Eating Digital

New waves of US Foodies influence trends & digital landscapes

By Alexandra Badea | 17th July 2017

Food has been elevated to a new concept through the nature of the interconnected world we live in, having gone from a routine we did not give much thought to, to thoroughly researched meals. If anyone would have told you a decade ago that a Facebook page that shares simplified recipe videos can accumulate 4 million new followers every month, would you have believed it?

 

The facts are impossible to ignore: one in two people in the USA share photos of their food; the ‘#food’ tag currently runs at 168m hits; 65% of social media conversations are about where to eat out. Whether it’s that black sesame ice-cream-filled waffle cone they got from Coachella, or the mid-week Bolognese they whipped up for dinner in 20 minutes, America wants you to know one thing: what’s on their plate.

 

And because of that, it’s worth noting the most powerful food trends that this wave of foodies has sparked:

1. Fuss-Free Dinners

Picture this: you’re a 20-something year-old coming home from work, having spent at least an hour commuting in a poorly-ventilated vehicle. You’ve most likely made time pass quicker by scrolling down your feed and you have come across at least three recipe videos showing you how fast, easy and healthily you can make your dinner for tonight. Or it’s very possible that you went straight on YouTube for tonight’s dinner inspiration, scrolling through the millions of videos titled ‘What I Eat in A Day – Healthy’ or ‘5 Fast & Budget-Friendly Dinner Recipes’. You’re the prime market that’s created a 280% growth in food channel subscriptions YOY, after all.

 

There is a demand like never before for simple but tasty recipes and virtually every celebrity chef and blogger has at least a few minute-meals listed somewhere on a website or in a book. Some, like Jamie Oliver or The Minimalist Baker, have published books on 30-minutes or less recipes.

 

At the end of the day (pun intended), the consumer wants convenience, without having to skip on nutrition (almost three quarters of American adults cite healthy benefits as a driver of food and beverage purchases) and this is what’s reinvented an old American concept: TV dinners.

 

Brands looking at tapping into this trend need to keep in mind that although 36% of Millennials and 32% of Baby Boomers are categorised as part of a highly involved, serious culinary core group, that doesn’t mean clear sailing. Restaurants are not out of the picture, but adapting to the market’s needs, with Asian and Mexican food fast casual eateries seeing growth lately.

 

We need to keep in mind that the customer no longer has only two options for food, either make it themselves or go to a restaurant, but can now simply order their meals through apps like Deliveroo or Yelp’s Eat24 or even plan for subscription boxes that arrive with recipe cards and the exact amount of ingredients needed to cook them. It might even work in the customer’s favour, because who wants to spend hours queued outside the go-to eatery that’s notoriously also been outside of food delivery apps’ reach, when you can log into Twitter-owner Jack Dorsey’s Caviar and have it at your doorstep in under the time it would have taken you to down three overpriced cocktails.

 

Another great example is Wagamama’s ‘from bowl to soul’ takeout boxes that challenge the way takeaway is seen and puts the consumer at the heart of the experience.

 

2. Family Meals

Family meals hold immense potential for any food vendor: think restaurant bookings, large takeaway orders, long grocery lists waiting to get items crossed off as the total of the bill fattens up, food subscription boxes with step-by-step recipe cards. They all have to profit from the 88% of Americans who say they frequently eat dinner with other members of the family.

 

Whatever route they take, Americans who take the time to sit down and have a meal with their loved ones do so because of a blend of affordable and high-tech cooking equipment combined with the proliferation of TV cookery programmes.

 

Household dinners should be seen by brands as more than just that. They become rituals that bring families together through cooking, setting the table, eating and washing the dishes. These are effectively personalised experiences that turn into long-lasting memories.

 

This trend tends to favour home cooking. Eating out and ordering takeaway (we’re talking actual food, not KFC here) are seen as notoriously more expensive than buying the ingredients yourself and making the food at home. With Millennial mothers aged 21-34 increasingly looking for ways to save money, this trend offers year-round variations from summertime picnics to national celebrations like Thanksgiving.

 

Even though Millennials are known to splurge on a restaurant meal as a treat even when money is tight, research shows that they often recreate the meals that they order there, at home. On a broader picture, Business Insider just reported on how much Americans spend on food annually. 43% which is roughly $3,000 goes on eating out, but the rest of the money goes on anything that you’d expect to find in someone’s kitchen: from meats, cereal and fresh veggies, to fruit, dairy and juices. The biggest spending category for food eaten at home, is miscellaneous foods, made out of snacks (like Doritos or almonds), condiments, baby food or packaged prepared foods.

 

It’s interesting to see how American family dinners have changed over the past 100 years, how cultural influences and technological advancement shaped what and how people eat. Mode have made a 3-minute video on exactly that:

 

 

Another project well worth mentioning is photographer Lois Bielefeld’s ‘Weeknight Dinners’. Bielefeld visited 78 American households to see how families sit down for dinner on weeknights. The differences are eye-opening and the shots brilliantly capture what different demographics eat and drink, how they are sat whilst dining and perhaps most importantly, the intimacy of family life and people’s habits relating to an ordinary activity: eating.

