By Adrienne Wolff, guest blogger, Kent Place School alumna and Brown University freshman.
There was a time, not so long ago, when kale was an under-appreciated leafy green. Quickly, kale rose to stardom among vegetables and even ended up in the snack food aisle. No longer exclusive to just the raw vegetable section, kale can now be found in smoothies, in juice, in ice-pops, in salads, in deep fryers, in noodles and even, believe it or not, in pancakes. Kale, a food trend celebrity, started out with humble beginnings, but soon became a household name.
Where are we going? To the economics of food trends.
Food Trend Cycles
Fried calamari shares a trend trajectory similar to kale. Over the course of 16 years, calamari went from an item only on the menus in high-end restaurants to being found in the most unassuming cafes. The New York Times uses a Fried Calamari Index to track the amount of time it takes for a food to reach popularity after it has been introduced. Popularity is determined by the number of articles in which that the food is mentioned in the New York Times. Once popularity is reached, the food item has become part of the mainstream food scene. In recent years, the pace of food trends has accelerated; pesto for instance reached popularity over a 35-year period (1974-2009) whereas it took kale just 11 years (2002-2013).
Social media could be responsible for the increased rate of food trend cycles because we are able to hear about new foods faster and in much more depth than ever before.
For instance, faster then any of the foods listed below, the cronut took off almost over night after sweeping across social media platforms.
In Bon Appetite, David Sax, author of The Tastemaker: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed up with Fondue, said that scalability and economics are the two reasons that cause a food to catch on and become mainstream. If a food is too obscure and expensive, the trend will never enter into the mainstream market. However, if a food is accessible in both price and taste (and has the added bonus of sounding expensive, such as quinoa), it will successfully enter “trend status.”
This brings us to the economics of food trends.
Our Bottom Line: Creative Destruction
Creative destruction can help us understand food trends. Coined by economist Joseph Schumpeter, creative destruction describes the constant cycle of old products or goods being replaced by newer, higher quality versions. Think of it as “out with the old, in with the new.”
Kale may be the King, but soon its crown will be usurped by yet another unassuming treat.