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Buzz vs. trend

Almost every day the world of food is flooded with a slew of new “trends.”  Cronuts and ramen-crusted anything are at the top of the search results for food trends right now, but there are dozens of other obscure foods in the pipeline ready to take their place.  Despite having a major online presence, many of these “trendy” foods don’t make much of a dent on menus, which begs the question: What makes a trend a trend?

We mull over this question often at Food Genius. If a food is catching major buzz online but isn’t experiencing growth on menus, is it still a trend? And what if a food has shown a huge increase on menus but has no online traction? Often times the industry conflates the words “buzz” and “trend,” but they are distinct terms with independent implications and it’s worth understanding their differences. To that end, Food Genius has developed some trend-defining criteria that we think helps illuminate the differences between “trend’ and “buzz” and which ones you need to monitor.

First, to be considered a trend, the concept needs to have experienced growth both over the last year and in the most recent quarter. Also, the item needs to appear on more than 5 percent of unique menus. To us, anything less than that represents a niche item that lacks the necessary exposure. By this logic, it’d be difficult for something as specific as say Sriracha sauce to be considered a trend (it appears on 2 percent of menus), but its parent term “hot sauce” could be - indeed, the term has experienced growth, with menu mentions rising from 19 percent to 21 percent since last year.

If an item fails to meet these criteria, we consider it buzz. Buzz is the pretzel bun. It’s the thing that keeps getting retweeted but is almost impossible to order off menus.

But don’t think of this as a pejorative. Buzz is good because anything buzzy has the potential to turn into a boon for business. Think of the ramen burger; its familiarity to consumers is growing yet they can’t get it anywhere. Exciting opportunities exist at the intersection of low trend and high buzz.

Menuing a buzzy item before it becomes a trend means breaking ahead of the pack to become one of the few places where a consumer can actually get their hands on that sought after item: the Cronut, DLT, umami burger, or whatever it will be next month.

There’s also power in menuing items without much buzz. On the opposite end of the axis is an item that is low buzz but high trend, which means that people love to eat it but just don’t blog about it afterwards. Think of these items as the sleeper hits. They are the concepts that are experiencing tremendous growth without anyone knowing it, such as sandwich wraps, which experienced  26% relative growth in location availability since last year. In case you were wondering, sandwich wraps are about the least buzzy food you can imagine.

Over a series of posts I will be dissect current buzzed-about foods and also highlight foods that are trending by Food Genius standards. I look forward to highlighting some amazing local and regional food trends, talking about themes of growth we are seeing in the industry and busting what so called experts have said were going to be trends this year.

Please contribute to the conversation by suggesting a buzzed-about food or concept that you'd like to learn more about by contacting me, justin@getfoodgenius.com or using #buzzbusters on Twitter.

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