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The real fun part of trend hunting

Scouting out new products and cutting-edge innovation is likely one of the key, and the best, parts of the job for members of food companies’ marketing teams. Here’s some advice from a class outfit, New Nutrition Business, the London-based consultancy that’s an astute and long-experienced master of NPD/trend-watching.

Writes NNB’s founder and CEO, Julian Mellentin:

The marketing and NPD teams of companies that want to get to grips with emerging consumer trends like to get together with their brand consultants and advertising agencies and go out to retail stores and discover the latest, coolest products.

And quite right – you can learn more by wandering about the aisles of grocery stores than you will ever learn in a powerpoint presentation or by sitting in your office and trawling the internet. It’s boots on the ground that find the winning strategy, every time.

But which ground do you put your boots on? Which stores do you go to?

We’ve noticed that the default setting of marketers and their advisers is to head to the capitals of hipster cool. They to go to New York (especially Williamsburg), Austin, Texas, many parts of California, to London (and particularly Hoxton and Shoreditch), to central-city Melbourne and Sydney.

And when they get to these hubs of hip, they fill their time with visits to Whole Foods Markets, organic superstores, hipster cafes – and in fact all the places the ad agents and branding consultants and their upper income, college-educated friends like to go to themselves at the weekend.

The one problem is that while these hip-holes are a source of myriad crazy and brilliant ideas, they’re not necessarily the ideas that are going to spread. At least, not any time in the next 5+ years.

The leading edge is just that – way out in front. And it’s often described by cynics as “the bleeding edge” because so many of the amazing experimental ideas will die there too.

Which is why when at New Nutrition Business we think about trends we go everywhere – where the normal people go, who have mortgages and jobs and a budget and have never set foot in Williamsburg or Hoxton (and wouldn’t really want to).

That means not making special trend-hunting trips, but keeping your eyes open and your powers of observation turned so that it becomes a way of life.

For example, outside a small suburban railway station in Scotland’s biggest city, I recently spotted a sign at the station café for its deal of the month: coconut latte. In Scotland?

The very nice Polish lady who runs the café was kind enough to explain that they sell really well and demand has grown steadily over the last year. People like the taste, there’s no dairy in it (a lot of people think milk makes them bloated she said) and everyone loves the taste of coconut.

The people who buy them are all ages. And most of them know what they’re buying – they maybe already had a coconut latte in a cafe or at a friend’s house or have made one at home.

So coconut latte is quietly going mainstream. Available at a regular station café, where people pick one up on the way to work and at an affordable price.

Visiting unlikely corners, keeping an open mind, taking pictures and talking to people – that’s the fuzzy reality that’s a big part of accurately tracking trends.

New Nutrition Business Blog: Read more here

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