With 2017 fast approaching, it’s time to get your tastebuds – and business – on trend. From poké (pronounced poh-kay, which literally means chopped), a raw, marinated fish dish that’s a culinary staple in Hawaii, to freakshakes (a milkshake topped with brownies, marshmallows and cookie dough), the annual Waitrose Food and Drink report recently named seven foodie trends set to take off next year.
But some small businesses are already serving up these emerging dishes. So how did they get ahead of the curve?
Ahi Poké, a restaurant in Soho that specialises in the Polynesian dish, began when restaurateurs Gabriel Cohen-Elia and David Bellaiche (founders of North Audley Cantine in Mayfair) were holidaying in LA. “They couldn’t stop eating [poké] and then travelled to Hawaii to discover the more traditional approach to the dish and knew they had to bring it to London,” says Mounia Ghannam, marketing director of Ahi Poké, which
opened in June 2016.
Its head chef, Jeremy Coste, is not a traditional Polynesian chef, so applies his classical skills to the dish. He uses Japanese sashimi techniques to cut the fish, for instance, and tosses the accompanying salad in olive oil, which isn’t generally done in Hawaii.
While poké might be on trend, the restaurant’s team expects it be a long-term success. Ghannam says: “It’s a new spin on something already familiar to foodies in London, such as sushi and ceviches, [and it]appeals to the health conscious.”
Jane Milton, a food industry expert who works with producers and retailers to develop ideas, says the adventure shown by Ahi Poké’s founders is vital for gauging emerging foods. Her trendspotting suggestions for business owners include: “Eating out, reading new cookbooks, travelling and looking for opportunities to bring foods and flavours, or combinations of flavour, from other countries back to the UK market.”
Food trends can go from concept to launch in just a few weeks if they are being introduced to an existing restaurant or cafe, says Milton. However, in retail – where you need to package and shelf-life test a product, then sell it to a distributor or retailer – it will take at least 16 weeks from idea to launch.
Of course, some trends stick around – cupcakes, for example. “Hummingbird, Primrose Bakery or Sweet Couture have all lasted longer than you might have thought at the outset,” says Milton. “They have succeeded in becoming an everyday product.”
This is partly by continuing to update their offering by tapping into smaller fads, Milton says. They have recently added matcha- and chai- flavoured cupcakes to their menu, for example.
Rose Aldean, who co-founded melon juice company Mello (melon juice was among Waitrose’s 2017 food trend predictions) with her friend Sophie Lund, wants to follow a similar path to cupcake bakeries and turn it into a long-term proposition.
She says: “We identified a genuine gap in the market. I’m half Arabic and watermelon [which is widely available in Middle Eastern countries] featured heavily in my diet growing up, especially as fresh juice. I loved making it at home but I couldn’t find any in the supermarket.”
Aldean and Lund worked on product development for 18 months to perfect their juices, and conduct focus groups. They secured their first listing in Whole Foods Market in January 2014. This was closely followed by Ocado and Waitrose.
Getting the business going required risk. “We put all our savings into the company,” says Aldean. Once the company was trading, Aldean and Lund raised £250,000 in private investment. “Investors like to see that you have put everything into the business. If you’re willing to put your own money into it, it reflects the commitment and faith you have in making it a success.”
Coconut water, another favourite with health food fans, was a precursor to the melon juice fad and has proven its bankability. Giles Brook is chief executive for Europe, the middle east and Africa at Vita Coco, which was founded in 2004 and is now the global brand leader in coconut water. In 2015 it claimed a 64% share of the coconut water category. Brook is also a food investor, having just invested in Dalston Cola, which produces hand-mashed, low-sugar soda.
Brook says that for him, an interest in investing in a food business is sparked by the founder. “The brand, product or market opportunity could be incredible, but unless I connect with the founder I won’t get involved.”
With Dalston Cola, founder Duncan O’Brien’s culinary background (he had worked as a chef in several venues in Hackney, east London) appealed more to Brook than any market trend.
How to spot a trend
While you might need to win an investor’s trust, for most it’s the business idea that catches their attention. So what other ways are there to spot a trend and test investors’ interestbefore it peaks?
Maria Michaelides, founder and owner of Molly Bakes, says Instagram is a great source of inspiration. “It connects you with trends from around the world even if you can’t get to those places.”
In January, her businesses launched freakshakes – another trend named by Waitrose – and has created recipes for partnerships with Baileys, Divine Chocolate and Primark. She originally spotted the indulgent drinks on an Australian Instagram account and guessed they would become a trend. “My first thought was that I really wanted one but nowhere in London was doing them,” Michaelides says.
“While we knew they’d take off, we were overwhelmed by the reaction.” Social media has played a huge role in the drink’s popularity, she says. “Everyone wants to share what they are eating, drinking or cooking. The trend for over-the-top foods stems from this. Everything we make has to make an impact on social media, otherwise it gets lost in the crowd.” The brand has 23,000 Instagram followers and frequently posts recipes and photos of its products.
Jonathan Moore, executive chef at Waitrose and part of the team behind the report, explains how they make predictions. “We mainly look at newness in the restaurant world, things people are sharing on social media and innovation happening in other countries.” New York and Melbourne are trendsetting cities, according to Moore, starting fads for single-product restaurants (think hotdogs and cereal) and the use of flowers to flavour and garnish dishes.
But, Moore adds, there’s inspiration closer to home too. “London is brimming with great new stuff; we spend a lot of time at markets, street food stalls and pop-up restaurants.”
Milton says while predicting food trends is not an exact science, it is evidence-based. She offers a final tip: make an ally of your ingredient suppliers. “If something is going to be big for you next year then there are suppliers who will be seeing that trend now in the things people are asking for.”
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