new products in the healthy snack market, a market which is set to be worth $32.8 billion by 2025 (a CAGR of 5.1%).
Not only do we care about what we put in our bodies, we care more about where it comes from: the same report predicts consumer suspicion and rising interest in the provenance of our food. Between 2016 and 2017, 22% of global food and drink launches featured environmental or ethical claims, compared with just 1% ten years ago. So, 2018 is likely to see more manufacturers offering greater transparency about the ingredients and ecological impact of their products. This shifting attitude is also likely to contribute to the growing trend for clean and healthy eating.
These are food trends based on wider sociological changes, and aligned with a changing mindset of modern consumers.
So, are they all nonsense?
No, but they’re not all trends.
When brands like Whole Foods publish their trend lists, they’re preaching to the converted. Data from infoscout shows that Whole Foods shoppers generally tend to be in early middle age and fall into the high earner category ($125,000+). They have the desire and spending power to try new things, especially when there are cited health benefits. With its strong focus on health and wellbeing, the brand’s customers are likely to have a keen interest in the latest health foods and fads. So, when they read about sugar free maple and birch drinks being the next big thing, they’re more likely to buy them.
Most predicted food trends only apply to the wealthy or gourmand few. If you’re Gwyneth Paltrow, vegan buddha bowls, seaweed and probiotics are no big deal, but for something to become a bonafide trend, it needs to have mass appeal. And sometimes these things do, but it takes time to truly convert people.
Ten years ago, avocados were about as common as aardvarks in UK restaurants and supermarkets. Now, according to figures from The Grocer, we buy more avocados than oranges, and in 2016, consumers spent an extra £49 million on the green fruit. As Annika Stensson, director of research communications for the National Restaurant Association, says, ‘True food trends move at kind of a glacial pace. It can take a decade or more to reach the mainstream.’
Reports like Mintel’s Food and Drinks trends take a different approach to that of the food shops and magazines. Their research comes from a place of objectivity and focuses on shifting patterns and attitudes which are gradually shaping the future of global food consumption. By looking at the wider trends which are influencing the market (like the move towards multi-sensory food due to people wanting more ‘share-worthy’ food experiences), they can accurately predict the rise of food trends.
The truth is, real trends require a complex blend of time, pressure and PR. There has to be a powerful story behind them, one which has the power to alter people’s attitudes and convince them to permanently change their habits.