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13 Feb, 2012

What’s Cooking? New Study on Food Trends Can Boost Culinary Tourism

JWT Intelligence Centre

What and how we eat today might look quite baffling to anyone who’s missed the past decade: buying gluten-free treats from a food truck, for instance, or “Foodspotting” an order of locally sourced, heirloom vegetables. Yet at the same time we’re reconnecting with our past, looking to eat more communally and celebrating regional food traditions, even digging up antique recipes.

“What’s Cooking? Trends in Food” is a survey conducted by the global advertising and marketing agency JWTIntelligence of what’s changing when it comes to how we find, cook and eat food, how we think about what we eat and how brands are marketing food. It does so through the lens of eight relevant macro trends — including Food as the New Eco-Issue, Screened Interactions and Maximum Disclosure — as well as three overarching trends shaping the category: the influence of technology, the rise of health and wellness, and foodie culture. Within these trends, we spotlight myriad things to watch we’ve been tracking.

In addition to desk research, JWTIntelligence interviewed influencers and experts in food, received input from the JWT planning network and conducted quantitative surveys in the U.S. and the U.K. The surveys used SONAR™, JWT’s proprietary online research tool, to poll 1,270 adults aged 21-plus from Jan. 19-24.

Some of the key quotes and trends in the report which can be downloaded free here (registration required):

  • Foodies take their dining seriously, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun: We’ve seen the rise of theatrical events that turn eating into a high-concept production filled with surprise and whimsy.

