Food trends: Why do we follow them?
Food is not that different than fashion. Those in power in the industry, be they celebrity chefs or heads of major food corporations, are the trend setters. With good marketing, luck and the right taste, certain trends will make themselves known among the hoard of food options.
The exorbitantly expensive “cronut,” the cool and healthy kale chip and the hipster’s kombucha are all examples of modern food trends with which students of culinary arts programs online may be familiar. David Sax, a food writer from Toronto, was intrigued by the nature of these trends and explored their very essence. The result of his exploration was to write the book “The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up With Fondue.”
Whose taste matters?
In recent years, jobs have been cropping up in the food industry with titles like “trendologist.” Those lucky enough to be hired by corporations for these positions are charged with the duty of forecasting trends and sometimes inventing them.
“Ideas are brainstormed, prototyped, kitchen tested, debated within dozens of boardrooms, tested in select markets, subjected to refinements and focus groups, prepared for a launch, advertised to the public, and slowly rolled out store by store, state by state and country by country,” Kara Neilson, a trendologist, told L.A. Weekly when describing her job.
The other bastions of taste are chefs. Not just any chefs, but those whose top restaurants are watched night and day for inventive recipes and ingredients. A chef is able to display and test an idea immediately. If it works, other chefs soon begin incorporating the trend into their restaurants and before you know it, fast food chains are offering a product that incorporates it as well.
Is it all about taste?
Some products do not rely on taste makers to break their way into popular culture. One grand example is the cupcake. This childhood staple found its way into chic food through branding. Featured on the show “Sex in the City,” the cupcake is now an international bastion of American culture. Sax noted that food trends are dependent on innumerable variables, such as money and marketing. At times, food politics can also play a role in food trends.
Most may be surprised to hear that according to Sax, the food world has its own Anna Wintour – Cathy Strange. This Head Global Cheese and Specialty Product Buyer for Whole Foods has the ability to change entire markets based on her daily cheese preferences.