Food for thought

Trendwatching by list

When 2009 drew to a close we were bombarded with trend predictions for 2010. Every end of the year advertising agencies and Marketing blogs come up with these lists, maximized to 10 bulletpoints headed by big sexy-go-lucky headers. This stings a bit, because understanding society is not a thing you do by reading a list at the end of the year. Understanding consumer behavior takes knowledge of statistics, an antenna for innovation, a feel for sociology and capabilities to makes those things tangible (if only for managements sake).

However for those trend- aspiring, wanna be’s and trendprofessionals alike wanting to take a short cut, there is hope. I have some advice: take an interest in cooking! Cooks prove to be future predictors that are a match for any trendwatcher. Whenever you want to know what is coming our way, go out to dinner!

Culinary predictions of the past

In the seventies cooks started experimenting with ingredients from different countries (Asia) than their own. They started using new cooking techniques like stir frying in their originally France oriented kitchens. It is not clear when globalisation actually set off, but it was only when internet became an integral part of a household that GLOBALIZATION was spotted as a consumer trend.

Ferran Adria started deconstructing food at the end of the last century. His El Bulli restaurants serves dishes like sea water espuma, garlic icecream and water melon caviar in thirty- course menus. Cooks like Heston Blumenthal from the Fat Duck in Britain and Grant Achatz from his Chicago based Alinea soon followed his example of combining food with surprise and entertainent. Bacon & egg cooked in nitrogen became common place. What they actually did was monetize the need for interactive kicks long before trendwatches came up with the term EXPERIENCE ECONOMY.

Cooks are proud people, in a way they are artists. Their works get’s judged every night by numerous critical observants. Early on the culinary world understood that no matter how many distractions you provide, eventually the restaurant will be judged by what comes out of that kitchen. Some broke down the walls creating open kitchens. Others created chef’s tables in closed kitchen. If you are proud of what you bring forth, why not show it openly to the world. TRANSPARENCY avant la lettre. See the parallel to what companies have been facing for the last couple of years, anyone?

Culinary predictions for the future

If we trendfanatics trust the culinary world to be a crystal ball, then there are four mayor gastronomical trends we have to reckon with:

LOCAL: years ago restaurants started to work with regional products. Johnny Boer earned a third michelin star for his De Librije  restaurant with a very basic cooking style using products from the restaurant’s vicinity. Nowadays many of the top restaurants go HYPER LOCAL by growing their own vegetables. We have the world at our fingertips in this internet infused world, yet that virtual world is not intimate and for our direct needs we are dependent on our family, co- workers and local entrepeneurs. We organize the rest of the world around us, digitally.

Local news, -commerce and local ecology is what is really important to us from day to day. To reach those (potential) customers try to make an impact in their neighborhoods, try to make impact on what impacts them locally.

BASIC AS THE NEW LUXURY: even though the EXPERIENCE ECONOMY is not over yet (hence the obligatory alginate Olives we encounter in almost every restaurant these days), restaurants are toning it down. Menus tell us what will on our plate instead of being small literary works. Cooks are rediscovering vegetables and, create plates that center around one product, not a combination of many different things. But the products that are used are of the highest quality.

Simple yet premium. Consumers will be looking for no glitter and will me more critical about what they buy. They don’t want ‘cheap’ however, they want premium at a bargain price.

JAPAN IS THE NEW FRANCE: Chefs are looking at Japan as the new inspirational center of the world. While rediscovering acidics in food they use Japanese one edged knifes and cutting techniques, diners are confronted with all kinds of seaweed and cooks incorporate the Japanese philosophy about food. Japanese eat not to live, but they eat also to stay alive healthy.

Japanese lifestyle can enlighten us on a spiritual level, but the world is looking at what is bought in Japan by the japanese. Japan will be hot from a consumer point of view. Apart from that the Japanese teach us that what we eat makes what we become. Last trip to New York i ate my first chocolate bar that offered a great deal of anti- oxidants. Beware for a future of food that is like Yakult on steroids!

AUTHENTIC: As products are grown in the garden of the restaurant or at least in the neighborhood, we know where the food on our plates comes from. Furthermore restaurants are ‘home- making’ everything. Home baked bread, home smoked eel and home made bonbons. Products that were long forgotten, by us not our grandparents, get reanimated like: beetroot, parsnip and salsify.

Be proud and outspoken about your company heritage (if there is a heritage to be proud of). In times of crisis consumer take less risks in the stuff they buy. If those things offer some nostalgia, that only adds to the experience. If you had a success in the past, don’t hesitate to revive it. Transformers, Vampires, Karate Kid, Sherlock Holmes, Bioshock 2, V 2009 and whatever consumers ‘digged’ in the years gone by, might just offer some comfort to consumers nowadays.

Culinary perspective

Cooks are fanatics, but off course they cannot predict the future. However, for spotting trends one might wanna look beyond the obvious tech savvy freak, the funky fashionista, the scientifically correct demographer or the new media guru. The profession of Cook that is as old as life itself, might just be just the field of work to observe.

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