International drivers of food trends and the trends that have the substance to shape the future of gastronomic cultures in America, Europe and Asia.
Reflection of the future
Businesses need instruments to guide their decision making and help them to position their products in the broader context of international supply and demand. Trends are among these instruments. Trends serve as a reflection of the future, providing a better understanding of things to come. And this is of increasing importance in a world that is becoming more and more connected. Generally, the word trend is most often used to refer to some temporary fashion in the marketing arena, with ‘hype’ as the superlative version of the term in the sense of a, usually media supported, megatrend, like green smoothies, bubble tea or fermented vegetables.
In the more serious context of trend watching and future research, however, these are mere superficialities, short-lived fashion phenomena.
The concept of food trends, in other words, refers to something entirely different – the analysis of long-term processes of change, innovation and development in national or regional cuisines, gastronomic cultures and communities. And these trends are only relevant when they also offer solutions for current problems, changing tastes or preferences.
Fuelled by global networks
Food trends are driven by far-reaching, world-wide, long-term megatrends like individualization, globalization, health and neo-ecology. But their weight is carried by people – highly connected consumers who care deeply for food and food products. As a result of the ever-increasing role of global networks in general and social media in particular, food trends are shared faster than ever before, often proliferating across cultural boundaries almost instantaneously.
Success however, remains limited to trends that manage to find ‘regional translators’, in other words, individuals and businesses capable of locale-specific conversion of the basic solution suggestions into practical products and services. After all, the governing issues of health, quality, naturalness and taste are subject to culturally divergent interpretation and significance.
Six global food trends
In today’s international food industry, the following six semi-global food trends serve as primary indicators for the predominant mood among ‘nourishment elites’ in the different culinary regions.
For even though the number of parties involved may initially, and for obvious reasons, remain relatively small, their protagonists are highly active, sincerely involved and deeply engaged. Their energy moves more people than ever before, their reach is wider and the speed of their impact is impressive.
They trigger a dynamic that spreads, in a number of consecutive waves or steps, from the originating centre to the furthest corners of the surrounding environment or, more accurately, from the avant-garde outposts of early adopters to the social common ground of general acceptance.
1 Green food: Durability as society’s new group dynamic
Durability, in the current market conditions, carries a hefty price tag. Fair trade coffees, organic textiles, solar heating and electric cars are more expensive than ‘normal’ products.
In the future, commitment to durability will increasingly become an everyday chore. As a society, we can no longer afford not to be durable. Within our connected global culture, the world is getting smaller all the time.
We cannot hide from the truth, we cannot sit around and wait for someone to come up with the answer. As a result, a new group dynamic is emerging.
Already, according to a 2016 Nestlé study, 50% of German consumers are in favour of combining healthy diets with sustainable use of natural resources. A choice that more and more consumers will subscribe to in the future.
2 Local food: The power of locality and regional products
What is it that is lacking in a digital world of global connectivity? What we miss most are genuine, home-grown products – our roots, our tradition. There is a new enthusiasm for, a re-discovery of regional goods, food products in particular, which is reflected in a new marketing elan as well.
Boutique bakeries offering regional products, high-end restaurants focusing on the specific local palette, market halls in cities large and small thriving on the willingness of this world’s globalists to pay top dollar for authenticity and originality.
3 Prosumerism: Consumer influence on the production of foods
‘The consumer is king’ – to the 21st century consumer the old maxim means more than merely ample choice from an ever-available multitude of products. It also applies to the way production processes operate. In the transition from an era of industry to the age of knowledge, what matters most are authenticity and trust. In this sense, the modern prosumer plays an active part in the paradigm shift shaping the future of the food industry – ‘better instead of more’. To the consumer, quality, freshness and naturalness are becoming ever more important.
4 Spiritual food: Eating as a moral activity
Traditionally, food priorities were mostly related to culinary preference, health considerations and ecological issues. Today, the focus is on spirituality. Eating is increasingly becoming an almost religious activity, with halal, kosher and vegan as the new keywords in an emerging semi-global trend.
5 Infinite food:
Food as a means of self-expression
Over the past twenty years, in our affluent societies, food has acquired connotations it has never had before. But the matter is complex. In an age of individualism, food is eminently suited for the role of social distinguisher. Just look at the enthusiasm with which consumers share pictures of their meals through blogs, on Facebook, Instagram and other social media. In Germany, this applies to nearly half the population (46%).
6 Flexitarians: Meat versus vegetables
In large parts of the industrialized western world, as well as in the United States, the century-old craving for ever more meat has already ground to a halt. In Europe, meat consumption, after having sharply risen in the 1960’s, is evening out at an admittedly still pronounced level, while in the U.S. it is slightly declining. In the booming economy nations of Asia however, the lust for meat is still increasing.
There, as in post-war Europe, meat is a social status symbol. But China in particular is learning fast, with new diet recommendations recently having been issued by the authorities encouraging people to cut back on their meat consumption patterns. There is even a new catch phrase in the ideological debate on sound and sustainable eating: flexitarianism. Flexitarians are predominantly vegetarian, but they also appreciate good quality meat and fish.
This will not only change the quality demands applied to meat, it may also lead to new forms of animal farming and new models of meat production.
Current drivers in the changing food culture
Individualization entails the freedom of choice. Never before has there been so broad a diversity of options as to what and how we choose to eat, in terms of the clothes we wear, the lives we lead, the way we work and the relations we engage in. There are also many different shapes and forms of individuality, be it rebellious, hedonistic, extreme, sensitive or emphatic. Food is a perfect illustration. The future interpretation of individuality will be less about ego and more about caring. The major trend is broadening in scope – today’s individualists are seeking communality, creating a new, collective culture.
Health is no longer a merely agreeable or desirable condition. It has become a goal in life and the fulfilment of life’s ambition. The current trend is that of an ever more intimate union of the psychological and physical aspects of being, in which happiness and health are two sides of the same coin. People are taking responsibility for their own health. They are more knowledgeable than ever before and more confident in their dealings with health and health care systems. Detoxing, new eating patterns, exercise and self monitoring have become integral components of health as a cultural dimension of modern life.
Organic products are intensively tested on quality, diets are becoming flexible, if not completely meatless and industrial systems will have to adapt. Production processes will have to move to a waste-free model of operations, based on recycling of raw materials. For what we see emerging is a consumer culture cantered on the megatrend of neo-ecology. People are not interested in just buying products anymore, but increasingly basing their choices on environmental considerations, while new technologies are facilitating alternatives to the traditional culture of disposable products and consumerism.
Looking at the facts, globalization is not a threat as much as it is a treat. A connected, converging world is in many ways a better place to live. The internet, as a truly global medium, is driving global culture in the virtual universe. At the crossroads of connectivity and globalization, friction and disruption are creating new countertrends that emphasize regional and local idiosyncrasies. The predominant world ordering principle remains diversity, but the centres of gravity are shifting – away from Europe and the United States and toward new major players in the market place, Asia in particular.