Elise Deming, MS, RDN
Remember the fat-free cookies and light yogurts of the 1990s? Many trends come and go. However, some food and nutrition trends stick and thrive in the market. Companies that catch the wave of a thriving trend shine in the success of creating a food or beverage in unison with that trend. Not only do media, retailers, and consumers give greater attention to their food, but the gamble these companies took paid off and they likely learned valuable insights along the way. Developing a product in line with a trend is a large and typically strategic decision. Follow along to learn how our experts determine the tipping point for a trend and what elements factor into creating a new product that aligns with a trend.
Determining Which Trends Are a Good Fit
In a large company with diverse brands, such as Campbell, prioritizing what products should be developed next can be a challenge. Director of Culinary Innovation Hub, Chef Maria Gamble explains it’s all about knowing what fits within a brand footprint and finding the sweet spot. What makes a trend work for one brand, but not another? Chef Gamble shares, “Different brands will prioritize and explore trends based on their needs.” For example, a more affordable, family-focused brand may not target the same trend that a brand tailored to younger, single consumers would. Gamble elaborates, “While trend prioritization is important, it is also possible to marry a few trends into one product. Take our Well Yes!® sipping soups for example. This product marries trends of convenience, snacking, AND nutritious sipping into one amazing product.” So, we also look at opportunities to mesh multiple trends together.
Pinpoint Timing for Product Introduction
Food innovation and trends are no longer solely for the specialty grocery or co-op consumer. Trend-centric foods are now found at most grocery stores and even convenience stores. However, just because they appear on shelves, does not mean all companies are willing to instantly bet on a trend. Campbell takes inventory of all food trends in the market whether it be at retailers, restaurants, in magazines, on social media, or even in consumers’ kitchens. As we watch a trend, we take note of where it is popping. Senior Manager of R&D Innovation, Alison Hastings notes, “We monitor early trend adopters, usually in niche markets, then start to look for mainstream adopters. We are usually aware of a trend in its infancy and work hard to time product introduction right, landing us in market at the peak of mainstream adoption.”
Set Aside Personal Bias When Evaluating Trends
I can think of five or six trends that I would LOVE to develop products within right now. I love exploring food industry and wellness trends. However, a challenge of creating the next big product is setting aside personal passions or bias, and instead leaning into the research and consumer demands to develop the right product. Hastings minimizes personal bias in the development process by carefully defining her consumer. She states, “You need to be laser focused on who your consumer is.” If a team knows the detailed specifics of the consumer they are developing for, space for personal preferences and biases is minimized.
Balancing Research, Risk, & Reward
The risks and payoffs to develop within a trend are different for every company. These depend on the size of the company, the target consumer, and the company’s goals. For a large company like Campbell, the risk for adopting a trend can be quite significant. Despite the vast amount of research we do, Hastings says, adopting a trend is “always a little bit of a gamble–you never know for sure what trend is going to fizzle out or really blow up.” A concern is leaning too far away from your typical consumer. Adopting a trend requires finding the sweet spot between your consumer and where the trend lies so you maintain that consumer trust. Once you develop against a trend, timing of marketplace introduction is crucial. Depending on where a company lies within the trend world, you may not want to introduce the product too early or too late.
Navigating Trends with Your Clients
As health professionals, we need to meet consumers where they are when it comes to exploring and adopting given trends. Assess your clients’ level of knowledge, interest, and expectations. As we know, some clients are well versed and interested in the food industry or new products on the market. Others are not sure what exactly quinoa is. Take a personalized approach to explore trends with clients. Actively monitor the landscape, just like Campbell does, so you are prepared. Not all trends should be adopted by everyone and some trends have a lot of hype only to be crushed by emerging scientific studies. Use your expertise and training to vet trends on your own and communicate accurately about them to your clients. Health professionals are uniquely positioned to provide personalized recommendations, taking into consideration the adventurous nature of the individual and identifying realistic ways they can incorporate trends into their life.
Trends are an exciting part of the food industry. At Campbell, we work hard to develop new, innovative products based on trends that meet the needs of our target market while staying true to the brands our consumers know, love and trust.
Author’s BioElise supports the Meals & Beverage Division of Campbell to provide nutrition guidance on product and claims development and identify new communication opportunities for our meals, sauce and beverage businesses. Elise is a Registered Dietitian who completed her bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Sciences from The Pennsylvania State University, the Dietetic Internship at Virginia Tech University, and her master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from East Tennessee State University. Elise’s passion is making nutritious foods accessible to all people and through her work with the Campbell Soup brand, she can do just that.
Maria Gamble is Director & Executive Chef, Campbell’s Culinary Innovation Hub. She is responsible for leading culinary across Campbell creating and sparking innovation through culinary excellence, trend inspiration & translation. Maria has 20 years of experience working for Campbell’s which includes leading the development of new products across brand portfolios within meals & beverages. Maria is certified by the Culinary Institute of America as Professional Chef Level III and a Certified Chef de Cuisine by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). Maria earned her BA in communications from Saint Mary’s College, and AS degree in culinary arts from the Restaurant School in Philadelphia, PA.
Alison Hastings is a Senior Program Manager in the R&D Innovation group for the Campbell Soup Company. During her 15 years with Campbell, Alison has led product development projects across many of the company’s divisions including Soup, Canada, Foodservice & Fresh divisions. Most recently she has led the R&D innovation team to develop consumer focused innovative ideas and products across various categories within Meals and Beverage. Alison, originally from Canada, attended the University of Guelph (Guelph, Canada) and earned her Hon. B.Sc. in biological science. She started her food career in Quality at a national Canadian food manufacturer before moving to Research & Development at Campbell Canada.