By Kara Nielsen, Food Trendologist
For food industry insiders—marketers, makers, chefs, restaurateurs—the recent Slate piece on the gap between American foodie culture portrayed in food media and the homey content of Allrecipes didn’t come as a surprise. We know well the significant distance between the everyday fare consumers make at home, and what appears on top ten lists and “hot” restaurant maps. That is how it is supposed to be. And there are several reasons why.
To start, high and low culture come into play—trained professionals shooting for the highest levels of culinary arts versus home cooks practicing the age-old art of getting food on the table. The fact that pros are busy perfecting the fried chicken sandwich these days seems to to skew this model, yet chefs are playing in a different arena, one held to a higher standard, by the public, the industry and the (hopefully) critical eye of food media. The Awesome Broccoli-Cheese Casserole is designed to please a different crowd, one gathered around the kitchen table for something familiar and comforting.
The French notion of haute cuisine and cuisine bourgeois comes to mind. Both the refined dishes descended from royal kitchens and the bubbling pot of coq au vin at home have value and a role to play in food culture. The foundational nature of cuisine bourgeois defines French regional identity; haute cuisine expresses the vision of the chef as artist.
Food marketers and trend analysts like myself see another natural aspect at play between today’s churning food media and Allrecipes. These two outlets sit at different ends of the food trend spectrum. One covers what is newly emerging from a small yet influential professional space, like Hawaiian poke bowls; the other the long-established mainstream that is Baked Chicken Teriyaki. The gap between the two is the road of trend adoption.
While trends may seem frivolous, they actually represent something quite profound. For a food item to grow and attract new users, it has to fulfill a need, a need for novelty, flavor adventure or comfort, for example. And it’s just those kinds of needs that marketers are trying to tap into. Food manufacturers, restaurant chains and retailers all want a piece of the action and leveraging trending foods is one way to get it.
Just where along the food trend spectrum a company or brand wants to play depends. If a low-carb/gluten-free/Paleo consumer is a target, by all means tap into the “cauliflower carb-replacement” trend. Trader Joe’s is doing gangbuster business selling Riced Cauliflower, and it’s possible to buy a gluten-free frozen cauliflower crust pizza.
Yet for more conservative mass marketers, looking farther down that pathway of trend adoption is often the way to go. Using Allrecipes as a source of what mainstream consumers care about is a fine data point. Consider “the enormous gap between foodie culture and what people actually cook” as an excellent road map of consumer trend adoption.