I work with brands to help them launch products that will not just appeal to consumers but ultimately help the retailers they work with to increase check out values and attract new shoppers to their outlets. While doing this work my clients and I often get into discussions about how they can leverage my trend insight to accomplish these goals.

After many of these conversations, it’s become obvious that the word ‘trends’ is so overused that it verges on meaninglessness. It’s used so loosely that it can be difficult to know what people really mean when they call something a trend. So, to help avoid confusion, I developed my own way of defining trends. I’ve found my definitions extremely useful in giving my observations the context they need to be understood by everyone in the conversation:

New Trend Tree

  • Forces: The overarching needs and desires people in particular cultures have at any given time. Forces shape current trends and generally shape our food related behaviour — cooking, dining, shopping and dieting — for a decade or longer.
  • Trends: The choices and behaviour we exhibit as a response to the forces impinging on our lives. Trends can grow and change over time if pushed or pulled in various directions (see below).
  • Fads: Offshoots of trends that generally last for less than a year or that occur in an isolated location due to local factors.

One of the most common traps I see marketers fall into is doing shallow research. For instance, if you see several blog posts on the same topic such as monkey bread, does that mean that you’ve uncovered a trend?  Nope. A handful of blog posts does not a trend make. It just means that several people share a passing interest in the same delicious topic. You need to dig deeper to understand that in the case of monkey bread, the real trend you’re seeing is the resurgence in home baking and cocooning.

The real retail magic lies with being the first launch a product that has a true link to a market force. Such products aren’t emerging trends that need a lot of explanation. Their foods and ingredients that satisfy unmet need states and are easily understood. Take green pumpkin seeds as an example. They aren’t new but yet they are suddenly popular as both a stand-alone product and as an ingredient added to other products such as granola, cookies and pesto.  What forces are propelling this ingredient trend?

Green pumpkin seeds have always been delicious and crunchy, but recent medical research links these seeds to health and wellness benefits. They supply an abundance of minerals and protein which can help us feel energetic and full longer. Likewise, as nuts become increasingly shunned by institutions that deal with children, seeds become a great stand-in for allergy aware schools, restaurants and food companies. Thus, we see the force of health and wellness propelling green pumpkin seeds to popularity with a two-handed push.

So what’s the takeaway advice marketers and product development teams need to note? Don’t just assume that the myriad trend lists you collect are all valid. Consider who published each one and who the sources they quote are. If a flavouring company says that lavender is the next big thing, ask them if they have recently developed a new lavender flavour. Likewise, use the free tools you have at hand to see who is talking about various foods. If you do a twitter, instagram or google search and see that chefs and food lovers are talking about a food or ingredient, it might be a trend (or at the very least a fad). But, if your research reveals that only people that have a commercial interest in the topic are talking about it, be wary.