Separating Culinary Fads From Trends

By Suzy Badaracco, Foodable Industry Expert

Every culinary trend, no matter its lifecycle length, has its own birth pattern, personality, trajectory and influences. They do not all start in a certain part of the country or a particular part of industry such as a restaurant vs. grocery. To stereotype them like this or to believe there is a set pattern all trends follow as they come into focus would be disrespectful to say the least. 

To call something a fad, on the other hand, is to minimize and possibly devalue its impact on both the food industry and consumers alike, not to mention the government movements and technologies it may birth. It is smarter to think of trends in terms of longer term trends and short-term trends. 

Birth of a Trend

To be born, a trend needs two things. It has to have a champion which is someone or something that is pushing it forward. The part of the champion can be played by a corporation, government, individual, or another trend. A champion is more of a force than an entity. The second critical element for a birth to occur is that a trend must link to another existing trend that is already on the ground running. If a trend doesn’t link to another existing trend, it will be a short lived trend, or “fad.” If a trend relies on villianizing a food or food group to gain ground, it too is setting up to be shorter lived. Successful, long lived trends rise on their own merit.

Death of a Trend

The death of a trend can come about one of three ways typically. The first is if research or technology comes in counter to a trend. Either scenario can disable a trend's momentum or render it powerless. An example here would be if clinical health research showed that a diet trend was unhealthy or dangerous, thus causing its lifecycle to be shortened. A second way a trend can perish is if a powerful adversary comes in against the trend. If the FDA, American Nutrition and Dietetics Association or other agency comes in directly against a trend, that trend may have a serious problem. 

Cuisine

Powdered alcohol is set to rise. However, it is already being stunted by state governments banning its sale due to safety risks. The third scenario would be if a competing trend comes in and kicks the current trend out of the spotlight. This happens often with flavor trends. If a flavor trend has only weak ties to other trends, it can easily be replaced by a new flavor. This explains why some food and flavor trends stay in the spotlight longer than others. Coconut water rose to power two years ago and is still in the spotlight as it has ties to Southern U.S., South American, and Caribbean food and flavor trends and perceived health benefits. 

There are many more reasons coconut water is still in the media, these are just the poster children. Açai berry, on the other hand, has stepped out of the spotlight following false health claims associated with it and the fact that it isn’t user-friendly. It is found only in dried form, has no history in the U.S. diet, and has a flavor that is too severe to stand on its own. Dried açai berries never had the chance at becoming the next “raisin.”

Long Lived Trends vs Short Lived Trends (Fads)

A short lived trend is usually short lived because it has an Achilles heel which causes its downfall at some point. It may have one or more forces against it which pushes it to extinction, which a long term trend does not suffer from. Long term trends, such as sustainability or whole grains, not only link into other stable longer term trends, they also have very few or no adversaries. However, food or diet trends which villainize a food or food group will attract government, research and medical professionals as adversaries and rely on consumer ignorance or fear to sustain them. This personality will shorten its life cycle.

When trying to assess whether something is a "trend" or a "fad," it is equally important to understand why it is on a pedestal, how strong the legs are that are holding it up, and if there is anyone or anything trying to push it off. Most importantly, neither love nor hate a trend. Emotions will fog the trend’s true pattern and you may be blindsided when it shifts. And I promise you –- it will shift, they all do.