Innovation Around Food is an American Tale

Innovation Around Food is an American Tale
October 9, 2015 John McCallum

So much of what happens in the UK is influenced by America, that’s especially true in the food and drink sectors. We asked food and drink marketing specialist, and American, Doug Austin, to give us an insight into what’s new in American food. 

As I sat and listened to my friends from Flavor & The Menu magazine talk about the new 2016 Top 10 Food Trends it made me wonder “… is this a globally accepted view of food?” The answer is no, it is an American Tale for sure.

It occurred to me that while we in the U.S. love to romanticise global cuisine, it is largely the same as it has always been. Old world flavours are old world for a reason, they satisfy the need and fulfil the consuming public. It’s really that simple, it’s not an indictment or statement of lacklustre culinary effort, instead an observation that cultural relevance is indeed the driving motivator behind innovation around food and the menu. There was a time when innovation could be traced back to real need or a response to desperate times, however, that is not the case today. Instead, innovation (a much overused word by the way) is an expected part of the capitalist society we live and thrive in today. When you deconstruct the instigators to innovation in the U.S. many can find the end of the road on Wall Street. It goes like this. As Wall Street analyses top food and drink manufacturers and puts that lovely pressure on them to out-perform their last quarter sales, the answer is often INNOVATION at any cost. This can be just the nudge behind publicly traded companies inventing and bringing to market goods and services we really do not need. They are doing what they CAN do rather than what they SHOULD do. But that’s another topic. True innovation in the food and drink space would be well served to determine more nutritious and sustainable ways for us to feed a growing global population. I hold hope for those discussions, innovations and realities.

So why is innovation in food an American tale? Simply put, we Americans have this questionably insatiable need to constantly change. We change our views like sheets; we are fickle about our sports team loyalty not to mention our gross over consumption, you know, “out with the old, in with the new”. New is not only needed, it’s what sustains us emotionally and literally in many cases. We see the world as our market to consume; and consume we do. We “innovate” or change, because we can, not because there is a real need. In fact, it is arguable to rightly describe what we do around food as innovation; rather it’s change for change sake. This is where the trends come in.

Trends and fads are subjective as we call them into being. It is only over time that we can look back and put our finger on the trends that truly were not fads or passing outrageous musings of celebrity chefs with too much spotlight on themselves. I think about the old children’s tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes. We sometimes blindly play along with some of the most outrageous and frankly bad tasting creations to avoid public ridicule. While this is indeed a laughable Yankee behaviour, it does something for the creative process and thus, true innovation rises above the ridiculous. You see, innovation is, when fully realised, a creative process and thus, a messy and sometimes uncomfortable process. So, my European friends, while I can shine a light on our seemingly ridiculous infatuation with trends and the need for constant innovation around food, I am thankful we are willing to try, willing to create, willing to be bold enough to call them into being. For with this need to innovate and need to experiment, we have literally created the melting pot of the culinary world, which, I for one am happy to be in. Below are the top 10 food trends for 2016 as reported by my friends at Flavor & The Menu magazine. Please enjoy, ponder and ask yourself what this can mean to you on your menu, in your store and on your stove. For if we do not take the risk, we risk mediocrity.

  1. Harissa (the next in line after Siracha)
  2. Produce’s new prominence (as we truly approach less animal protein in our diets we will lean on produce to fill the plate)
  3. Soft cheeses (think about it this way, any place you had a dollop of sour cream in the past, consider soft cheese)
  4. Mexican makes moves
  5. Flavoured butter
  6. Citrus on Fire (consider how rich the flavour gets when you grill or smoke a lemon, now make lemonade with that or a specialty cocktail)
  7. Modern Italian
  8. Fried chicken elevated (it’s chicken’s time to shine ala the specialty burger path to success)
  9. New comfort bases (beyond soup, think artisan porridge)
  10. Tea’s time (the time to give tea as much attention as coffee)

This article was written especially for Root & Toot by Doug Austin, SVP Growth & Innovation at The Marlin Network.


Doug Austin

For 30 years, Doug Austin has been studying the “art of observation” and filtering out the human truths. Whether digging for key customer/consumer insights or preparing the next national retail promotion, it’s all about the ability to “hear and see” what others may not and asking the hard questions that get us to the possibilities. Whether through traditional advertising, brand and product innovation, or repositioning/refreshing a brand, it’s all been with the understanding that “we humans” are not complicated; we seek connection in a way we can relate to.

Austin is the SVP Growth & Innovation for The Marlin Network.


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