Food Trends – What’s Next in 2018?

Amy Stern - 03/15/2018

As a food brand manager, you’re tasked with more than growing awareness. You must also make sure the financial stability of the brand continues to thrive via strong sales. It’s also likely you’ve had to launch several new consumer packaged goods (CPG) products during your tenure, wondering if they’ll be the start of a hot new food trend.


I recently attended the 40th Anniversary conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) in New York City, not far from our New Jersey headquarters. There I had the opportunity to attend an engaging panel that included:

The three had a vibrant discussion about food trends and where they might be headed in 2018 and beyond. Here’s what I learned:

How to define a trend

Repeatedly, the panel described a food trend as human behavior that reflects relevance. Behavior must be examined from the lens of not how a particular food impacts fine dining, but whether it has relevance to change how America eats. In other words, we’re not talking about a niche sector of the population, but more widespread absorption of a concept.

Maeve and Sheri both explained how they’re involved with the study and analysis of ethnography, observing choices and behaviors that individuals make, but ultimately looking at data that reflects a more pervasive pattern. They customize insights into narratives to be shared with their clients. Ultimately, a trend is something that has staying power vs. a fad that lacks authenticity and has a fleeting shelf life.

Life Stages of a Trend

Yarden talked about Google’s role in gathering data that tracks trends and is available for the purpose of providing strategic insight to food companies. She said it’s important to understand where the consumer is in the process. For example, she explained that the concept of Cold Brew coffee was actually introduced several years before it took off at retail. Her point was that while it became a trend eventually, consumers weren’t ready for it the first time it was introduced.

How to Spot a Trend

It’s a documented fact that many food trends first take root in food service, eventually trickling down and being adapted by consumers. Another way to spot a trend is to look at what the major brands are doing. For example, avocados have been around for a long time, but the litmus test that they’d become a trend was when Subway and McDonald’s put them on their menus, said Sheri. Keep in mind that if it’s already here, the wave has crested. Often the presence of a new group of immigrants can reflect the next food trend. Just look at what’s happening to Korean food right now!

Role of Social Media

Instagram, with its highly visual platform has had a big impact on food trends and will likely continue to do so. Again, it’s important to evaluate the relevance of what’s depicted. Does it have the ability to appeal to a broad audience or is it more suited to a specialized demographic?

Given consumer access to volumes of information and the cross-pollination of industry information, one of the key insights uncovered by Yarden was that the food industry needs to do a better job to look outside themselves for trend indicators. One example was the popularity of pink eye shadow and pink hair in the cosmetics and beauty industry, which led to the Starbuck’s Unicorn Frappuccino. That said, following the Instagram trend can backfire. For example, black top milkshakes and charcoal hamburger buns did not work well for Burger King. Food brands must also assess the practicality of launching something trendy. The longevity to deliver ROI, cost of production, and product shelf-life are all critical questions that must be answered.

Yarden said, “It’s important to not only look as what’s trending now, but to look at what’s not.” There are always points and counterpoints and sometimes the next thing is what’s not hot now.

So, What Is the Next Hot Food Trend?

The panel was hesitant to go “on record” as to the next hot food trend. They did underscore, however, the importance of accessibility in determining a valuable trend.

The panelists suggested keeping an eye on the following food categories:

  • Indian – citing its popularity in urban areas but only recently it’s impact on broader rural areas of the U.S.
  • Middle Eastern – maybe yes, maybe no – time will tell as the geopolitical climate may be a hinderance
  • African cultures

Corporate social responsibility will continue to play a role in shaping trends as suggested by the example that a scalable solution to the food waste problem might someday come to fruition. Other recommendations regarding staying on top of trends included reading industry new letters and publications such as those published by the CIA, Saveur, Cooking Light and The New York Times.

Leveraging Food Trends to Build Awareness & Drive Product Trial

What’s Hot Now? is the elusive “million-dollar” question that media outlets try desperately to answer. If you’re a food brand looking to increase awareness and drive trial, be sure your agency partner is not only tuned into current trends, but aware of those that are emerging. You’ll want to be sure they can leverage those developments that are directly applicable to your product portfolio, whether it is a new product launching at market or family favorite that’s been in the pantry for years.

A good publicist will look beyond the product itself when connecting to trend-worthy stories. For example, where and how are the raw ingredients sourced? Is there something unusual about the production process or how the finished product is transported to market? What about issues like fair-trade or sustainability? Those are just a few of the buzzworthy topics that could be news. Below are some questions you should be asking your agency to make sure they’re capable of leveraging the next hot food trend:

  • Does my publicist read any industry newsletters? Which ones?
  • Are they connected to lifestyle gurus and contributing reporters at top news outlets?
  • What kind of relationships do they have with bloggers and digital influencers, not only in food but in other areas, as well?
  • Are they submitting my products for industry awards –at key trade shows, as well as those that appear in mainstream media outlets?
  • Are they paying attention to conversations across pop-culture? In other words, are they monitoring conversations in social media with the ability to jump in when and where my brand can contribute?

For most CPG brands, it’s not about launching products because you think they will be become trendy, but leveraging your existing product portfolio to be sure you can contribute to the conversation as it is happening. Always remember that it’s more important to remain authentic and true to your core brand identity, than to chase trends. Changing your spots to fit in is one sure way to dilute the brand equity you’ve worked so hard to build.

To learn more about the marketing services that can help you lift your brand and leverage food trends, visit our Food Marketing page.

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