A decade ago, seeing Greek yogurt in your grocery store might have been an odd sight. But fast-forward to recent years and there might be a sense that, as food writer David Sax says, “you’re missing out if you don’t try Greek yogurt - to the point where...it’s just called ‘yogurt’.”
That’s no coincidence. It reflects a confluence of factors that conspire to make certain foods trendy, according to Sax. And the economic impact can be tremendous.
“Food trends are the innovative driver of the food industry,” Sax, author of The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue, tells The Daily Ticker. “They’re that energy of where things are going and your tastes are moving to. If something can hook on as a trend, it can generate tremendous amounts of business.”
For example, Sax says the cupcake trend has created a “GDP” for the treat in the billions of dollars a year, by one account.
The bacon trend (resulting in bacon in everything from fast-food sandwiches to gourmet desserts like brownies and ice cream) has “completely changed the pork industry." According to Sax, one of the reasons trade in pork belly futures at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange ended two years ago was because bacon became so popular, there was no more risk in the market (futures can be used to hedge bets and thus reduce risk).
Sax says food trends can be driven by four major influences: agricultural trends, cultural trends, health trends and chef trends. Greek yogurt is an example of the confluence of most of these. It has had health experts touting it as a good source of protein and probiotics that is low in fat. Chefs like Bobby Flay have gotten on board with the yogurt (Flay is a spokesperson for the Fage brand). It’s also a cultural trend, where “all your friends are eating it and suddenly it’s everywhere.”
As for what the next big thing will be? Sax predicts the "'fast-foodification' of Indian food in America." He says people have tried to do this for a number of years but the factors are just right. He points to the popularity of movies, comedians and authors focused on India or of Indian descent. He also thinks people have gotten familiar enough with Indian food and and spicy international food in general, citing the rise of hot sauce Sriracha as one indication.
A number of chains have a few units and are trying to do this. "One of them is gong to break through the market, and we’ll all be having masala hotdogs in the next few years," he says.
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