Refrigerated and Frozen Foods: Ca$h in On Food Trend$

Apr 06, 2007

By Kathie Canning

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt
of an article from Refrigerated and Frozen Foods magazine, presented
here for discussion.

Is it a fad or is it a trend? Yes, the words often
are used interchangeably – but in reality, they convey two very different
meanings. For most food companies, trends represent more logical focus
areas than fads for product launches and formulation changes. The challenge,
then, is in understanding the factors that pave the way for current fads
to become long-term trends.

Harry Balzer, a vice president with The NPD Group, said each serves a different consumer need.

“We like to try new things – whether it be a new gadget for our home or some new piece of clothing or a new flavor,” Mr. Balzer noted. “That’s the beginning of a fad. The question is: Will it become a trend?”

“It’s going to be a trend if it serves some basic values beyond just being new,” he said. “If this new thing that I just tried saves me time or saves me money, I’m probably going to do it again, and I’m probably talking about a trend.”

Carefully planned research can help food processors determine whether or not a phenomenon has ‘enough legs’ to become a true trend.

“In the early stages, it’s sometimes difficult to determine the difference between trend and fad,” said Carol Fitzgerald, president of BuzzBack Market Research. “Clients often conduct early-stage exploratory research to understand and identify some of the early behavior changes, then measure these changes at different time points to see if they continue. I think there’s room for processors and end clients to work together to partner on research and develop solutions.”

One mistake that marketers sometimes make, according to Andy Hines, director of consulting for Social Technologies, is considering trends – or potential trends – in isolation.

“It may be that ‘fads’ are resting upon more stable trends,” Mr. Hines said, “and manifest themselves differently over time. We use the example of an iceberg to illustrate [this]. You may see the fads above the surface of the water, but they may be resting on larger, sturdier trends beneath the surface.”

Many of today’s widely touted “trends” actually are fads, said Mr. Balzer.

“Whole grains, dietary fiber, anti-oxidants, omega 3 – all of these are things that Americans are increasingly asking to be part of their diet,” he said. “But do they save you time or save you money? You might walk away saying, in fact, that they cost you more. So the only value they have is their ability to track ‘new.'”

But that’s not necessarily a negative.

“They could be long-lasting new things,” said Balzer. “After all, it took a while for salsa to get from San Antonio to Boston.”

Discussion Questions: Do you have your own theory on the difference between fads and trends, and when you know a fad is turning into a trend? Is there a strategy for capitalizing on a potential trend while mitigating risks that it might be a fad?

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7 Comments on "Refrigerated and Frozen Foods: Ca$h in On Food Trend$"

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Mark Lilien
15 years 1 month ago

Distinguishing between short-lived fads and long-term trends: historical perspective helps a lot. Anyone who’s been in the vitamin business knows that vitamin fads have come and gone, every couple of years, since vitamins were first commercially produced in the 1930s. Anyone who’s followed diet fads knows they come and go every 1 to 5 years, certainly since the 1922 book Diet and Health, by Lulu Hunt Peters (a 5-year best seller). Maybe a trend is a fad that lasts a lot longer than others in its category. Exercise fads come and go, but running has lasted much longer than the others, so it became a trend.

