After promoting Roasted On coffee beans and granola at Adelaide Hills Farmers' Markets for about two years now, I've noticed these markets set the trends when it comes to food. For example, kombucha was selling at markets long before supermarkets decided to start promoting it.
Markets provide a low-cost environment to experiment with products and get real feedback from customers. The feedback is honest because people either buy it, or they don't. It's not a focus group where people say one thing but do something entirely different.
Markets allow you to pivot from one product to another quickly. Did your new mango kombucha flop this week? That's ok. Next week you can bring passionfruit and mint.
Big brands can't do that.
Unlike supermarkets, customers at farmers markets don't expect fancy packaging or slick marketing material. Free samples are the norm (and encouraged), and market customers are early adopters. For food businesses looking for the next big thing, they are your dream team.
From my many hours at markets, and my family's food background (we have a dietitian, a caterer, a cafe owner and two coffee roasters), I'm feeling confident that I'll be able to pick a few trends in food for 2019. But let's not forget - the best way to predict the future is to invent it - so expect some innovations from Roasted On in 2019.
Economy down, prices up
But first, an important note on how the economy might affect food trends in 2019. While Australia may have avoided a recession for 27 years, it's looking increasingly likely that our economy is going to get rocky this year.
Many of these predictions involve higher priced items, which may seem counter-intuitive in this environment. However, the right type of food can fall into the "affordable luxury” category, which tends to perform well in a recessionary environment.
The Lipstick Effect
The “lipstick effect” was a term coined by Leonard Lauder (from Estée Lauder), when he observed that lipstick sales tend to be inversely correlated to economic health. The “lipstick of choice” varies with time and geography but thrives on the back of peoples' desire to splash out on small things to make life “worth living”.
An example from Roasted On is one of my granola subscribers who gets a single bag of granola delivered every 3 months. She reminds me of Charlie, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who makes his block of chocolate last a whole year.
We hear much about people saving money by spending less on lattes during hard times, but the data doesn't support this. Euromonitor International reports that in the 2008/2009 downturn (outside of Australia) specialty coffee shop sales went down by... 0.1%. Cafe owners shouldn't stress about a recession, as long as the $5 coffee they're serving up is good enough to be considered a treat.
And so with that said, I'll begin with my first prediction...
1. A loaf of bread that costs over $15.
There is an increasing number of high-quality bakers showing up at farmers markets with mouth-watering bread. Categorically better than anything in shops. At the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, you can buy fruit loaf from Bread and Butter ADL that has to be tasted to be believed. It's $9 at the moment and quickly sells out. So what happens if they can find a way to make it even better?
Fruit loaf (that makes "life worth living") which I can enjoy for days for $20? That's is a bargain compared to a couple of beers at the pub. Sign me up to that fruity goodness.
Richard from the Willunga Farmers Market reports they “have a number of producers that sell a wide range of quality bread; gluten-free loaves, wood oven bread, white, grain & wholemeal loaves, pasta dura, farmers loaf, French stick, Turkish bread, pizza dough, hot cross buns, scrolls, rippers, sourdough bread: white, rye, ciabatta, whole wheat, brioche, seeded whole wheat, olive ciabatta, multigrain, fruit rye, fig & fennel, 100% rye, and stirato.”
Try finding all them at Coles.
He goes on to say that “within that range, many price points attract different customers. Sandwich loaves are not an expensive item in the market while ancient grain bread attracts a premium because their ingredients are more difficult to source... and are not mass produced."
I've got more to say about Ancient Grains below.
2. Sauerkraut... targeted explicitly at men.
The research on the importance of gut health has hit the mainstream. And with it, fermented food and drinks are all the rage. Of course, kombucha is everywhere now, and I'm seeing more kimchi at markets, but these aren't new trends.
The thing is, there's nothing aimed at the "Aussie bloke". I'm not talking about all Australian men, I'm talking about the stereotypical "Aussie bloke" - the guy wearing his AFL merch in summer, a pair of pluggers on his feet, and a spare tire around his waist. Maybe two spare tires.
Does he care about his health? Definitely. Is he going to take kombucha to his next BBQ? Like hell.
But Sauerkraut, well, that's German, and Germans drink beer from those stupidly large pints. Therefore, Sauerkraut is manly. You put it on hotdogs. It's a tiny step to switch out the onion on your sausage with a bit of fermented cabbage and salt.
All that's needed is good branding and a well-told story.
3. Native food
Native food has been around for a while. Like, thousands of years. But I'm seeing it starting to get trendy. And with more exotic and daring products.
