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Why Food Trends Fascinate Us

September 6, 2016

by Dana McCauley 

When I started writing about food trends way back in the last century, the conversation was simple: People wanted to learn what gourmet restaurant chefs were making and how those lofty creations could be dumbed down for suburban housewives cooking on electric stoves. Fast forward 20 years and interest in food trends has changed significantly. Instead of being asked how trends can be adapted for home cooks, reporters and consumers now ask where and how they can find an authentic version of trending food experiences.

So, for the curious, here’s a sampling menu of emerging foods that you can try right now:

Crickets Step up to Bat: From spiced whole crickets and cricket flour enhanced cooking sauces, alternative proteins derived from sustainable insect sources are getting attention from fear factor fans and sustainability advocates alike. Want to experience the trend yourself? Check out Gryllies cricket-based products and the Bug Bistro Hot Dogs at the CNE.

Animal Free Substitutes: Sauces emulsified with chickpea soaking water instead of egg yolks; dairy free ‘cheese spreads’ and Alfredo sauces; and tofu textured meal worm crumbles are just a few new products being made by entrepreneurs who work at Food Starter, the Toronto based food business incubator I run.

Cellar Masters: Move over wine bottles, pickle bottles are the new cold cellar royalty. From traditional dills and sauerkraut to kimchi and Indian lime pickle -sour, pungent condiments are the kings of the pantry because they combine the local food trend with health benefits and international flavours.

While talking about the new things people are eating is great fun, I’m equally fascinated in how flavours and foods go from novelty purchase to shopping list stand-by. That’s why I took notice of the roster of flavours that recently won the Lay’s Do Us a Flavour contest. The iconic company invited Canadians to vote on 12 options for new chip flavours. The final list of 3 winners is a study in our history; it reflects Canada’s immigration patterns both past and present.

  • Cheese & Onion flavoured potato chips are an established British favourite and being chosen as a winning flavour underlines an enduring link to our colonial past. Is it a surprise that this flavour won votes at the same time that our Canadian media was lavishing attention on Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday?
  • Bacon Poutine flavoured potato chips are a natural link to the enhanced sense of national pride Canadians have nurtured since the Vancouver Olympics. These flavours resonate with hipsters and rednecks alike who have a penchant for ‘hoser’ foods from our French Canadian heritage. And certainly this winning flavour is a most appropriate choice for summer 2016 when we said ‘goodbye’ to iconic Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip.
  • Sweet Thai Chili is the outlier on this roster and its win is less rooted in nostalgia. While the two other 2016 winners could have been chosen 25 years ago, Sweet Thai Chili wouldn’t have even registered with Canadians of yore. Immigration waves such as the Vietnamese refugees who arrived here in the late 70’s, the influx of Filipino nannies who followed and the droves of other new Canadians who hail from the sweeping expanse of Asia have had a massive influence on our taste buds making sweet and spicy flavours mainstream with both those who have been in Canada for generations and those who have arrived recently.

As you can see, examining how food trends emerge and evolve provides a myriad of insights. The early adopters who eagerly buy and try new foods such as crickets are fascinating and make for the best cocktail party stories; but, understanding the consumers who take time to cast a vote to choose a new nationally distributed product is arguably a more important study. These mainstream consumers represent an economic opportunity that exists today while early adopters show us an opportunity that could become high value in the future.