3. Authentic Ethnic Food

Today’s consumer enjoys experiencing flavours from around the world and food with a story, valuing individuality, uniqueness and adventure. This trend is vastly shaped by America’s most numerous generation: the Millennials. Their constant connection to cultures and information from across the Globe awakened their taste buds, making them ready for culinary adventures. Their demand for ethnic food fuelled the expansion and diversification of the offer.

 

Spaghetti, tacos or dumplings are not the only options anymore, with four in five consumers eating ethnic food on a consistent basis, the data also shows that just over a quarter of the American consumers prepared ethnic food more frequently in 2015 than in 2010.

 

A part of this trend’s surge is down to food trucks as well, especially in the South and on the West Coast. Elevated from the humble hot-dog cart beginnings, the food truck/cart scene now serves anything from Indian flavours, Bao buns, Korean BBQ, Thai food, Peruvian burritos and much, much more. It’s crazy to think that an industry worth $1.2bn was jumpstarted by a Korean barbecue taco truck back in 2008, when Roy Choi began his Kogi BBQ food truck and tweeted customers to let them know his whereabouts.

 

Two thirds of Americans are now incorporating more foods from around the world into their daily diets, than they were half a decade ago. 17% eat seven or more cuisines on a monthly basis and 80% of consumers eat at least one ethnic cuisine per month.

 

This is an immense opportunity for brands to access the experiences that consumers are creating around ethnic food, gathering with friends and family and discovering new flavours together. Again, playing on the emotional aspect, might pay off.

 

Satisfying their target market’s awakened taste buds, Trader Joe’s released a number of ready-made meals and ingredients from around the world. Some of them include frozen Kabocha (Japanese squash), organic Agua Fresca bottles (lighter juice drinks originally from Mexico), varieties of biscotti or matcha-flavoured foods and many more.

 

American yoghurt brand Chobani also seized the opportunity to add two new flavours to their Greek Yoghurt line: Sriracha Mango and Chipotle Pineapple, receiving positive reviews from customers.

4. Street Food

There’s an accumulation of customer habits that lead to the success of street food: only a quarter of the population has breakfast every day, which means despite snacking throughout their morning (snacking accounts for over half of the overall population’s eating occasions), people will look forward to lunch. Lunchtime happens to be the eating occasion that Millennials take to eat out the most, whilst seeing food as entertainment and self-expression.

 

The aesthetics of street food make it desirable as well, as its photography-ready attributes definitely tickle the consumer’s affinity for sharing updates and pictures on social media. Eight in ten Americans who use the internet are on Facebook, 24% use Twitter, 31% Pinterest and 32% use Instagram.

 

Pairing perfectly with the rising popularity of authentic ethnic foods, street food remains a proud display of a culture’s flavours and aromas, a free-spirited celebration of fundamental origins in their purest, rawest form.

 

All rules get thrown out the window when convenience and flavour is at the heart of the experience.

 

For example, the biggest music festival in America, Coachella, built their brand on the food experience that they offer, as much as they did on the music scene. Fusion cuisine, like Tempura Hot Dogs or Horchata Donuts, commoditised ingredients formerly pertaining to the fine dining market only, like filet mignon grilled cheese, or downright unapologetic deep fried Oreos and waffle breakfast sandwiches with too much cheese to contain between the layers of crispy bacon.

 

4. The Health-Focused Consumer

I’m sure you can see a paradox here: having just gone into detail on the amount of triple-fried foods and now I’m about to go into detail on the amount of salad bowls avalanching America. An NPR survey found that 75% of Americans said that they ate wholesome food in 2016, but another BCG & IRI survey found that the top two food trends for consumers were indulgence and nutrition. If you think at the data as it depicting a newly acquired balance that the consumers are displaying, then it doesn’t look so contradicting anymore.

 

Millennial habits influence more than just industries, they create trends and reshape the way brands target them. They believe in indulging from time to time, but otherwise actively try to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 48% of them are regular gym-goers, more than any other generation.

 

For instance, the wellness bowl trend, generally associated with breakfast or lunch eating occasions, is the best example that stems from the eating habits of the Millennial market: highly interested in aesthetically-pleasing platings, however spending an average of 30 minutes per day cooking to then eat most of their meals at their desks. Buddha bowls abounding with colourful veggies, vibrant smoothie bowls, refreshing Açaí Bowls and the emerging Poke Bowls are nutritious meals quick to prepare, looking stunning with little effort required.