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  • Along with foodie-ism, a couple of trends—green markets, mobile vendors (food trucks), affinity for local purveyors and the DIY movement—are helping to propel local food fairs: markets comprising vendors that each focus on a few specialty dishes or goods.
  • Unconventional ingredients, meats and dishes are popping up on menus of the more trendy variety, often in conjunction with the nose-to-tail trend.
  • The wall between the kitchen and the restaurant dining room has been disappearing—allowing curious customers to watch the cooks in action—and now some restaurants are conflating the two altogether.
  • As various international foods infiltrate markets worldwide—sushi is going mass market in Venezuela; Mexican and Argentinean restaurants are finding favor in Australia—there’s concurrently a new appreciation for national and regional foods, and cooking techniques unique to one’s heritage. In Greece, for instance, local brands are prospering and touting their Greekness, while major foreign brands are playing up Greek ingredients or “Made in Greece.”
  • The heritage trend is making its way to food, with chefs digging up recipes and adding ingredients from yesteryear.
  • High-end, high-tech kitchen techniques are increasingly filtering down to ambitious home cooks. They’re trying out sous vide, for example, an exacting method that involves vacuum-packing food and cooking it at precise temperatures, yielding juicy, intensely flavorful dishes.
  • The environmental impact of our food choices will become a more prominent concern as stakeholders—brands, governments and activist organizations—drive awareness around the issue and rethink what kind of food is sold and how it’s made. As more regions grapple with food shortages and/or spiking costs, smarter practices around food will join the stable of green “best practices.”
  • As extreme weather wreaks havoc on crop yields, watch for already-high food prices to spike further thanks to droughts, flooding and other irregularities brought on by climate change. For example, Thailand, the world’s biggest rice producer, is expecting smaller yields thanks in part to its disastrous floods.
  • As much as a third of the food produced worldwide, or 1.3 billion metric tons, is lost or wasted each year, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Not only is this a waste of valuable land, water and energy resources, but most of the discarded food actually contributes to global warming because it ends up in landfills, where it creates methane.
  • “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change,” concluded a 2010 U.N. report, as summarized by The Guardian. Until fairly recently, vegans and vegetarians most commonly cited “animal rights” as their ethical motivation, but increasingly the environmental benefits are sharing equal if not top billing. And the idea of eating less, very little or no meat for environmental reasons is gaining ground.
  • The rooftop-gardening concept increasingly popular among restaurants and hotels is evolving into large-scale farming projects.
  • The need for new, greener practices around food will become increasingly clear to brands and consumers as demand spikes, natural resources get squeezed and climate change wreaks havoc on the supply chain. As consumers better understand how their food choices impact the environment, they will slowly change their habits—motivated both by price spikes and conscience—and expect food brands to similarly evolve.
  • As the eco spotlight focuses on the environmental costs of packaging, brands will increasingly switch to bottles, boxes and other solutions that reduce, reuse, recycle, remove and renew. The ultimate goal is “cradle-to-cradle” packaging—sustainable from creation to disposal.
  • With green initiatives now a necessity rather than a competitive advantage, it’s becoming imperative for brands to retool their packaging, and to do so according to an expanding range of criteria (packaging should be manufactured using clean technologies, designed to optimize materials and energy, use as much renewable or recyclable material as possible, and so on).
  • Awareness of good nutritional habits has been steadily rising, even as obesity becomes a more pressing issue—in turn driving governments and health advocates to further push both consumers and brands to adopt healthier ways.
  • The fat tax is the new sin tax: In a bid to put the brakes on obesity, governments will try to push consumers away from unhealthy foods with cost disincentives.
  • In recent years vending machines have been moving beyond food into new categories, dispensing everything from gold bars to prescription drugs. But we’re also seeing new thinking within food itself as machines get refocused for health-conscious consumers and retooled as devices for selling fresh rather than packaged foods—everything from milk to fish and meat.
  • As obesity rates continue to climb worldwide, we’ll see experimentation in school and workplace cafeterias, with offerings rearranged to encourage smarter choices—e.g., more nutritious selections at the front of the line, and fruit in attractive bowls. Red tongs for higher-calorie selections and other sly cues will prompt people to reconsider their choices.
  • Consumers will continue to tailor their diets to add foods that naturally provide internal and even external benefits and to remove anything perceived as problematic, from gluten and various allergens to salt and processed foods.
  • Competitive pressures and legal requirements are forcing manufacturers and retailers to take transparency to the max, disclosing more about nutritional data, green credentials, sourcing, social responsibility issues (Fair Trade, etc.) and the people and processes behind the brand.
  • There’s a new, expanded answer to the question, Where does my food come from? The rising preference for local foods and supporting small farmers and for more natural foods, as well as concerns about food safety, has driven a surge in disclosure about the farm-to-fork journey, the people behind that journey and how the process works.
  • This trend represents a coming together of the green movement, the health and wellness movement, government anti- obesity efforts, the local movement, fears about food safety and, of course, the transparency trend.
  • Faced with constant reminders about what to do (exercise more, eat better) and what not to do (overspend, overeat), and fatigued from several years of austerity, consumers will look for ways to live a little without giving up a lot. People have been exercising more self-control, and increasingly they’re looking to let loose once in a while: indulging in sinful things, splurging on treats and at least momentarily escaping from today’s many worries.
  • While people generally understand the need to adopt healthier habits, the reverse-psychology effect of regulations and new cultural norms adds some rebellious appeal to “bad” behaviors. Consumers will tire of the guilt associated with anything that seems out of step. Marketers can discourage overthinking and encourage more spontaneous enjoyment of life’s pleasures. Brands can help to remove anxiety around indulgent choices and showcase how their indulgences are permissible—enabling people to live a little without feeling like they’ve fallen off the wagon altogether.
  • As the new normal becomes a prolonged normal in the hampered developed world, more brands will open up entry points for extremely cost-sensitive consumers. Marketers will find new opportunities in creating stripped-down offerings, smaller sizes and otherwise more accessible products and services.
  • Food and beverage brands are swinging in the opposite direction from the mega-sizes and bulk offerings they have targeted at budget-savvy consumers. Instead, they’re adopting the emerging-world practice of selling smaller SKUs to consumers who can afford only the minimal amount per shopping trip.
  • Brands must adjust to a new consumer reality in which spending is moving out of the middle market and shifting to the high and low ends. Customers have become accustomed to holding out for discounts and promotions, but such tactics aren’t a sustainable solution for most brands. Instead, opportunity lies in creating lower-cost products and services, whether that means smaller SKUs, “good enough” products and services that strip out features/amenities, off-peak or otherwise restricted offerings and so on.
  • Retail spaces are increasingly serving as a “third space” that’s only partly about consumption. Supermarkets and other food- centric outlets are becoming as much about experiences, unique environments and customer service as they are about simply buying goods.
  • While communal eating is a way of life in some cultures, the West has dispatched with even the family meal. But increasingly people are looking to food as a way to foster more real-life interactions with new faces, thanks perhaps to a backlash against isolation in the digital world or a craving for more random, unique interactions. Communal seating is becoming a popular option at restaurants, putting strangers elbow to elbow. And that’s one of the draws of supper clubs, the informal, home- based periodic restaurants that started springing up a few years ago.