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SFA Webinar Preview: Menu Matters VP Weighs In on Unlocking Trends

Buyers' Market Webinar Headshot Mike Kostyo

“How do you define a trend in the context of your business? It's more than just seeing a flavor or ingredient show up a lot,” Menu Matters VP Mike Kostyo told SFA News Daily.

Kostyo will discuss trends in the upcoming SFA Buyers’ Market webinar, “About Understanding Trends: Your Guide to Identifying and Leveraging the Latest Foods, Flavors, & Ingredients.” He will outline how businesses can identify trends, track their lifecycle, decide whether they make sense for their brand, and how they can best be leveraged.

The webinar will take place this Thursday, March 28 at 1 p.m. EDT. It is free for members and $19 for non-members. Register now.

Kostyo spoke with SFA News Daily about the topic.

What trends do you feel are guiding the food industry right now?

While consumers are still very cost-conscious, we continue to see them looking for little opportunities to treat themselves. Cost anxiety, on top of global wars, a contentious presidential election, and these compounding stressors, can sometimes lead to more opportunities for little indulgences as consumers want to take their mind off things.

Earlier this year, in our Consumer Need States Report, 37 percent of consumers said they think eating ice cream can be a form of self-care. Forty-six percent of consumers said they "deserve nice things." Consumers want to treat themselves now more than ever.

I don't think it was a surprise that we saw so many caviar options at the Winter Fancy Food Show this year. When we asked consumers to name some premium or fancy foods they've always wanted to try, caviar came out on top. So premium, luxury, or gourmet experiences are on-trend, but they must be worth it to the consumer. They have to earn their cost.

What’s the difference between a trend and a fad? Can there still be value in following fads?

A trend exhibits growth for multiple years and can be leveraged in a wide range of ways across segments and categories, while a fad is more short-lived and less widely applicable. But there is still value in following fads, particularly now, when social media drives the conversation.

Last year, when "girl dinner" was popular on TikTok, Popeye's began offering a "girl dinner" meal made up of their sides. It was a fun little option for a few weeks that kept the brand relevant with younger consumers and included them as part of the zeitgeist and conversation. I think it's just important that, if you do decide to leverage a fad, make sure that it's relevant to your brand and that you are putting in real effort. Too many brands latch onto fads with irrelevant, low-effort social media posts that just make them look thirsty for attention and likes.

Understanding fads can also be important because there is often a larger trend supporting them. While "girl dinner" may have been short-lived, it spoke to larger trends about social media-friendly trends, our busy lives, and the ‘snack-ification’ of dining.

What mistakes do you see specialty food makers or restaurateurs make when tracking or leveraging food trends in their business? 

The biggest mistake is they latch onto a trend, or immediately try to leverage it, without thinking critically about it or whether it's relevant to their brand and business. The trend cycle moves so quickly, and competition seems so fierce, that brands often feel like they are behind and have to be reactionary. So, when someone says a flavor or ingredient is trending, you see brands scrambling to figure out what to do with it.

It might make sense to leverage a trend, but you must have that critical conversation about it. There is value in being very thoughtful about how you decide to leverage trends.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

A trend is just a tool for your toolbox, at the end of the day. You first have to know who you are, what your brand stands for, and who your customer is and what they want. Once you know those things, you can determine whether a trend, in whatever form that is, is something that supports your business objectives and ultimately, your consumer.