There’s tremendous power in humans coming together over a collective bowl, connecting back to our commonality as creatures who thrive on nourishment. And after the onslaught of discord and division on the political front, food continues to transcend and be the connective force of our society.

We spoke to Steve Bryant, North America Director for Food & Beverage Marketing & PR, MSLGROUP, about the ever-changing cultural impact of food — and what we can expect in 2017. Read even more on these trends in the accompanying infographic.

Let’s talk for a moment about food as identity, as one example, drinking a certain type of coffee indicates a certain personality?  Is this a relatively new phenomena?

MSLGroup’s Steve Bryant: Yes, our tribe used to be our family. Our mother’s cooking once defined our food preferences for life and we would then pass them onto our children. Food tribalism in increasingly detached from family; you can find your tribe online and in your community — often around food.

You’ve had a pretty solid track record for food trends — turmeric, coconut, ugly produce, urban gardens and coffee as an ingredient have all showed up on MSLGroup’s past food predictions. Which of these past food trends have proven to last?

Bryant: Most successful food trends eventually overreach, with illogical extensions, then ultimately a market correction results when consumers decide the right usage.

Looking at recent food trends, observers were saying two years ago gluten had played out, yet it’s stronger than ever. I think there’s always a question of sustainability around urban gardens, but nearly every fine restaurant has some ground with greens and herbs out back. We’ve learned that coconut oil is not suited for everything. The popularity of turmeric will continue to rise, especially with an aging population looking for effective healing foods. There’s a continued wave in innovation around coffee, we’re now even seeing fermented coffee.

We may have reached peak pumpkin spice, but I’m seeing chestnut emerge as a new seasonal flavor that’s more sophisticated, nutty and earthy. It’s also a very common Asian flavor and foods from that region continue to gain popularity.

Let’s talk for a moment about the explosion of food delivery and meal kit services — one of your big predictions trends for 2017. Where is this going next?

We know that people will accept offers for free meals — but will they continue to use these services after the rich incentives fall away? The food delivery sector will face consolidation, of course, yet it’s sure to find a substantial place within the vast food ecosystem that meets our need to eat many times a day, under many different circumstances.

Amazon Go, which is currently being trialed, will be huge — it takes the friction out of grab-and-go retail food purchases.

Another trend you note is zero-waste recipes. Does this apply more to commercial kitchens or consumers?

There are certainly many restaurants that are moving toward zero waste. It’s an old idea made new again. Anyone can adopt the traditional French stockpot — some foods that might go into the compost bin can instead go into the stockpot. As another example, the cherry that surrounds the coffee bean is a very functional food that can be ground into flour. You’ll start seeing this rescued commodity in manufactured foods. Ultimately, people feel bad about wasting food; there is a strong emotional connection here. Even if you don’t manage your kitchen with zero waste, you might make buying decision around companies that do.

Another trend you mention is how food continues to dominate social media. What’s next in how people engage around food in social media?

Food has been an enormous success on social media. It’s something that people want to talk about and engage around, moreso than commentary on the next president or your favorite cause. Because food has become such a magnet, we’ll see more non-food brands be all over this. T-Mobile Tuesdays already do this with many giveaways that are food related. We’ll see more car makers post about the best foods to eat on the road, especially with driverless cars on the horizon. Construction companies might focus their social media activities around dream kitchens.

You also predict smart labels are going to change the way we shop?

Smart labels are QR codes that you can scan to learn everything about a product. There’s such a demand for hyper transparency for food makers and this paradoxically could favor bigger companies that have better supply chain management over the smaller organic brands that can face supply issues. The Grocery Manufacturers Association has brought a lot of companies on board. Once it’s scaled up with a rich database, you could build apps around certain food requirements — for example, being able to scan my groceries for products with gluten, corn or some other allergy.

More on the trends that are driving food consumption and marketing in 2017 in the following infographic (also available here). 

Photo credit: Michael Stern, (Flickr user Wall_Food_10229)
MSLGROUP 2017’s Top Conversation Starter Food Beverage