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Food Forecasting – should we take it with a pinch of pink salt?

10 Jan, 2017

Food trend forecasting is common place nowadays, we take a look at it's credibility and if it can really be relied upon.

In the world of PR, we have to know what’s going to be hot and what’s not. The media’s “trend thermometer” constantly moves up and down and is a great guide when developing PR plans.

It’s important that our clients are ahead of the curve in order to stand out in a crowded market place. So how do trends come about? Who are the influencers and on what grounds have they based their predictions? And more importantly do they actually come to fruition?

For decades various foods have gone in and out of fashion, with many retro dishes making a nostalgic comeback such as prawn cocktail and chicken kiev for the noughties. Or humble ingredients like cauliflower – granny’s old fashioned overcooked cauliflower cheese has now been reinvented as cauliflower “rice” for the hipster clean eaters of late.

Excitement comes around every December when magazines, bloggers, restaurateurs, food brands, retailers and data analysts build their lists of what’s going to be the next big thing. Past trends such as avocado, kale and coconut oil were championed by health conscious celebrities whose mega followings helped drive sales. On the flip side, some chefs looked to give their customers “#sorrynotsorry” indulgence in retaliation.

More recently, while some of us took to comfort food in a big way like updated mac n cheese, red velvet cake and salted caramel, many food predictions have gone nowhere at all… who had congee or funnel cakes last year? This is the issue with food trends – are they based on a small minority touting what the top celebrities have tried once and liked? Many so-called trends are way too fleeting to take seriously.

Social media is surely the quickest way for a trend to grow - a popular idea can be turned around in a matter of weeks, making it less risky to trial these days. Trends arise when forecasters scrutinise what’s happening overseas to see what’s causing a stir. Think about the Asian food explosion recently which brought Korea’s kimchi; Japan’s seaweed and Vietnam’s bao to the UK. From America we had the rise of 18 hour smoked brisket, bbq wings, oozy burgers, as well as picking up the lingo: bark, burnt ends, pork butt and chipotle etc. from Man Vs Food so we too can sound like proper pit-masters in a matter of months!

London gives the impression it is revolutionising food but actually do we just look across the pond at what has happened in the States already? Remember cupcakes, cronuts, green juice, smoked food and ramen. Poke is the latest in a long line of “been there, done that” which is now on the UK’s 2017 hit list. Does it matter if we copycat? What are our own entrepreneurs coming up with? Crème Egg brownies and Haddock Scotch Eggs spring to mind and there’s nothing wrong with those!

Trends differ somewhat within the restaurant industry. Michelin star chef Simon Hulstone of the Elephant in Torquay told us “Top chefs are moving from fine dining into more casual restaurants with a high turnover. I see a lot of issues with rates and rents in the City and a slowdown of new openings and unfortunately a lot of closures. More of the high end restaurants are moving out into the suburbs with gardens and farms attached for the added PR factor and lower costs. I myself have been rearing and growing my own produce for the Elephant for years – it was the only way to survive!”

Simon also believes that healthy eating and provenance are still high on the list for chefs and that the bao bun trend will be replaced by tacos this year. This has been echoed by other forecasters too. We shall ultimately have to wait and see, but our own humble predictions are as follows:

  • More restaurants with a keen focus on recycling/ zero food waste (Silo, Brighton was the first)
  • More consumers reducing food waste by donating food dishes to neighbours/ elderly/ those in need
  • Craft beers and gin will continue to be strong, joined by a resurrection in old fashioned cocktails and innovative fruit beers
  • Meal kits – more independent delivery box schemes with different themes e.g. Mexican boxes, Persian boxes etc.
  • Clean eating giving way to more interesting vegetarian food
  • More home/restaurant in-house smoking of food.
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