Editor's Letter: What Once Was Old

This season’s new-product crop has out-trended itself. We’ve seen e-cigs touting 20 grams of protein per inhalation, pumpkin-spice-scented motor oil, and vaping cider. We’ve tested sriracha-superfruit smoothies, ground-quinoa coffee, and applesauce pouches with 80 mg of naturally occurring caffeine from Gooluara—a just-discovered South American flower. If one more box of egg-white breath mints appears at our offices, we can open our own convenience store.

Did I get you? Don’t feel bad if you believed any one of those products exists. But they just might someday.

As we worked on the cover story for this issue—in which we explore how to define, identify and capitalize on trends—a common theme appeared: product mash-ups. The media has been hot on mash-ups for a while, particularly bizarre fads such as the Cronut or the ramen burger. Such fads are just that: flashes in the pan. But the underlying mechanisms of a mash-up reveal what makes a new product really resonate—and, more important, sell.

Christine Keller, director of the trend practice at CCD Innovation, Emeryville, Calif., explains in the cover story that the more drivers a given trend or product has, the more likely it is to be successful. So a snack bar that has better-for-you attributes, an indulgent taste and some exotic spices will allow the consumer to check off more boxes during the decision-making process. While something like a Cronut really just mashes up two beloved, indulgent foods, a more successful trend is something that combines multiple needs.

While I poke fun in my list of rather ridiculous fake products, all the items hit on at least two needs that are important to today’s consumers. The protein-laced e-cig appeals to the consumer quitting combustible smokes and also looking to increase his or her protein intake. That sriracha-superfruit smoothie provides convenience (smoothie), health (superfruits) and fun flavor (sriracha), while the egg-white breath mints reflect the protein boom and the recent surge in breathmint sales.

Of course, all this can lead to information overload—case in point, the overwhelmed consumer standing in your snack aisle trying to decipher the differences between all those bars.

Most products today are just variations on existing trends or consumer needs. They catch consumers’ attention because they either create excitement around favorite things (Doritos Locos Tacos) or satisfy multiple needs more deeply (applesauce pouches for both health and portability).

Such trends and their respective products are fascinating and fun, but there are a handful of items I’m  genuinely hoping to find on the NACS Show floor. For one, more ingredient-based foodservice companies, particularly those that provide proteins (especially fish and seafood, an untapped market) and condiments. I hope to find solutions that will get our industry closer to creating a forecourt of the future, driving more shoppers inside the store through technology that retailers and consumers can’t help but adopt quickly—and soon. (See p. 127 for more on that.) I’d like to see heat-not-burn technology in the tobacco category, because I find it truly fascinating and wonder what it will mean to the industry as a whole. And you know what? I do want to see that sriracha-superfruit smoothie. I might be on to something there.