Staying Relevant with the Evolving Consumer Market

Originally Published: June 21, 2017
Last Updated: June 23, 2021
Staying relevant with the evolving consumer market. Two callout bubbles - each with the phrase 'Trending Now' to signify the latest food trends.

Staying relevant with the evolving consumer market is important in identifying trends. People in the food and beverage industries need to get out of their laboratories and into the hidden corners of consumer food markets, if they want to catch the leading edges of food and beverage innovation. That was the message conveyed by Blake Mitchell, Partner and President of Interact on Shelf, in his presentation titled “How to Identify Trends to Stay Relevant with the Evolving Consumer Market.”

“We help food and beverage brands realize their full potential through packaging and marketing. But this talk really is about how to identify trends,” said Mitchell. He cited his location in Boulder, Colo., as being especially well-situated for catching incipient food trends. “Boulder has a wonderful food and beverage community that supports a lot of innovation,” he said, listing leading avant-garde food brands incubated in the Boulder environment, such as Doctor D’s, Quinn Snacks and Purely Elizabeth. The Huffington Post once listed Boulder as “the number one place to start a food company,” continued Mitchell.

Staying relevant with the evolving consumer market.

“A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” by G. Seurat (1884). The painting, a pixelated composition of colored dots, provides a good metaphor for how many innovations, fads and trends combine to define patterns of innovation in the food and beverage industries.

Mitchell likened the process of analyzing food trends to the pixelated impressionism of 19th Century painter, Georges Seurat. “Each point of color stands alone, but combined with others, creates an overall trend pattern.” However, he cautioned, one has to learn to distinguish between fads and ideas. Even famous painters erase designs and repaint their canvasses before their masterpieces emerge.

The venues whereby Mitchell and his colleagues search out incipient food trends range from food magazines and trade journals; global food and beverage trade shows (they attend some 14 per year); to major retailers—and to the dark, hidden alleys of major world cities, such as Hong Kong.

Some food and beverage trend events are readily accessible online through web services, like Project Nosh; others are small, specialized and highly regional trade shows, such as the all plant-based, annual Seed Food and Wine Festival, located in Miami, Fla. Rabobank, a leading international food and agricultural-focused bank, developed FoodBytes, a series of events and competitions designed to connect food companies and investors with start-up innovators.

Small foodservice outlets also incubate food and beverage ideas, transforming fads into tangible food and beverage trends. Mitchell pointed to MatchaBar’s (Brooklyn, N.Y.) building a beverage franchise around matcha-green tea beverages, while the Juice Press Bar in New York City features an expanding line of coldpressed fruit and vegetable juice-based beverages: Both companies sell their products on-line.

Speaking of protein, Los Angeles-based Mainland Poke (“po-kay”) has been introducing the “wildly popular” Hawaiian raw, cubed fish cuisine to the continental U.S. Presumably, poke will not be sold on-line.

“Food trucks are another great source of inspiration,” said Mitchell. “Take the time to speak with the chefs: They love to discuss their ideas and businesses.” Globally, farmers and fresh food markets around the world are continuous sources of ideas for new flavors and food combinations.

Finally, a wide constellation of food and beverage incubators beckons from around the world. Take the time to visit them or, if nothing else, explore their websites for ideas, says Mitchell. For example, NYC-based AccelFoods, a food entrepreneur accelerator and incubator backed by $35 million in investment capital, plans to use to launch new product ideas.

It bears reflection at this point to ponder how on-line sales venues have completely transformed the financial models for food and beverage start-ups. In Los Angeles, L.A. Prep and L.A. Kitchens are combining efforts to build a large incubator facility dedicated to helping entrepreneurs tackle issues such as regional unemployment and food waste. In Chicago, there is the Food Hatchery Chicago. In London, there is the Food Foundry. “These are great places to meet entrepreneurs and to learn how they think,” said Mitchell.

The bottom line is that the world is full of great ideas that are easily accessible, once one takes the initiative to start digging in both the obvious and the hidden corners of the world. “Be curious, be uncomfortable, be OK walking down a dark alley late at night toward a beckoning neon sign in some international city. Talk to entrepreneurs; talk to category managers.” And always: Ask questions.

“How to Identify Trends to Stay Relevant with the Evolving Consumer Market,” Blake Mitchell, Partner and President of Interact on Shelf,

This presentation was given at the 2017 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar — Business Strategies.

Click here for access to the PowerPoint presentation of “Protein Trend Spotting” by Blake Mitchell, Partner and President of Interact on Shelf.

Click to see the list of past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars.