Four food industry experts put their heads together to provide an IFT16 audience with some new insights into the critically important task of differentiating trends from fads in a Tuesday morning Hot Topic session titled “Crickets, GMOs, Gluten-Free … Separating Food Fads From Food Trends.” The panelists included Jonathan Baugher, manager of scientific affairs for Blue Mountain Flavors,
Scott Riefler, vice-president of sales for TIC Gums, Mark Hughes, president of Anderson Partners Food Ingredient Marketing, and Taylor Wallace, principal consultant of the Think Healthy Group.
The panelists began by defining the two terms. “When I think of a fad, I think of fad diets,” said Wallace. “I feel that a trend is more scientifically substantiated … whereas a fad is very grass roots driven.” Hughes said that time frame is key differentiator: Trends are long-term, and fads are short-term and generally unsustainable. “At the beginning, they’re very similar and hard to differentiate,” Riefler acknowledged.
For ingredient companies like TIC Gums, staying on top of trends is a business imperative, Riefler emphasized. “For us, when the bell rings, we have to be there,” he said. “We’ve already missed the opportunity if we wait to see what the CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies are doing. “
From the topic of trends, the conversation moved to megatrends—mainstream, broadly based trends that play a major role in shaping consumer behavior. “The biggest trend is health and wellness and Americans’ interest in healthy diets,” said Hughes. From a manufacturing side, that currently falls largely under the clean label umbrella, Hughes continued. In a subsequent discussion of megatrends, Hughes also cited convenience and sustainability. Perceived wholesomeness is another important megatrend, according to Baugher, and Wallace added transparency to the list of megatrends.
Looking at flavors and taste, globalization has been a major trend driver, Wallace noted. Riefler threw sensory into the megatrend mix. “If you look into what is going on in the restaurant industry, that often is a good indicator,” he said. Trendsetting chefs are focusing heavily on the sensory aspects of food, including texture and presentation, he pointed out, noting that “right now, texture is king.”
The panelists devoted considerable attention to the topic of social media and its role in driving trends within the food industry. “We’re seeing the emergence of a whole other level of social media in which ingredient companies are talking to their customers,” said Hughes. “It’s really emerging as a communication platform in the b-to-b (business-to-business) area. B-to-b social media and digital communication are great ways for companies to stay in touch with their customers.”
Email is falling by the wayside as a business communication tool, Riefler noted, while instant messaging, Twitter, and Facebook are on the rise. Companies that don’t pay attention to messages received via social media will miss out, he emphasized. Anderson added that he’s seeing a move away from face-to-face contact, including lunch and dinner meetings.
In addition to the b-to-b component, social media matters as a mechanism for listening to the customer.
Hughes pointed out that in the era before social media, companies spoke to their customers, but the customers typically didn’t talk back. With the rise of social media, that’s changed, and it’s now a two-way conversation. “Social media has accelerated the ability for a small company to start a conversation,” added Baugher. Wallace singled out Chobani as an example of a company that has done an excellent job of tapping into social media as a vehicle for gleaning insight into the wants and needs of consumers and using that information to shape product development.
Hughes reminded those in attendance of the importance of adopting a global perspective in matters of business analysis. “There’s a very big world out there, and we’re a very small part of it,” he said. Marketers and product developers seeking to keep their fingers on the pulse of trends should “look at the entire planet,” he advised, noting that it’s critical to stay abreast of trends in the developing world.