Over the course of almost 11 years partnering with food, pet, and wellness companies, I’ve done a fair bit of what I’ll call “trend forecasting.” So, for instance, when we helped a leader in the dog jerky space solve brand architecture and positioning issues, I wanted to make sure that I was looking beyond their stated goals to consider unidentified potential in their state-of-the-art infrastructure. During discovery and ideation, I posited that the next year might well be looked back on as “the year of the cat” in industry roundups and that it might be wise to consider including a cat-specific offering in their jerky portfolio.
This was in 2014. Personalized cat nutrition and premium meat treats for cats didn’t take off as swiftly as I anticipated, but we’ve now seen cat treat sales outpace dog treats sales every year since 2016. In terms of my track record in trend prediction, I’ll call this one a draw.
The rise of the cat treat certainly wasn’t insider knowledge, but it was an instance where it helped to have an external partner with a different lens, one not so close to home (or the R&D lab) (or manufacturing facility).
It’s this issue—the issue of proximity—that I think accounts for much of our ability to identify future trends.
From Personal Interest to Category Trend
What I mean is that often, at least in the categories we serve, what becomes a trend was, at one point, a relatively niche play, and many of the people who were aware of it then are people who had a personal stake in it. For instance, in 2014, I wrote on the MarketPlace blog about the low FODMAP diet, positing that it might grow in stature to become the next gluten-free. I was aware of this relatively niche diet because of my personal stake in it (i.e. my intolerant, irritable digestive system). For the scorecard, FODMAPs didn’t make a huge splash in 2015 (or really even enter the American vernacular, as I predicted), so call that one a miss, though it has been gratifying to see Nestle give it a run, and I still smile at the FODY products on the shelf when I see them.
Trend Prediction as Collective Interest
Because of my particular interests and personal stakes, I was the one at MarketPlace who brought the niche subject of FODMAPs into our collective workplace consciousness. As a group of 25 or so people, each with particular personal interests and investments, together we comprise a significant pool of food, pet, and wellness related interests. And because our team works so collaboratively across categories and clients, we’re able to draw from each others’ personal stakes to ensure that we’re offering our partners the widest range of strategic insights and unidentified potential during discovery and ideation sessions.
Much of what passes for “trend forecasting” in the agency world is simply reading articles and rehashing others’ data and presenting it as original. By and large, everyone is doing their best to anticipate what’s coming. But if you want to know whether your strategic partner is offering substantive, predictive insights, ask whether personal stakes are involved, and then see if there’s a track record of both hits and misses, because the misses corroborate, as well as the hits, that they’re forecasting trends rather than backfilling data.
And in that spirit, I offer a list of some of my own hits, draws, and misses:
- 2014: the sparkling water takeover
- 2014: the emergence of product development around the gut-brain axis
- 2012: naming a food application made possible by an innovative plant-based food ingredient “The Impossible Cookie” (I semi-jest, though in my heart I believe that Impossible Foods jumped on our marketing bandwagon!)
- 2004: calls for transparency and authenticity to move beyond media sources into the sources of consumer goods
- 2017: express gratitude every single time you get to walk a trade show floor (a sad pre-COVID insight!)
- 2016: rise of the permanent underclass and its effect on pet supply purchase in the dollar store channel (TBD)
- 2016: the marketing word of the year should be “culture”
- 2015: the Year of the Cat (in meat-based treats)
- 2015: the dilution of “authenticity” as a core brand component
- 2016: UTI-related supplements for cats
- 2014: Low FODMAPs to make a splash in 2015 (or at least enter the American vernacular)
- 2014: the influx of high-contrast cultural food pairings (e.g. Sriracha Lay’s)
- 2012: praising Paula Deen
In short, we prize our position as strategic partner to food, pet, and wellness brands, and we recognize that part of that value is in our collective personal stakes, which we always offer as avenues for identifying trends and, ultimately, business opportunities. Sound like something you can get behind (or want to get ahead of)? We hope so, and we hope you’ll get in touch.