Trend reports and presentations are popular attractions at industry events, like at the recent Health Ingredients Europe.
I am “guilty for trending" as well. Yet, I have started to question what are trends for - when and how they are useful insights.
Why do we care?
Talking about trends is a way to show others that ‘I’m in the know.’ But why do we, both in business and as humans, like to hear and follow trends?
I have reflected this question for a while and share my initial thoughts;
First, the business environment in the food and nutrition is complex and pretty harsh. For most of us, we would rather experience clarity and sense of control. Trend insights simplify and create the big picture, which eases our thinking about the business and market opportunities.
Second, as humans we are social animals - biologically we are coded to fit in, not stand out. In this context, trends create a secure frame. We lower the feelings of risk in embarking a trend by knowing we fit in - there are others doing the same.
Also, we get good arguments for the business case to convince a boss or client.
But what is a trend, anyway?
Here comes the pitfall of trends - trends are general directions and fashions:
trend [/trɛnd ] - 1. a general direction in which something is developing or changing. 2. a fashion.
Trend analysis is typically based on historical market data and/or opinions of market experts. Sometimes trends are analysed based on what topics are hot or emerging on the media channels. The analysis methodologies vary from systematic to random personal views and my approach stands somewhere there in between.
No matter of the methodology, a trend is only a generalised view which should not be confused with truth.
One example is the plant-based eating trend, which is widely recognised as a major trend.
In my opinion, this is true. That said – how big is the trend?
Those people who are living the trend within their ‘tribes’ or who know many such people tend to overestimate the reality.
What data shows is that for example the meat-free ready meals share of the entire ready meals category is around 0.75% in the UK, which is the leading market in Europe (Source: Euromonitor International and Invenire analysis, 2018). Yet, the perceived hype in the media and social media can feel much more significant than that!
Be aware of bias
It is our biologically inbuilt cognitive bias that make us humans to follow the crowd, to look for information that confirms our views, and to strive to prove just how right we are.
If we fully believe in a trend and our opinions that becomes the truth we see.
"What you see is all there is" OR WYSIATI is a cognitive bias described by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, fast and slow. I believe it would be healthy for food and nutrition businesses to keep this bias in mind.
We are all humans in the end. If you don't challenge WYSIATI in your business, you might miss the real opportunities, real clients and the most relevant trends as well.
Asking: ‘What else there could be’, and ‘what else could this mean’ is a good starting point to ask when hearing about trends.
Making the most out of trends
Trend insights, reports and presentations can be useful – for example in understanding the big picture or in substantiating a business case.
Trends also suit for being starting points for ideation particularly well!
As such, I don’t think we should abandon trend insights, I am merely encouraging that they are used more consciously in business.
When hearing about trends, I would consider the following questions:
- Who made the trend analysis? What are their motivation and potential analysis biases?
- What is the scope of this trend? Is it a niche phenomenon in a particular category or a broader market segment?
- What is the methodology used in trend analysis?
In the end, I would say that trend reports are not that important if you know where you are heading – and that you are gaining real-life evidence that the direction is right for you.
Trends can give inspiration, but you are in charge of your business - not the general direction where the generalised market is (possibly) going!
Do note that these thoughts are made up as well, and I might also have biases that I am not aware of.
While keeping that in mind, what do you think? What are trends for?
Virpi Varjonen is a market analyst and strategist with a focus on nutrition and ingredient businesses. She works at Invenire, which is a privately-owned and independent strategy and marketing agency specialized in food, health and wellbeing. She has gained experience particularly in market intelligence, strategic marketing and product development.
She is an engineer with a business and marketing spark, and holds a Master’s degree in Industrial management from Helsinki University of Technology (Finland).