Stomaching the Unfamiliar: How Food Trends Take Shape
NPR’s food blog The Salt recently reported on a pop-up restaurant in Washington, D.C., serving a menu devoted to insects. Sponsored by an exterminator and called the “Pestaurant,” the eatery features grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms, and ants.
As it happens, we talked last year about whether eating bugs could be one of several new food trends, and with wriggly menu items in the news again, it seemed worthwhile to revisit the topic. Our previous post laid out the argument for why it would be environmentally sound and healthy for Americans to start eating bugs on a large scale; in this post, we’ll look at what it would take to make that happen.
What would it take to mainstream deep-fried crickets, grasshopper burgers, or earthworm pastries? At minimum, such a campaign would take many years and some major marketing savvy—and perhaps a bit of luck.
David Sax’s recent book The Tastemakers describes how would-be trendsetters often struggle for years to bring a product as simple as a new kind of apple to the masses. Before they even get to marketing, these trailblazers have to contend with agricultural problems, complex regulation, and lack of infrastructure, but perhaps most difficult to contend with are cultural biases.
People are extremely cautious (for understandable reasons) about what they put in their mouths, so marketers who are introducing a culturally unfamiliar product need to have patience and take the long view. Sax dedicates a chapter of his book to the attempts of various entrepreneurs to make Indian food popular in the United States. Many Americans (not the ones in our office, thankfully!) have long associated Indian food with storefront stomach distress, and restaurateurs have had to struggle with that perception (beyond our general discomfort with highly spiced food). Analysts have been saying for decades that Indian food is poised to take off in America, but it hasn’t happened on a wide scale.
The case of Indian food shows how hard it is to overcome ingrained cultural attitudes. For as much as Americans love many non-American foods, acceptance of something we perceive as exotic can take a long time. People need many experiences with a food to grow comfortable with it, from seeing it on TV to hearing friends talk about it. Whether it’s an unfamiliar international food, a rediscovered heirloom vegetable, or edible insects, consumers don’t warm to unusual products quickly. Accordingly, anyone marketing a challenging product needs sound strategy and a plan to continue the campaign for years to come.
We’re not confirmed bug-eaters yet here at MarketPlace, but we love to explore food trends in the making. Our strategy-first approach makes us a great partner if you have a product that consumers don’t find immediately appealing, so get in touch today.