What would you do if you saw a sharp, sudden spike in demand among for sauerkraut? Make your own? Wrong, says Alon Chen, the CEO and founder of Tastewise, a start-up that uses AI and machine learning to provide real-time insight into people‚Äôs food tastes.
Far better to identify the trend behind the trend. ‚ÄúSauerkraut is fermented food, and fermentation is highly associated today with gut health and brain health,‚Äč‚ÄĚ Chen explained. So sauerkraut is an example of a demand for a traditional ingredient being driven by a new concept. What‚Äôs more, if a food brand sees that sauerkraut is rising ‚Äúit’s already too late. It will take you sometime until you get it into your product line.‚Äč‚ÄĚ
His point is that, once you know which functions interest consumers, you can create products to suit growing consumer needs in the relevant format. Better to take a step back and understand what‚Äôs behind the trend.
There are other examples. Ashwagandha is used as a stress relief. Maple syrup for weight loss. Golden syrup for sleep. Moringa? A natural replacement for ADHD drug Ritalin. Hemp oil is also seen as stress reliever, but interestingly its cousin CBD is not. That‚Äôs used for gut health, according to Tastewise’s analysis of online consumer conversations. Celery juice: for focus.¬†Keffir, not for gut health or to keep up with Kenyan long-distance runners, but as an anti-depressant.¬†
Peppermint, watermelon and radish are all gaining popularity for their digestive qualities.¬†There‚Äôs more. “People buy a lot more cream cheese and use it in their recipes because they are on a ketogenic diet, where you’re supposed to reduce carbs and sugars. Finding the reason behind the trend is really critical for you as a food manufacturer today and that is what we do.‚ÄĚ‚Äč
Tastewise has just released a report that offers insights about the eating habits of today‚Äôs consumers, both inside and outside the home. The report highlights the growth of functional foods. Over a third of consumers are looking for functional benefits from their food, it stated. There has been a 23% rise in the past year in the number of consumers looking for wellbeing functions for their food and drinks, it added.
Tastewise works by using AI and machine learning tools to analyse billions of food data points – including social, menus, and home recipes – to provide real-time insights for hospitality and food brands. A lot of the data is from the US exclusively, but is still used by Tastewise to form opinions of global trends. It predicts, for example, that the functional food market globally is poised to reach more than $275bn.
‚ÄúThe beauty of this technology is that we don’t need surveys or to ask people – we train the algorithms to explain and understand human behavior around eating and drinking‚Äč,‚ÄĚ explained Chen, who was¬†a¬†Google¬†marketing executive before launching the tech start-up.¬†
What other areas should be on the radars of food and beverage firms?¬†‚ÄúUsing food and beverage for anti-ageing is increasing 50% year-on-year,‚Äč‚ÄĚ said Chen. ‚ÄúWhat we’ve found is that one of the biggest drivers for anti-ageing is actually the vegan diet. People go for veganism to look younger.‚ÄĚ¬†‚Äč
Sleep is another driver. Social mentions of ‚Äėsleep‚Äô in relation to food are up 28% year-over-year, according to the Tastewise report.
Golden milk, also known as¬†turmeric milk¬†or a turmeric latte, is hot on the fingers of consumers on social media keen to explore its natural sleep-promoting potential.¬†
Tryptophan-rich ‚Äėmoon milk‚Äô, a sleep-inducing recipe for warm milk that‚Äôs sipped before bed, is up 70% on social media in the past year, added the findings. In the US, 54 restaurants now offer moon milk on their menus: up 15% from last year.
The pursuit of wellness – the feeling of total health, beyond the absence of illness ‚Äď has become a powerful entity, according to Tastewise. Today‚Äôs health movements are often dedicated to well-being beyond the physical, including practices for improving mental and spiritual health as well, the report stated.¬†
‚ÄúFood and beverages have an important part to play, with clean eating of particular interest for¬†consumers — social mentions of ‚Äėwellness‚Äô and food are up 40% since last year. Smoothies and herbal tea have experienced marked growth in the category over the past year,‚Äč‚ÄĚ the report said.
‚ÄúPea protein, typically consumed as a neutral-flavoured powder, is finding new popularity; mentions of the protein in connection with wellness are up 542% in the past year.‚ÄĚ‚Äč
Consumers looking to bolster and protect cognitive health through everyday lifestyle choices are embracing natural ingredients for their brain-boosting qualities, the report noted.
‚ÄúMentions of the brain and food are up 46% in the past year. Nutrient packed dates, sauerkraut, and ginger are particularly in demand. Consumers are increasingly choosing sweet potato for brain health. Social year-over-year growth of the versatile root is up 125%,‚ÄĚ‚Äč¬†Tastewise wrote.
Gut health has a direct line to overall health. Everything from anxiety disorders, chronic headaches, skin issues, hormonal imbalances and more have been linked to how the gut is functioning, it added. ‚ÄúFood and beverages are intimately related to the health of the digestive biome, and consumers are drawn towards ingredients that support positive gut health; social media mentions of ‚Äėgut health‚Äô are up 42% in the past year. Ingredients like watermelon and leafy greens offer the fiber needed for healthy digestion and are increasing in popularity.‚ÄĚ‚Äč
Weight loss is another, perhaps more obvious, factor. But here the content is shifting, according to Tastewise. This year has seen a cultural shift away from fast-dieting and unrealistic beauty standards,¬†and toward body positivity of all shapes and sizes, it believes. ‚ÄúPeople interested in weight loss are also shifting away from the old vanguards of the‚Äč weight-loss industry, and towards natural and healthier alternatives like cranberries and provolone‚Äč,‚ÄĚ it wrote.
‚ÄúMaple syrup, up 88% in the last year on social media, moves beyond its association with breakfast foods, serving instead as a natural sweetener that can replace unhealthy, processed sugars. Coconut water, known for its hydrating properties, is up 64% on social media amongst consumers thinking about weight loss in the past year.‚ÄĚ‚Äč
CBD has also come a long way from its original, primary application against stress, reckons Tastewise. Today‚Äôs CBD offers a host of potential health benefits including digestive health (up 268% in social mentions in the last year), anti-inflammation, pain management and more, it notes.
‚ÄúAdditionally, consumers take CBD in various forms to improve immunity, increase energy, and support good sleep. CBD comes in oils, tinctures, drinks, snacks and more, and can be found in everything from beer to¬†‚Äčgummies to ice cream to soap. Continued consumer interest in CBD is clear: Social mentions¬†‚Äčof CBD over time have increased 215%.‚ÄĚ‚Äč
Understanding these drivers can also help food and drink companies distinguish which of these trends have legs with the flash in the pans. Take charcoal, which was ‚Äėone trend discussed extensively last year‚Äô but which since quickly disappeared, according to Chen. Why? Because the trend driving it ‚Äď the one for colour ‚Äď wasn‚Äôt strong enough. That‚Äôs different from trend such as brain health, which is pertinent while many countries deal with ageing populations.
‚ÄúWhat we say is that the likelihood of something sticking around is if it address a need that is rising then it‚Äôs likely.¬†People might swap sauerkraut for something else that improves their brain health. But the brain health motivation will stay‚Äč.‚ÄĚ¬†