Avoiding Information Overwhelm (1): Breaking Down the Food Trends

Avoiding Information Overwhelm (1): Breaking Down the Food Trends

We're all about purpose and the bigger picture these days, doing our best to do more good and do less harm as we munch our way through our days. But on the scale of ‘What’s for dinner?’ and ‘Saving my life, the planet and all of humanity’, fast-moving food trends are fighting for our attention, with seemingly no real hierarchy in the seriousness stakes.

The food trends scene is a lively, exciting hotbed of ideas, innovation and energetic activity and community. It's a colourful blend of culture, flavour, experimentation, and a great feeling of both being ahead and part of a progressive tribe.

But in terms of brand story, whether we're setting the trends or keeping up with them, it's crucial to keep our heads if we're to avoid mixed messages. Otherwise we can make the mistake of what could have been fab, becoming a fad, and not spotting the warning signs in time.

Breaking down the Food Trends

Each time I see the latest ‘trend’ emerging in the press - whether in magazines, blogs, websites or social media - the more I understand that in order to truly chart the food landscape, we have to be able to see the difference between the various types of information and insights that come our way. To spot the critical messages, often presented at the exact same level as marketing fun. Otherwise it's easy to become more than a little confused by the onslaught of mixed information.

    Despite this, food trends are often presented in a time-sensitive list in no particular order, or with any context behind what has brought them about. 'Top 10 Food Trends for 2017', 'What's Hot for 2018'. 

    But it's important for brands to understand their influence.

    SO. The word Trend can be defined two ways:

    1. a general direction in which something is developing or changing.
    2. a fashion.

    And when we see a list of upcoming food trends, we personally break them down into the same two categories and call them:

    1. Insight
    2. Engagement

    Below you can see how they sit in context with Purpose and overall Brand Story, as they are all interconnected and must be considered together to maintain authenticity. 


    1. When 'Food Trend' means INSIGHT

    We see Insight as gleaned from three distinct areas, and believe it's best to have an up-to-date understanding of them all. These each inform food industry output and communication as industry professionals listen and react to these influences and entwine them with their Purpose and Engagement strategy:

    a. Consumer Need

    Consumer Need is movements and changes in society driven by people, their habits and daily life. The problems in society and the world that we-as-consumers wish to see solved in our lifetime and beyond, that determine the decisions we make, and the expectations we have as buyers and influencers.

    Examples include:
    Low Income
    Environmental Awareness
    Animal Welfare

    b. Timeless Wisdom

    Timeless Wisdom is centuries of knowledge and generally reflects the human desire for stability and simplicity. Methods of cooking and practices that our great-grandparents would have employed; customs from ancient cultures. These ‘trends’ are steeped in common sense and are embedded in social culture, and, as it's human nature to hark back to the past for proven knowledge and reassurance, are always present. The only thing that makes them appear to be Popular Culture or a source of occasional inspiration (see below) is our periodic interest in them or a specific marketing campaign. They are generally based on solid values and practicable ideals, often leaving people scratching their heads when they're popular for just a season, saying 'But my grandmother taught us that!', etc.

    Examples include:
    Plant-Based Diet
    Eating for Health

    Using Every Scrap

    c. Food Futures

    Food Futures is the stuff of global change - focused on sustainable living, preserving the planet and its inhabitants, feeding a growing population, and improving health for longer life expectancy. They are the heavyweight conversations that may be quite hard to digest, but are (or should be) a constant industry influence nonetheless. Often stemming from the scientific and academic world, they are endeavouring to change everyone's behaviour for the common good, and the current challenge is breaking down the scale of these topics for mass appeal and application at various levels of industry and consumer life. 

    Examples include:
    Zero Waste
    Insect Proteins
    Meat Alternatives


    2. When 'Food Trend' means ENGAGEMENT

    aka. On-Trend Inspiration

    On-Trend is 'in fashion', or a fashionable perspective - the final garnish to Insight and Purpose, used to bring emerging products or experiences to life, inspire and uplift their audience, and differentiate in a crowded marketplace.

    Largely what is considered to be the real meaning of the word 'trend' is 'on-trend', the marketing themes and campaigns connected to popular culture or current affairs to generate engagement and buzz, whether to sell products, communicate changemaking messages, or both. They're topical and seasonal, and must be developed in combination with well-researched Insights and also Purpose, to have the necessary substance and longevity.

    Examples* include:
    Great British Bake Off (
    based on Insight into rise in nostalgia and homegrown values as realised by popular TV show)
    Insta-Ready Eats
    (based on Insight into rising social media usage)
    Flexitarianism (based on Insight into increase in veganism and animal welfare concerns)
    Meal Kits (based on Insight into health concerns over readymeals, versus busy working lives)

    *Your particular leanings will be based on your own solid Purpose.


    A sidenote on PURPOSE

    Often, brands which haven't identified their own Purpose effectively latch on to any example of popular culture, which by nature is momentary and fleeting. It may seem buzzy for a while, but it passes, leaving these brands high and dry, without an enduring message to communicate, and, occasionally, feeling a little bit foolish. They need an unshakeable Brand Story to avoid this (but that's another post!).

    Connect the Dots

    The Insights are comparatively slow-moving, and need focus, as they are key to our lives and  development. Even if we are more focused on one of the three areas in particular, it takes an understanding of each to inform our decisions in line with our Purpose and ensure a good fit.

    For example, if your Purpose is community development, like a charity or council, and the Insight you have is the Consumer Need to resolve feeding families on Low income, you'll be looking at ways to be thrifty and make things stretch. That leads you to old practices of Timeless Wisdom, possibly around Preserving or Using Every Scrap, with a high-five to the Food Futures topic of Zero Waste.

    Only when that is absolutely clear, well-researched and cross-referenced, can the marketers seek optimum engagement with the consumers by consulting Popular Culture or Current Affairs for an on-trend Engagement strategy, putting a contemporary spin on things with up-and-coming foodie people and places, and coining catchy phrases like Nose-to-Tail or Root-to-Stem.

    And thus it will work its way, via our habits, homes, retailers and restaurants, into our hearts.

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