When discussing trends, it is helpful to distinguish between larger “consumer trends” and “culinary trends.” Consumer trends are larger societal trends, like Health and Wellness, Customization, or Green Living. When consumers decide to embrace Green Living, for example, their desires shift from wanting gas-guzzling cars to more energy-efficient ones. This shift affects their food and beverage desires, too. Green Living consumers might stick to tap water instead of bottled water in restaurants to limit waste and the carbon load of shipping water. They might also demand grass-fed beef and sustainable seafood.
In this way, we see the driver, or compelling force, behind grass-fed beef is the larger trend of Green Living. When there are multiple drivers behind a potential trend, it is more likely to grow and spread. A secondary consumer trend driver behind grass-fed beef is Health and Wellness; grass-fed beef has less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids than regular beef.
In this example, grass-fed beef is what we call the “culinary trend.” Culinary trends are defined as the new ingredients, flavor profiles, cooking methods and foods that appear on menus, in grocery stores, and on our kitchen tables. Larger consumer trends have a powerful influence on the growth of many culinary trends.
The Center for Culinary Development (CCD) has developed a proprietary Trend Mapping process to spot and track these kinds of trends. Emerging culinary trends appear in fine dining and ethnic restaurants, or Stage 1 on the map. Stage 2 trends show up in gourmet food magazines, on the Food Network, and in specialty food stores like Sur La Table or Dean & Deluca. Casual-chain restaurants and cookware stores like Williams-Sonoma are home to Stage 3 trends while Stage 4 trends surface in mainstream women’s magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens. By the time a trend hits Stage 5 it is essentially mainstream, found on grocery store shelves and quick-service menus.
Gathering trend data to plot along the Trend Map is an observational practice. It requires reading a myriad of menus and restaurant reviews, perusing a wide variety of food magazines and store catalogs, and avidly culling from industry media. There is also a need to get out on the street to see what is really going on, who is eating what, with whom, when, and where. Sampling is a happy must.
Beyond observation and personal experience, however, industry statistics support accurate Trend Mapping.
New-product-introduction data charts the rise (or stagnation) of new ingredients as they emerge in one food category and spread to others. National branded sales data show how popular these products are on the marketplace. Menu tracking reports, like those from Food Beat Inc., supply current and historical menu mentions from chain and fine-dining restaurants.
Bit by bit, a trend portrait emerges when observational data combines with industry statistics to construct a Trend Map. Yet trends aren’t static by nature; they spread and grow, so trend adoption rates must be considered, too.