There is no singular source for monitoring trends.
“It’s a combination of keeping your pulse on Google Trends, headlines, foodservice menu shifts, celebrity endorsements, Pinterest activity, and more,” said Melinda Goodman, managing partner of FullTilt Marketing.
Katie Toulouse, communications director for the Produce for Better Health Foundation BB #:157162 in St. Louis, said PBH tracks trends with governmental data, statistics from the produce industry, and input from consumers.
Both the United Fresh Produce Association BB #:145458 and the Produce Marketing Association BB #:153708, as well as various commodity boards and regional organizations, help educate members about trends that may impact consumption, and individual grower-shippers may also do some of their own research, Goodman adds.
Most important, is taking action when the earliest shifts begin to occur.
“Trends pass quickly, and very few stick around for the long haul,” Goodman said. “You can miss your window of opportunity if you wait too long to act.”
Emily Kohlhas, director of marketing at John Vena, Inc. BB #:104221 in Philadelphia, believes many wholesalers “tend to be a bit reactionary. Rather than pick up on a trend early and proactively push items that play into it, some are more likely to reflect the trend only after the buying habits of their retail or foodservice customers fluctuate in accordance with the consumer market.”
She suggests paying particular attention to foodservice trends, in particular, as they eventually trickle into retail.
Kohlhas also keeps an eye on highly visible players—like chefs and bloggers—to help decipher consumer thinking.
“And for us in the specialty niche, it’s imperative that we understand what’s cool and trendy. The field of specialty is always evolving—and it’s our job to help other people stay on top of it.”
Reaching out for results
It’s more challenging to reach consumers as a wholesaler/distributor, Kohlhas said.
“We don’t enjoy direct contact with consumers in the way a retailer or a restaurant operator does,” she said. “But we’re always talking to our customers about what’s going on in their businesses, and because we work with a very diverse range of clients in all sectors and at all scales, we tend to be able to assemble a really vibrant, robust picture of what’s going on in the world in terms of consumer demand.”
To reach consumers outside the retail setting, the top three approaches include social media, manufacturer and/or retail collaborations, and health influencers, Toulouse said.
“In some ways, the grower-shipper has one of the best ways to reach the consumer,” points out Goodman, “and social media has made it easier than ever before. Consumers are hungry to learn more about their food and the people and stories behind it; they want a look behind the curtain at the actual people who make their food a reality.”
And not only can the industry monitor and respond to trends, it can even begin to create them.
The Produce for Better Health Foundation, for example, launched its new “Have A Plant” campaign this year, aimed at helping Americans think differently about eating fruits and vegetables.
“I think the produce industry has an amazing wave to ride as the health and wellness trend hits its crest,” Kohlhas predicts. “By keeping the narrative energized, vibrant, and diverse, I think we can help ensure this diet-conscious zeitgeist lasts as long as possible.”
“Through the combined efforts and resources of the produce industry,” she said, “we’re hopeful we can start a movement that leads to greater fruit and vegetable consumption for generations to come.”
This is a multi-part series on dietary trends from the October 2019 Blueprints magazine.