I am a Gen X’er by age, but have the eating habits of a Millennial. I am fluent in ethnic flavors and on most occasions make healthy eco-friendly food choices. My kids rarely eat at Burger King, but rather the latest Pan-Asian restaurant in an up and coming part of town. Which means they have to try new foods because nuggets or burgers aren’t on the menu.
Recently, I’ve noticed that they are asking to explore new foods without being prompted (or nudged). I would like to take all the credit for this change of heart, but I see external influences promoting a shift in flavor acceptance: the ethnic melting pot, friendly competition, the digital age, and home delivery.
THE ETHNIC MELTING POT
This robust category – let’s call it Ethnic Flavor Choices in Retail – is expected to be a $12.5 billion market by 2018.* The leaders in this category are Mexican/Hispanic foods. When we consider that 32% of kids under the age of 18 are of Hispanic origin**, it only makes sense that flavor preferences for ALL kids are evolving.
We have already seen this with the explosion of hispanic-inspired flavors in the salty snacks category (e.g., Pringles Zesty Salsa Tortilla). But Hispanic flavors are now showing up paired with other mainstream foods. For example, Tyson Any’tizers has released Tequila Lime Wings, Goodpop has a Watermelon Agave popsicle, and many hummus brands have introduced Hispanic and Asian-inspired flavors like these from Hope.
Asian/Indian is the next big segment in this category. The Food Channel states that a vibrant filipino favorite – purple Ube yam – is expected to begin appearing in stores this year. Expect to see Ube doughnuts, ice cream, and cheesecake. Filipino food overall is expected to expand as people embrace Southeast Asian cuisine. And, what kid wouldn’t try a purple donut!
Have you heard of the pepper challenge? No? Well then, you have not been on YouTube enough the last six months. There are countless videos showing kids challenging each other to eat different types of peppers, working their way up to the granddaddy of them all: the Carolina Reaper. And of course videos of kids eating the peppers and their reactions, making for great entertainment and continued engagement.
The other form of competition is coming from popular, historically mainstream brands. One for example is Lay’s Flavor Swap. It’s a promotion that makes trying new flavor combinations fun, easy, and low risk for kids. Even if a kid hates all of the flavors, at least they will have tried something new and different. And, because they are likely to keep trying, perhaps they will discover a future favorite?
THE DIGITAL AGE
Let’s talk reality TV and Masterchef Junior. The 2015 season finale saw 4.7 million viewers, ages 18-49.*** Even for kids who have not seen this show, they have probably heard about it – encouraging picky eaters to try something new.
Restaurants have also made it easier and more fun to try something new. For instance, Olive Garden now offers tabletop ordering tablets with built-in games. If you order from the device, the first thing a child might see is NOT the kids menu, but all the specials. There are items such as the Breadstick Meatball Sandwich with Creamy Alfredo, or a Deep Dish Meatball & Spaghetti Pie with a kind of bacon they can’t even pronounce. These look and sound like fun foods to kids, so they end up trying ingredients, like Pancetta, that normally wouldn’t be in their consideration set or vocabulary.
Another influence for this trend is meal delivery services like Blue Apron. They are making ethnic dishes a common part of home mealtime, with recipes that strive to expand flavor horizons. One day, you could have Eggplant, Shishito & Summer Bean Stir-Fry, and the next, Grilled Fontina Cheese & Mint Sandwiches. The wonderful part of these services is that they make exposure easy. No research. No shopping. No measuring. They also make it easy to vary spice levels for timid tongues.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR FOOD BRANDS?
- This may be the time to re-think co-creation with kids. If they are willing to try something new, even the most conservative of brands can too.
- Consider closely following ethnic food trends, because kids may discover them before parents.
- Look for ways to pique kids’ interest in new flavors through social media. They’re online all the time anyway, so why not expand their horizons while increasing trial and purchase for your brand?
All this must be working – my 10-year-old son’s favorite treat is octopus that he sautées himself, in freshly minced garlic with real butter. Why? Because it is fun to watch the Octopus curl up when it gets hot, and it tastes awesome!
Feature Photo Credit(s): Andrew Rush, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette