As editor-in-chief of Taste.com.au, Australia’s top go-to resource for recipes and more, Myers-Cooke has the inside scoop on what the country is cooking up at home. She is able to couple the 300,000-plus search terms visitors put in the website daily with Google Analytics data to work out what food trends are set to drive the market.
“We have unbeatable information on what inspires the audience and what the audience wants to know more about,” she told Food & Beverage Industry News. “When quinoa broke, we saw searches explode because everyone wanted to know how to use it. When we talk about trends inside the building here, what we are looking for are explosive trends. Although we keep an eye on what’s showing up on Masterchef and so on, what we really look for is the data on what’s popular before we build content around it.”
In addition to following what readers want, Myers-Cooke also needs to scout what trends are coming up around the world to see what can be introduced to the Australian market.
“We’re lucky in Australia. We are in the opposite season in the southern hemisphere, so we can see what’s happening in Europe and America,” she said. “For instance, we are seeing things like ‘overnight’ recipes – such as overnight oats – as popular in other countries right now. So what we’ll do is put a few recipes online and see how they play out. Does it explode? If it does, from there we will look at creating new content to feed the need.”
Myers-Cooke and her team keep a close eye on what restaurants are doing because trends are trickling down to home cooking faster than ever. She says food trucks, however, can sometimes provide even more immediate inspiration.
“We can actually go to a food park, and see where the crowds are,” she said. “If it’s a really good trend that excites people, there will be a crowd of people lining up at that truck.”
So what is dominating the market in 2018? Myers-Cooke identified the following seven trends as ones food manufacturers should be capitalising on to capture market share this year.
1 – Plant-based food
Of all the food trends, Myers-Cooke said all food manufacturers – including meat producers – need to incorporate the shift towards plant-based foods into their brand positioning.
“This is the number one most important trend right now,” she said, noting that traffic on vegetarian recipes has gone up an astounding 152 per cent in the past year, while vegan recipes have similarly skyrocketed.
“Two years ago, vegetarian was more niche,” she said. “Now it’s mainstream. We’re amazed to see that vegetarian recipes have caught up on searches for healthy recipes, which dominated searches two years ago. It’s just such a different environment. People aren’t just interested in vegetarian recipes, but everything with nuts and grains. We’re calling it ‘from hunters to gatherers’.”
Myers-Cooke said that, when speaking with a major manufacturer of finger foods in the UK, she was surprised to hear that all of its best-selling finger foods are now vegetarian. She noted that the days are long gone where meat is the first thing on a plate, with vegetables taking a secondary role. These days, meat is more like a condiment.
“We’ll see things like a vegan dish with bacon bits sprinkled on top of it,” she said. “Mothers who cook will add the bacon just so everyone still cheers when the meal is put on the dinner table.”
Myers-Cooke said protein manufacturers need to take note of this trend when marketing, to ensure their product continues to find itself on Australian plates.
“Meat is still selling, but it needs to be presented as part of a recipe,” she said. “When manufacturers are presenting meat, they can’t put a massive chunk of it on a plate via a classic 1950s style meal. It’s not going to resonate very well. It should be put in a bowl with vegetables.”
2 – Portioned food
Looking over popular searches, Myers-Cooke said that portioned foods, also known as finger foods, are a top favourite among at-home cooks. Portioned food is performing the best in terms of time on page, print outs, and page views.
“It’s a very big movement,” she said. “Parents want to feed their families with big platters put in the middle of the table. We’re even saying cutlery might become obsolete.”
She explained that the move to portioned food could be driven by a concern for limiting food waste. When there is just a massive platter on the table, less food is thrown in the bin because leftovers can more easily be put in the fridge and eaten the next day, when they haven’t been picked apart on someone’s plate.
Myers-Cooke said meat manufacturers should take note of this trend, by presenting their meat as portioned, either on a stick, in a pie, or in a sausage roll.
3 – Casualisation of food
In terms of approaches to food, Myers-Cooke said today’s at-home cooks are looking to impress guests with how little effort they’ve put into their food. The days of carefully plated, multiple course meals in a formal dining room are gone.
“We’re calling it the barefoot summer,” she said. “People want to kick off their shoes and entertain.”
Myers-Cooke said food makers can cater to this in their product development. Offerings should not only be simple to prepare, but importantly also appear effortless when they are served.
“It can’t look like people are slaving away in a kitchen,” she said.
4 – Retro
Retro trends aren’t just for the furniture and fashion industry any more. Myers-Cooke said her team has seen consumers interested in
food brands that trigger nostalgic memories for older Australians. She said recipes that include classic brands like Maltesers and Tim Tams – such as the Tim Tam Tarte – are proving popular on the site.
“We kind of found this trend out by accident,” she explained. “Every recipe we put with custard or condensed milk got huge hits.”
She said this is a great opportunity for some of these brands to tap into this nostalgia to reintroduce or reimagine their brands.
“It’s not just an Aussie vibe, it’s a 1960s and 1970s vibe,” she said. “It’s a very interesting phenomenon.
5 – Conscious spending
Consumers worldwide are learning that they have power in their wallets – and can sway corporations by aligning their values with what they purchase. Myers-Cooke said food is at the centre of this trend, with consumers increasingly more aware of where their food comes from.
“People aren’t just spending on a budget anymore,” she said. “They want a value equation. You see it with free range eggs. People now don’t even think twice about spending more money on free range eggs. They feel it’s ethical, and better, and represents who they are.”
With food, Myers-Cooke said, brands should capitalise on this where they can by highlighting the providence of their products. If a manufacturer has all or part of their product Australian made and/or grown, this should be at the centre of their marketing campaigns. Similarly, manufacturers should highlight family or company heritage in branding and communications efforts.
“People want to feel more invested in their purchases, like they are supporting a brand,” she said.
Similarly, brands can show that they are supporting important causes, such as making efforts to reduce food waste or limit food miles, to win over consumer loyalty.
6 – Asian flavours
Of all the food trends, Myers-Cooke is confident that the consumer love for Asian flavours is one that brands need to capitalise one.
“Asian presents the biggest opportunity,” she said. “It’s popular because it’s very forgiving. You can go to your crisper and use up all your vegetables. There is lots of flavour, it’s family friendly, and it’s affordable. And there is this air of the exotic and excitement around it.”
While some food trends come and go, Myers-Cooke said food trends that add convenience and affordability are safe bets. With Asian food, she noted that noodles are a favourite among parents as they are forgiving, and also affordable.
Overall, however, she said is it the freshness and amazing tastes of Asian food that are finally winning Australians over.
“I have this personal theory that Australians have finally woken up and realised they live in Southeast Asia,” she said. “Plus, they have travelled around so much now. If you think about our amazing ingredients that we have in Australia, we can do Asian here like nowhere else in the world.”
Whatever single or combination of trends food manufacturers decide to capitalise on, Myers-Cooke said now is the time to do it. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians spend 17 per cent of their weekly spending on food and alcohol, with that spending tripling since the early 1980s.
“It was Visy CEO Anthony Pratt who said that the mining boom would be replaced with the dining boom,” she said. “We’re seeing that right now. People are spending money, and not just in restaurants, but on groceries as well.”