Take cheese for example. Kris Lloyd says she is "seeing a lot more innovation by cheesemakers as consumers seek exciting new flavours." As Head Cheese Maker and CEO of Woodside Cheese Wrights, Kris would know. In 2016 she released her prize-winning soft goat cheese topped with Australian Green Ants.
Woodside Cheese Wrights have been using Australian Native ingredients in their products for years now. Kris says it’s the best thing she introduced to her artisan cheese making business, “Australian ingredients are in abundance, they are also a story we can tell about the place we come from, and that is important, they are also usually ingredients that have not been seen on the world stage before, so they catch peoples eye and palates!”
4. Really crazy gin
OK, it's not really food, but some people might have it for breakfast.
Gin is booming. You don't need me to tell you that. Competition is now fierce amongst small distilleries. There has been a lot of money poured into equipment, and there's a lot of passion out there. No-one is about to pack up their bags and go back to a corporate cubical.
So the next big thing in gin will be the weirdest and most delicious concoctions you can imagine. For a distillery to compete, it's going to have to capture peoples' imaginations. It's going to have to create products that are truly remarkable - that people remark on to their friends. So get ready for crazy. Crazy good.
A shout out here must go to our friends at Settlers Artisan Spirits who are leading the way. Award-winning Yuzu Gin anyone?
Alongside this trend is a maturing of the gin market. It will continue to grow because it will continue to segment. You know a market has segmented when regular consumers (not aficionados) no longer talk about their "favourite gin" but instead talk about their "favourite style of gin" (Citrus, Strawberry, Herbal). And within each style, there will be room for many products.
We've seen this "favourite style of..." consumer behaviour in coffee, beer, wine and cider. And we're about to see it in gin.
5. Alternative Grains
Just when I think the gluten-free diet trend is peaking, someone else asks me to take the oats out of my granola. Like it or not, I believe in 2019 we will start to see gluten change from being "bad for some people" to just "bad".
Also, we have already seen FODMAP diets surge in popularity which will play into this trend well.
These movements will drive alternative grains into the mainstream. Sure, quinoa (which I never pronounce correctly) has been readily available forever. But in 2019 we will see more variety in easily accessible alternative grains.
Bulghar, amaranth, kaniwa, kamut, sorghum. I look forward to mispronouncing you over and over again.
6. Gourmet Spices
Last year at the Adelaide Hills Farmers Market I meet a new stallholder who was importing spices directly from Indian producers who made them in more traditional ways. I have no idea what this means and haven't seen him since, but it is a cracking business idea.
The way we buy spices in supermarkets is exceptionally dull. Big racks of spices in uninspiring packaging that hasn't changed in years. No education, no story, no emotion.
This category is ripe for a shakeup, for small brands that can create human connection and educate consumers about how spices are made and where they come from. A brand that only sells different types of pepper is entirely realistic. Pepper tastings at markets - why not? We use pepper nearly every day - it's about time someone made it more exciting.
Will you do it?
7. "Ketogenic food."
I had to put it in quotation marks. There is no such thing as "ketogenic food". Yet.
Obviously, there is a ketogenic diet, which has become more popular than Jesus. It is a diet, but it is also a movement. People choosing a ketogenic diet will describe themselves as "keto". It is part diet, part identity.
Within this movement, avocado oil is no longer avocado oil. It is "ketogenic food". And so, we will see a trend of products targeted specifically at people on a ketogenic diet, and their labels and descriptions will reference "keto".
8. "Plant-based" meals
A "plant-based" diet is for vegans who don't want the stigma of being a vegan. It's the same food, but different branding. Some people I've spoken to who identify with a plant-based diet (rather than as vegans) describe how the change in language makes them feel more positive about their choice. It's less about what you don't eat, and more about what you do.
Feeding into this trend (pun intended) is the desire for people to reduce their impact on the environment and increasing awareness of how eating more plants and less meat can help this.
This will develop into a trend of people who eat meat also choosing plant-based meals regularly. This is a much bigger market, and so we will see more meals described as plant-based rather than vegan. This will lead to more innovation in this style of cooking.
Where to find the next big thing (and where to sell it)
Farmers markets and tasting events (such as the Cellar Door Fest in March) are where you will see all these trends first. You won't see them first in supermarkets. You won't see them first in specialty shops.
They will first appear in a scrappy stall, sitting on a 6-foot trestle table with next to no branding. So if you haven't been lately, make a trip to your local farmers market and say hi.