For many years food has clearly been intimately tied to all things 'a la mode'. Today, Indian food is an integral part of the UK culinary culture - how much influence has this had on the current Bollywood craze storming over UK? Companies in the highly competitive food industry of the 21st century must, unequivocally, have their 'finger on the pulse' in order to survive. But being able to read the trends and understand the right direction to take is far from evident.
Market research is clearly an invaluable tool in deciphering food fashions and future desires but is there anything else out there? Leading flavours company Quest Food claims to have come up with a new device to aid food manufacturers in guiding them in their food moves - the TrendAntenna.
"TrendAntenna is a major tool that Quest uses for two principal purposes: internally as a framework for Quest and a breeding ground for ideas, and externally for customers to help them understand how trends can serve as an overall aid," Quest Food's Rudy Dieperink explained to FoodNavigator.com.
"The model was created after a period of years and in collaboration with a number of market research companies. The trends themselves were readily available across the world - we placed them in a framework," continued Dieperink.
So how does it work? "The qualitative aspect of the research looks at how consumers are influenced by design, trends, fashion and how this is translated to food," said Dieperink. According to Quest Food, the key to the TrendAntenna is that it has to be global, with mixed media. " We mixed fashion, media, and movements in society and arrived at a series of trends. Some are already widely reflected in food, others can be used as sources of inspiration for a different way of linking food products to current consumer interest."
Essentially, TrendAntenna led Quest Food to the conclusion that the principal global consumer movements and trends actually centre on four major notions - 'enjoyment', 'consciousness', 'spirit' and 'beauty'. In addition, each notion is built up from a series of 'internal' trends. As such, the notion of 'enjoyment' is composed of the trends, 'Live life to the Max', 'Alone', 'Together', and 'Obsessions' whereas the 'beauty' trend is built from 'Diet & supplements', 'Natural', 'Technology' and 'Through own effort and pain'.
By identifying a trend and 'fixed universals' are you hoping to pin down the future? "Identify the future? You can make predictions about where a fashion is going, but it remains just that, a prediction," said Dieperink. "For example, the whole trend rooted in 'spirituality'. Parts of the spiritual experience can be used on a global basis, for example, people using them and intertwining them - but the trend is not based on one religion.
If a company decides to start tapping into this trend it must study the market carefully. Asia is very spiritual orientated so it might be easier to use the trend, but the US is more material - so usage would be more challenging," he added.
Although the Quest Food TrendAntenna pinpoints four main movements with subsequent 'internal' trends, Amy McDonald, sales director at Quest Food, points out that society may be moving towards intertwining these different trends. When asked which of the identified trends may witness the strongest growth, she responded: "I think that they will all intertwine. In fact, this could already be the case - we are already witnessing the blurring of borders.
Food manufacturers in their drive for new products are continually seeking new concepts. They are purposefully blurring the trends."
McDonald quotes the case of the Unilever Magnum ice cream - available in a regular size, the company has recently rolled out a mini version. "This is a different experience with a totally different sense of indulgence - the company is tapping into diverse trends with a similar product," explained McDonald.
According to Quest, the company's US customers are constantly looking for ideas to intertwine trends and ways to successfully realise the concept.
"This is a significant factor in an industry where trends are changing and intertwining and the mixing of applications can create dilemmas for food manufacturers.
For instance, new consumer needs have resulted in the blurring of traditional category lines across food and beverages. The boundaries of bakery are merging with dairy as new cereal bars contain milk, creating, as it were a 'bowl of cereal on the go'.
The R&D cereal person may not be familiar with the 'dairy' element, and will need advice on how to successfully conceive the product," commented McDonald.
"Quest has centres located in various parts of the world where application groups get together to 'cross fertilise' and brainstorm, in order to try and solve such problems that arise with new product development, " continued Amy McDonald.
According to Dieperink, the TrendAntenna will be refreshed every four years - crucial to the success of a model that explicitly relies on one understanding - the zeitgeist.