Stephan Kouzomis
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 1 month ago
In the packaged foods world and the academic community, the use of the word trend and ongoing sales are relevant for new products, startup businesses and entrepreneurial ideas for products businesses. But you seldom see the word “fad.” Or it may be be said, a failed product that wasn’t researched properly; or the company misinterpreted the market test results and monitoring of the target audience and shopper. Many line extensions may fall under this category of “fad.” The ongoing introduction of upscale entrees under a known brand name may become a short term “fad”; i.e. Crock Pot meals, or very upscale pasta and seafoods and poultry entrees, at $8.00 for maybe 4 servings. The cost of providing a “fad” product maybe an entrepreneur’s short term dream, or even a researcher’s nightmare. But, it is very costly, as we know, to introduce a new product, food or other goods, without a meaningful trend set or consumer monitoring of products liked…having legs, if you will. Could you see a National Sales Manager presenting to any major retailer… Read more »
David Biernbaum
15 years 1 month ago
Recognizing the difference between retail trends and consumer fads are an important distinction for profitable retail merchandising and marketing. It’s critical for retailers to capitalize on both but with very different approaches to merchandising, pricing and promotion. Target does a very fine job in capitalizing on trends because this retailer approaches trends from an analytical perspective. My view is that consumer trends drive retail trends when data begins to show a clear evolution in progress where consumer behavior has shifted, changed, or moved, based on changing factors of greater demographics, environment, or needs. In contrast to trends, we capitalize on fads by catering to a substantial group of consumers that are willing to spend at any given time on the latest convenience, craze or spotlight. Fads are an important business because they tend to attract traffic and be profitable, especially in their early and mid-lives. At any given time, I believe that fads make up a large share of some of our most profitable opportunities but fads should be recognized and placed accordingly, and most… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
15 years 1 month ago
Way back in 2003, when I was scathing and cynical about low carb’s position as a trend rather than a fad, I wrote about the manufacturers who were taking a similarly cautious view. There were quite a few leaping aboard the bandwagon but simultaneously preparing for the transformation of their products into longer term profit centres. ‘Simply exchanging sugar for sucralose or some other synthetic substitute, and reducing calories as well as carbohydrates, paves the way for product re-launches the instant this particular bandwagon has rolled on by. No fools in these marketing departments. Hain Celestial Group is introducing its new Carb Fit range of “all natural low-carb foods” into existing brands to “help communicate the Carb Fit product value and taste to consumers currently purchasing these national natural brands.” Or to prepare for quietly re-naming them when the consumer fixation with low-carb diets is over?’ So while many specially devised low carb products disappeared without trace, others went temporarily quiet and then re-surfaced. Fads only become obvious when they’re on the way out; up… Read more »
Roger Selbert, Ph.D.
Roger Selbert, Ph.D.
15 years 1 month ago
Trends represent long-lasting, fundamental, structural changes to the ways people live, work, think and consume. They are underpinned and reinforced by other, complementary trends: economic, social, demographic, technological, business, management, etc. The stronger the correlation and coincidence of between and among phenomena from these different fields, the more likely you are looking at a real trend! (Example: the changing role of women is a long-lasting, fundamental and structural trend underpinned and reinforced by other economic and social trends.) Fads are mere flashes in the pan, old wine in new bottles, or are representative of cyclical change, patterns of behavior that ebb and flow over time in repeating cycles. (Examples: clothing, music and grooming styles.) Distinguishing trends from fads has been my career and professional calling for 25 years, and has been driving my intellectual curiosity since 1970, when, as a history major, I read Future Shock and set myself to the life-long task of determining which was which. I can tell you this: the key to leveraging trends for business advantage requires knowing the difference.… Read more »
Warren Thayer
15 years 1 month ago
I keep close watch on ACNielsen and IRI data. People can pick it apart and find trouble with any syndicated data, of course, but it’s still a terrific barometer. About three or four months before it became common knowledge that low-carb was a fad, and all the headlines were still touting it as a longterm trend, I was researching a presentation I was making at an industry conference. The brand-level IRI data I was using showed a sudden downward shift. It didn’t seem possible, after so many months of upward numbers, and all the optimism. The folk at IRI seemed a little taken aback by the data, and concerned about a problem with it somewhere. So I called friends at ACNielsen, asking them what they’d seen. They had the same indicators, and they were worried too, that somehow the data sample was inaccurate. They were relieved to hear the IRI was getting the same sort of info. As I say, this was months before low-carb’s juggernaut ended. People were still investing in packaging over the… Read more »
W. Frank Dell II, CMC
15 years 1 month ago

The definition I use is, a fad builds and falls fast, while a trend is a slower build. In food, the difference can almost always be determined by the taste. Fads almost always have poor taste when compared to direct competition.


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