With powerful influencers propelled by the growing numbers of vegetarians, flexitarians and vegans, the wellness food trend is reinventing the notion of fast food – the healthy way! Trainers like Casey Ho, Joe Wicks or Emily Skye, who cultivated a social media presence with their healthy recipes and workout videos are now reaping the benefits. The top 10 wellness influencers of America have amassed together 40m Instagram followers, 52m Facebook likes and 5m YouTube subscribers, having a total of 106m audience reach.

 

The best example of a personal trainer building up her brand and launching it Globally is none other than the media-proclaimed ‘Fitness Queen’ Kayla Itsines. The Australian PT launched her BBG (Bikini Body Guide) as a series of PDF’s years ago but her online presence and following of women who take the training program as a way of life, has propelled Itsines to fame. Her ‘Sweat With Kayla’ app released in 2015 has become a Global hit. Brands like Adidas have also lined up to be endorsed by Itsines.

 

Brands are queuing to come up with more healthy snacks and ready meals, you can barely find a restaurant without a vegetarian option on the menu and the healthy food eateries have popped up across cities like organic mushrooms after rain, trying to fit as many veggies, wholegrain and fruit as they can on their menu. Even McDonald’s tested its ‘Keep Calm, Caesar On’ kale salad and breakfast bowls with kale, sausage and egg whites in North America last year.

 

However, the International Food Information Council Foundation released their 2017 Food and Health survey, in which they reveal that eight in ten Americans cannot determine what exactly is a ‘healthy’ food, due to the conflicting information they came across about different foods. That’s not a surprising find: two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and half of the Nation has diabetes or prediabetes by 65, so the brands’ barriers are not NPD or finding cleverer ways to shout their benefits at customers. In fact, simplifying ingredient lists and names are much needed. The barriers now lie in transmitting those benefits to the customer, in a language they can understand.

 

Kettle Chips is a great example with their Chile Verde flavoured crisps. Sadly, it also scores high on the ‘Not’ list, with their Tropical Salsa crisps infused with mango salt and cooked in 100% avocado oil.

 

Another one worth mentioning is Angie’s Popcorn:

6. Eating Digital

Half of the Millennial consumers find out about food through social networks, this trend taking off by means of food video blogs, eating journal videos and more.

 

Celebrities do lots to add to this, with many often sharing short videos of themselves cooking or posting photos of their meals, by means of Instagram and Snapchat.

 

A brand that took off on the bases of consumers’ interest in seeing and wanting to eat what their favourite celebrities are eating is food app Wine ‘N Dine, dubbed the ‘Instagram of food’. It gained unexpected traction with celebrities, who used it to share what and where they ate.

 

North America takes the lead when it comes to Facebook usage, with 62% of the population. To put that into perspective, the worldwide share of population using Facebook is 22.9%.

 

When looking at the data, it’s no wonder consumers are looking to escape reality and picture themselves in an influencer’s shoes even for a few seconds: 40% of the market is eating at their desks and 43% of Americans enjoy eating alone, as a way to catch up on social media, TV and reading. Online channels like YouTube reach more 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.

 

The increasing amount of food blogs and cooking shows have made the topic of food a public culture, with 1 in 2 Americans now taking photos of their food. And it’s not just a Millennial thing. Generation X is also spending more than 6 hours on social media every week.

 

With eight in ten Americans watching TV cooking shows, these programmes have extended to cater to all watching occasions on both online mediums and traditional networks: domestic morning shows (The Rachel Ray Show), sport-style competitions (Chopped, MasterChef) in the evening and travel shows (Chef’s Table, Cooked). Interestingly, more than half of those who watched these shows say they have purchased food as a direct result of something they’ve seen on a cooking show.

 

Building a food brand with social media at its core marketing strategy seems to be the best plan of action, as there are currently 168m photos tagged #food and 49 million Instagram posts are tagged with #foodie.

 

A brand that’s built a social media food empire is Buzz Feed Tasty. Starting off as a segment on the main Buzz Feed website and social media channels, it spun off into its own dedicated channels, with separate accounts for different countries like the USA, UK, Brazil or Germany. They share 2-minute, step-by-step recipes of comfort food or healthy eats, amassing to almost 90m likes on Facebook, 3m subscribers on YouTube and 12m Instagram followers. Their social media following go as far as testing their recipes in videos that are later shared across the Internet.

The influence of apps and social media on our daily lives should be clear to you by now. Technology is reinventing our habits and whether that’s a fact that we have welcomed or if it has slowly crept its way into our routines, the immensity of its reach and control over our day-to-day lives cannot be denied.

 

And if you are still one of the blissful few who cannot still accept that, then ask yourself this: does a business really exist in today’s market environment without an online presence? Does your audience still read all news and articles from newspapers and magazines?

 

And finally, be honest with yourself: if you want to serve your guests that slow-roast Moroccan-spiced rack of lamb, are you going to rush to the first bookstore for the recipe?

Sources: Mintel, Pew Research Centre, Business Insider, Instagram, Bloomberg, WordStream

By Alexandra Badea | 17th July 2017

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