How Food Trends Take Hold

As we saw from the meteoric rise of avocado toast, what’s on Instagram one day can dominate restaurant menus the next. Keeping on top of food trends is imperative for operators and retailers alike.

Yet, many of us wonder the same thing: How do you spot a trend before it’s established? How do the small operations of the world, like food trucks and farmers markets, always seem to be ahead of the game?

Food industry market research firm Datassential has developed a framework for predicting and spotting food trends, and as you might expect, it starts with dining out. According to Datassential, 70% of U.S. consumers’ food preferences are driven by what they encounter on restaurant menus.
Datassential’s Menu Adoption Cycle (MAC) framework can be viewed in full here, but below is a brief overview of how trendy foods grow from fine dining features to products at retailers nationwide:

  • Inception: This is where trends begin. In the inception stage, there’s an enormous focus on originality in flavor, preparation and presentation.

    Where do we see this in foodservice?
    Fine dining and ethnic restaurants.

    Where do we see this in retail?
    These items are rarely seen in retail at this stage, but if they’re anywhere, they’re at ethnic markets.

    What does this mean for pork?
    Cuts and preparations in the Inception stage, such as Iberico ham, nduja, boudin and lap cheong, are worth keeping a close eye on. These cuts see a presence on fine dining and ethnic restaurant menus, indicating they may be well poised to grow in popularity.

  • Adoption: This is where trends grow their base. They feature lower price points and simpler preparation methods. At this scale, there’s still some differentiation, and the trends often contain premium or authentic ingredients.

    Where do we see this in foodservice?
    Gastropubs, fast-casual restaurants and casual independents.

    Where do we see this in retail?
    Specialty grocery stores and gourmet food stores.

    What does this mean for pork?
    Pork types and preparations in this stage include Berkshire pork, finochhiona salami and cracklings. As these products begin to gain broader appeal, we need to think through how to approach mass production. We likely won’t be able to use the same ingredients or preparation methods, so how can we replicate that dish on a larger scale?

  • Proliferation: This is where trends are adjusted for mainstream appeal. As the trends becomes more familiar, they’re often combined with popular applications like burgers or pasta.

    Where do we see this in foodservice?
    Casual chain restaurants.

    Where do we see this in retail?
    Traditional supermarkets and mass merchandisers.

    What does this mean for pork?
    Pork cuts and preparations in this stage include carnitas, andouille and bratwurst. Because dining out often includes foods eaten on the go, how can we help establish these cuts more firmly in the handheld space? How do we package it for grab-and-go food sections while still maintaining quality?

  • Ubiquity: This is where trends reach full maturity. The trends can be found across all sectors of the food industry, and while they have mass appeal at this point, their inception-stage roots can still be recognized.

    Where do we see this in foodservice?
    Family restaurants and convenience stores.

    Where do we see this in retail?
    Dollar stores and drug stores.

    What does this mean for pork?
    Cuts and preparations in this stage include bacon, hot dogs and pepperoni. Because these products have reached their full potential, now it the time to think innovation and revitalization. For example, we now see new bacon innovations, such as candied bacon, or we find bacon in unexpected places, like doughnuts, cocktails and ice cream. Are there other ubiquitous pork items we can innovate? Or are there ubiquitous non-pork dishes where we might find a new, unexpected place for pork?

If we take a closer look at a specific cut and preparation, we can begin to see which ones are primed for growth. For example, nduja — a spicy, spreadable Italian pork salami — is still in the Inception stage, but tracking its popularity and usage across restaurant types may give us clues about its future. Meanwhile, carnitas, currently in the Proliferation stage, still may have more room to grow into Ubiquity.

 

As a comparison, avocado toast was virtually non-existent on menus in 2008. By 2018, it had penetrated 3% of all menus, according to Datassential.

Beyond these, what cuts should we in the pork industry keep an eye on? Below is a look at a wide breadth of pork varieties, from Inception to Ubiquity:


 

What trends are you seeing on the horizon?
What innovations could help move more pork items from Inception to Proliferation?
How do we make those ubiquitous items more exciting?
Let me know what you think!

Angie Krieger

Angie Krieger

Assistant Vice President, Channel Outreach

National Pork Board Cell: 319-594-4000 akrieger@pork.org