retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

The latest food sensation riding a wave of popularity on social media is a blue-hued newcomer named mermaid toast.

For the past 10 days, this creation from Miami-based food stylist Adeline Waugh has been heralded as “our new breakfast obsession,” “mesmerizing” and the “most Instagrammable thing on the internet.”

Waugh was a player in the recent rainbow food craze (which even permeated bagels and pizza) with her multi-colored unicorn toast. But the ocean-inspired look posted on her #vibrantandpure Instagram feed last week is hers alone.

She achieved the aquatic swirl by adding blue green algae powders and liquids to almond milk cream cheese, and then spreading it on toast, with a sprinkling of gold flecks. Waugh said she was “beyond flattered” by all the positive attention and spotlight on her Instagram page.

I think there are two business takeaways worth noting here. From a social media perspective, it illustrates how quickly an innovative, stylishly photographed idea can become a food phenomenon on social media.

Additionally, it shows that Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter continue to grow as platforms where casual cooks, sophisticated diners and culinary professionals alike create a virtual community focused on food. Retailers and marketers need to be tapped into that community to engage those consumers online, and by extension, in the store or on a website.

Waugh’s choice of ingredients also speaks to the evolving American grocery-shopping list. Twenty years ago you would have been hard pressed to find almond milk in a traditional supermarket, let alone almond milk cream cheese. And algae was the slimy-green film on the side of a fish tank.

No more. In fact SPINS, a national organic food industry tracker, recently reported that plant-based foods outpaced the growth of the whole food and beverage industry last year by 3.5% and that it now exceeds $4.9 billion in sales in the U.S.

On the beverage side alone, market researcher Mintel notes the $2 billion U.S. non-dairy alternative industry (led by almond milk) has experienced explosive growth, and is set to expand another 50% between 2015 and 2020. As reported here on MNB, that and the corresponding decline in traditional milk sales has prompted the dairy industry to lobby Congress to restrict the use of the word “milk” to products from lactating animals like cows.

Which brings us finally to that very unique blue green mermaid hue, created by the microscopic algae called spirulina. Admittedly, I knew very little about this super food’s provenance and its potential until discovering mermaid toast last week.

But Fast Company said it all in an article last month with the headline: “Hope You Like Algae, Because It’s Going To Be In Everything You Eat.” And just this week a new study by Persistence Market Research predicted that growing awareness about the nutritional benefits of spirulina will serve as a key driver for the growth in the next decade.

The mermaid toast photo is in effect a microcosm of two significant trends impacting the grocery and retail industry – social media and the shift towards more plant-based food sources. A unique combination – just like a mermaid - that is making a splash.

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