PORTLAND, ORE. – Three speakers from three different professional viewpoints took the stage at the Research Chefs Association’s annual conference and Culinology Expo taking place in Portland March 11-14 to dissect what is a trend and what is a fad. The wide-ranging conversation touched on gluten free, millennials, daily deals and flavor innovation.
Addressing the topic of gluten free from the perspective of the mainstream market, Maeve Webster, a senior director at Datassential, said it is a fad.
“I think we are at its pinnacle,” she said. “It’s more work than any consumer who doesn’t need it wants to do.”
Gregory Willis, the founder of Senspire L.L.C., a technology company that focuses on product development, concurred and said the difference between a fad and a trend is if there is a need for the products, and for most people a gluten-free diet is not necessary.
A lot of trend research lately has focused on millennials, who the panel defined as consumers between the ages of 18 to 34, but the speakers said many of the “trends” being associated with millennials are not new.
“I don’t think they are a trend,” said Andrew Hunter, the principal in Chef Andrew Hunter, which is a culinary development agency. “They are an age group, a demographic. All we are really talking about is a generation that is spending money and has disposable income.”
Ms. Webster said the impact of millennials has been overstated.
“Millennials are not nearly as experimental as people say they are,” she said. “People are acting as if all millennials are experimenting, but if you split that age group up, it is the older ones who are more experimental. You have to deal with them, but are they going to change the face of the market? No. I think they’re impact is overstated.”
The value trend, more specifically, a focus on daily deals and working with such businesses as Groupon, was not called a trend or a fad, but just bad for business, according to the panel.
“The food industry is close to becoming like the clothing industry,” Ms. Webster said. “Who buys clothes at full price when they are always on sale? We don’t want the food industry to be like that. Daily deals will dig a hole that is impossible to get out of, and the food industry is on the edge of that hole. It can’t just be about cheap prices.”
Mr. Hunter agreed with Ms. Webster, but he noted all value plays are not bad.
“There is some relevance to bundling,” he said. “It’s a way of getting people to pay up.”
The panel urged the audience to think strategically when considering flavor innovation.
“Some of these flavors that have become trendy are not as widespread as you would think,” Ms. Webster said. “Kale penetration is under 10%. Sriracha is under 5%. You need to look at how you are positioning yourself strategically rather than just chase new flavors.”
Mr. Willis noted many brands have found success by staying true to their core.
“You don’t need to innovate all the time,” he said. “You need to deliver a good product. Look at In-N-Out Burger on the West Coast and Five Guys on the East Coast. They have stayed true to their core.”