Any food blog worth its (sea) salt would likely consider quinoa a passé trend. The sun has set on the protein-packed grain as quickly as it rose, and its trendy status has recently been handed off to sexier ancient grains like chia and farro.
Given it’s depreciating clout, one might expect quinoa to have a corresponding decrease in menu mentions. But the grain has consistently appeared on only 2 percent of unique menus for the past year, implying that quinoa was considered toast in the virtual world before it could even heat up in the real world.
Despite being dead to trend experts and food industry pundits, quinoa is still surging among searches. A quick skim of Google Trends data reveals that the grain’s star is actually rising now, not last year. Online interest in quinoa has been higher in 2014 than any year previously - a statistic which obscures the idea that somehow quinoa has gone mainstream or is the ingredients of years past.
If anything, quinoa is the ingredient of the future.
What this means for operators is that the ship has not sailed. It’s not too late to menu quinoa; rather, it’s precisely the right time. Google Trends data reveals that consumer awareness and interest in quinoa is at its highest levels ever, while Food Genius data reveals that availability is scarce.
Put another way: on any given day there might be a whole office of health-conscious people who want a nutritious, grain-based salad for lunch but have nowhere to get one. If you menu it, they will likely come. But your timing has to be right. If operators want to capitalize on shifting appetites, they must look both at the buzz (demand) and the data (supply) in equal measure to determine when the iron is hot enough to strike.
Now is the time for quinoa, but what about those other shiny, new, so-called darlings of the grain world? Let’s start with farro.
Farro is a complex grain that packs a nutrient punch. It is often mentioned in the same breath as chia by industry pundits touting the benefits and trendiness of ancient grains.
What’s of note, though, is that unlike quinoa, faro never took off in online interest. Instead it has hovered around the same low levels for the past five years or so. Despite its buzz within the industry, consumers have shown little interest in googling the grain, rendering it a food item with little trending capacity. Fittingly, farro appears on less than 1 percent of menus.
The news is a bit better for farro’s friend, chia. Google Trends data denotes that there has been a growth in interest in chia but this is yet to translate into menu mentions. Right now, chia is sitting in a position similar to that of quinoa’s a year ago. The online buzz about chia is growing but the grain has yet to make a significant appearance on menus.
It’s unclear whether will go the way of quinoa and gain momentum that eventually translates into menu mentions, or the way of farro and stall out before it even gets started. The industry moves faster than the people it serves. What is considered “over” by pundits might just be catching on with consumers. To get a realistic understanding of what America eats, look to the expert and the everyman in equal measure.
What other foods do you think have had a similar trajectory to ancient grains in terms of buzz versus trends? Tell us in the comments section, and we'll investigate for our next issue of Buzz Busters.
Until then, remember:
"Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” - Jack Kerouac