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Consumer Trends & Insight

Stop Trying to Find the Next Pumpkin Spice Latte

It's not about predicting the next big hit flavor but understanding what feelings and experiences consumers want from their food and drink

Fall in America has become synonymous in recent years with the pumpkin spice latte. Naturally it has its own hashtag, and the whole concept is a marketer’s dream.

And, just as naturally, many marketers who aren’t in charge of selling milky espresso-based drinks want to know what the next big flavor trend will be, and how they can capitalize on something as successful as pumpkin spice has been. But they should actually be asking themselves a more pertinent question: What are the feelings and experiences that today’s consumers want to get out of their eating and drinking?

Asking this will help marketers come up with a range of flavors and ideas that they can test with consumers and that they can build successful marketing campaigns, product lines, and even brands around. Understanding four trends will help.

  1. Consumers crave comfort, in an increasingly wide array of contexts: Consumers’ relationship with food is going through a transformation. With sales of ethnic foods rising in both the grocery and restaurant sectors, as well as growth in condiments and especially hot sauces, it’s clear that consumers want more — more flavors, more spice and more styles of cuisine.

    At the same time, the emotions that consumers associate with certain flavors have expanded over the last two decades. Now they vary greatly person to person, rendering emotion-based descriptors like “comfort food” meaningless. For example, rich flavors no longer solely signal comfort to consumers; they can also deliver a moment of relief from something spicy.

  2. Consumers also want balance: Consumers — especially millennials — have a broader definition of comfort eating that includes healthier and more upscale foods. And consumers across the board today are seeking less comfort and more balance, compared to five years ago.

    Ultimately this translates to variety; restless consumers, especially millennials, are chasing a range of edible experiences throughout the day: indulgence one moment, adventure the next, a calming respite down the road.

  3. Consumers value discovery, diversity and curiosity: Consumers’ eagerness to boldly expand their palates is in keeping with the current cultural moment, in which all consumers are increasingly prioritizing values like discovery, diversity and curiosity.

    Unsurprisingly, this is good news for startup independent brands and ethnic food innovators, and presents a challenge that established legacy brands ignore at their own peril.

  4. Consumers want to share their adventures: Most millennials in particular fancy themselves the early-adopting “food connector” of their friends and families.

    Once such a consumer discovers a new restaurant or a kind of cuisine, they want to share it with others. Brands must enable and stoke the viral way in which these ideas and tastes spread.


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