retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

There’s a new player in the annual, much-debated, often flawed effort to predict food trends for the coming year - Pinterest, the free content-sharing website brimming with users’ enthusiasm, recipes and glorious food photos.

While perusing the traditional prognosticators’ lists, including Bon Appetit, the Food Network, James Beard Foundation, National Restaurant Association (NRA), and’s all-encompassing “Official Megalisticle of All 2017 Food Trend Listicles,” Pinterest kept popping up.

Ditto a tropical fruit called the jackfruit, with a mild-flavored, starchy flesh that is being hailed as a low-cal, high-fiber meat substitute. Why jackfruit? Because consumer searches for jackfruit jumped 420% on Pinterest last year.

Pinterest’s elevated presence speaks to another over-arching trend - that technology and social media will continue to dramatically impact how people acquire and consume food.

In the case of social media, it is all about the dialogue – between consumers, and if they are to be successful, the marketers and retailers who make a connection with them.

Friend-of-MNB Phil Lempert, the SupermarketGuru, notes that trends that once took two or three years to rise or plummet are on a different trajectory. “Now, with the way everyone uses social media, we’re seeing it turn around in a matter of two to three months,” Lempert tells the New York Times.

In addition to the jackfruit, herewith are other food trends being talked about for 2017:

• There’s a new grain in town: Home-grown sorghum is being touted as a gluten-free, fiber and protein-rich grain that can be prepared like rice, barley, or quinoa.

• Craft-anything: The number of new products using the word “craft” or “crafted” increased by 248% from 2011 to 2015, with alcoholic beverages, confectionary and bakery as the leading market categories.

• Add a jolt of java: The Food Network predicts that coffee will be flavoring candy, snacks, cocktails and more, catering to the Starbucks generation.

• Annie, get your goat: Yes, some culinary experts predict that goat will be the next hot protein in the U.S. It has less fat than chicken, and when prepared properly tastes like lamb.

For the record, I dug into the MNB archives for my January food trend columns dating back to 2011. The predictions that proved true, and evolved from trend to mainstream, were not a surprise.

Among them:

• The farm-to-table/locavore movement promoting more locally sourced ingredients.

• Once relegated to natural food stores or a back shelf, gluten-free labels moving front and center and even commanding their own stand at major league baseball parks.

• Vegetables shedding side dish status and commanding the center of the plate.

• Kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower becoming menu staples.

• Siracha and other ethnic hot sauces joining salt and pepper on restaurant and kitchen tables.

• Flavor “mashups” mixing sweet and savory flavors in products ranging from popcorn to ice cream and yogurt.

• Greek yogurt morphing from an imported specialty to a heavyweight in the dairy case and expanded product lines.

On the flip side, the quest for the new cupcake has failed. Contenders such as caneles, macaroons and cake pops could never compete with the cupcake craze. Other misses on the prediction front were:

• Mideastern grains such as freekeh and teff toppling quinoa.

• Rabbit meat and heritage chickens becoming the “white meat.”

• Wine in a can being deemed acceptable by anyone.

• The pie movement – sweet, savory, hot and cold pies – gaining fans beyond Thanksgiving.

• Peruvian cuisine making the leap from food truck to restaurant and home kitchen.

Oh, well. You can't win them all.

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