While some people use astrology and tea leaves to predict the future, we prefer to employ a more reliable method: trend analysis.
Trend analysis gets you out of your own mindset, your conference room, and your current market landscape to anticipate what your future audience—and their needs and desires—might look like.
While it’s a necessary tool in many categories, it’s especially so in better-for-you food and beverages, where new products are constantly coming to shelf. Eating and diet habits are so susceptible to social influence that consumer preferences for food and beverage products shift with the breeze. One moment we’re all about the protein; the next we’ll be all about the carbs.
A trend analysis is important for repositioning a brand in a competitive space. It offers leadership a glimpse into the cultural zeitgeist occurring beyond their bubble.
There’s a huge difference between following trends, a short-term strategy, and analyzing them, looking deep into the future to align your product innovations with your future audience and their needs. Analysis enables you to make investments today that will deliver sales two, five, even 10 years down the road.
What a Trend Analysis Looks Like for Food & Beverage Brands
A trend analysis is like a unicorn: Everyone thinks they’ve seen one. Here’s our foundational definition:
A competitive market audit plus myriad syndicated consumer data, analyzed through the brand’s lens, and pointed toward solving a specific business problem.
There are three key components here: reliable consumer and market research, the brand (meaning, your purpose beyond making and selling product), and your business goals.
Furthermore, a trend analysis:
Starts with the category, not the brand.
Before we undertake a trend analysis, we do a category audit; it’s the kindling that sparks the campfire we’re roasting marshmallows on. This review covers your entire competitive set and your space in it. We look at how your brand is marketed from top to bottom and channel to channel, and then we benchmark that against your competition. This helps us identify holes in the marketplace, both now and many months from now.
Identifies megatrends that will affect your business over the long term.
When we conduct a trend analysis for a client, we seek out the megatrends on the horizon that will influence the future audience for the brand. These megatrends aren’t just constantly shifting consumer preferences for product attributes like flavor and ingredient, but rather deep-seated issues that affect how modern humans behave in their super busy lives.
Future-gazes through your brand lens.
Once we’ve collected information from a bunch of different sources about your customers and your marketing efforts, and we understand what competitors are doing and what demographic shifts are at play, we filter this input through your brand. That’s where the analysis happens. And through that lens is a look at future. But without a strong, well-articulated brand promise, that view is hazy, a guess. Your brand provides the clarity.
Paints a picture of your next audience of loyal customers.
We start with what the data tells us about your current customer, then envision how these megatrends will influence them. We build a straw man — a hypothetical, representative consumer persona—that allows the brand team to see into the future. You can then innovate with that customer squarely in mind.
Answers bigger questions than product iterations.
You can use near-term trends to make near-term decisions like flavor extensions or formula upgrades. But forward-looking analysis can guide you through the entire decision making process to identify what business the brand should be in. Where should you invest, or not, in product pipeline? What business are you currently in that should you exit? What product offerings create opportunity for us?
Anyone can buy a trend report. But the insights, the slicing and dicing and passing it through your brand promise to build a new audience of loyal customers—that requires expertise.
Yes, you could do it internally. But we wouldn’t recommend it; it’s like a dentist can’t fill her own cavity. An objective, solution-agnostic, research-driven partner is essential to create meaningful insights.
Trend Analysis: A Case Study
How can a trend analysis reshape a brand’s business? Our client Russell Stover was hoping to ride the better-for-you (BFY) trend of sugar-free/low-sugar chocolate. But their sugar-free product formula contained artificial sweeteners that didn’t appeal to the BFY buyer seeking healthy, natural chocolate. Sales weren’t what they’d hoped.
Our analysis revealed that they were talking to the wrong audience: People who choose sugar-free chocolate because they have to were fine with artificial sweeteners. BFY buyers who choose sugar-free chocolate because they want to were not. The fitness-minded BFY buyer would rather spend more on a quality product and treat herself occasionally than consume a lesser product every day.
We coached their leadership team to reformulate the product to remove artificial ingredients. Then we rebuilt the product line on Russell Stover’s brand promise: America’s favorite chocolate. The result? The brand reversed a three-year sales decline in less than a year.
If your company is marching along well, it makes sense to conduct a trend analysis every few years. But if your brand is being disrupted by competitors, your company would benefit from conducting a trend analysis every 12 months until you are ahead of the pack again.