The New Multicultural American Kitchen – 3 flavor trends for 2017

ABC Family's "The Fosters" - Season Three

The make up of the American household today is quite different than it was just thirty years ago.  In one generation, we have gone from the nuclear family with it’s one mom, one dad and two kids all of the same race to a country of single parent and multi-cultural rentals.  The American dream of owning your own home in the suburbs has fallen to the wayside with the recession of 2008 and a millennial generation that’s more concerned with their phone plan than their life plan.

We currently have more single households in the United States than ever in history with a whopping 34% of children’s today living with an unmarried parent, this is up from just 9% in 1960, and 19% in 1980.  This combined with a fast growing Hispanic population and increasing bi-cultural households has made for quite the change over the last thirty years.  Hispanics made up a minuscule 6.5% of total US households in 1980 and now make up almost 18%.

Not only are we seeing a dramatic change in the overall make up of the household, but the US household is now a multicultural melting pot of Black, White, Asian, Indian, Mexican, Russian and anything and anyone.  Gone are the days of the traditional one man, one woman same race household, today we see no boundaries and no barriers to what makes up an American home.  Even American popular culture has figured it out with shows like The Foster’s which features a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological teenaged kids being raised by two moms that recently completed it’s fourth season on FreeForm.

I know this is a lot of data to take in, but it says one clear thing to me, the times they are a changin and so are our palettes.  Today’s kitchen is dramatically different than it was fifty, twenty, even ten years ago and will continue to evolve as cultures mash up and consumers bring their cultures and culinary heritages together in the kitchen.

With this changing dynamic of the American household comes a revolution in the kitchen. With the meshing of these different ethnic backgrounds comes a fusion of authentic flavor profiles and mixed cooking styles.  The millennial generation has not only brought an openness and multicultural influence to the kitchen, but also an appreciation of authenticity and a palette for exploration of new spices, flavor combination and cooking techniques.  The increasing pace of life and access to data through technology has also created a need for new portable formats and requirement of healthy functionality that can be consumed anywhere and anytime.  Day part barriers have been demolished and three squares a day now only refers to the number of bars you have left on your battery life.

As this generation continues to grow older and establish families, they will also be merging their culinary styles that they grew up with.  As acculturation takes hold and this generation becomes Americanized, they will refuse to lose sight of their roots, but blend it into their lifestyles and culinary creations.  They are striving for authentic recipes, flavors, and dishes but are also willing to merge with their counterparts and create an entirely new platform of cooking and flavor.  Hispanic-Asian, Korean-Mexican, Cuban-Vietnamese, Peruvian-Japanese, Italian Indian.  Each of these cooking styles offering its own spectrum of flavor and spice, but being merged with one another to create a fantastic fusion of flavor and form.

As the millennial generation will continue to lead this quest for fantastical fusion flavors the sky is the limit.  I see many combinations coming to fruition in the near future, but here is where I see the next wave of flavor heading.

1) Latino-Indian – as Americans we continue to be scared of curry and Indian spices, but the palette is starting to open and the Mexican platform seems to be a good way for these two formats to merge.  They share similar handheld formats and spices like cumin and cilantro that seem to make an easier connection.  Samosas have a strange resemblance to an empanada, so I could expect to see a yellow curry and potato empanada or a green chili and chicken samosa in the Trader Joe’ frozen aisle in the near future.


2) Mexican merging with Vietnamese cuisine – both formats have similar hand held varieties that seem to work well together.  Tortas and bánh mi will fuse together as these two formats continue to make headway with consumers.  You may see a carne asada bánh mi on a food truck near you soon.


3) Japanese Italian – this format is been running through the streets of Brazil for many years, but this will finally start to take hold in the near future as Japanese street food and Italian profiles become mainstream.  Think about how delicious a pizza filled steamed bun would taste.  It’s the upscale Hipster hot pocket.


The Golden Road to True Consumer Insight

the golden tree

Photo: The Golden Tree by Francesco Martini

True consumer understanding goes beyond simply identifying who your consumer is, where they live and how much of your product they are purchasing.  It pushes information further than brand loyalty scores and likelihood purchase statistics.  It takes this comprehension to a deeper level into the lifestyle and emotional psyche of the consumer.  It allows for brands and products to live and breathe the same air as their consumers.  It provides both the immediate and the long term satisfaction that consumers are looking for in everything that they purchase and consume.

The golden road to consumer insights does not simply go through mainstream market research anymore.  It used to be as easy as a survey to get into the head of the consumer and provide them with a choice that would satisfy these desires.  When consumers were presented with very little choices, companies had the luxury of putting out a mediocre product and people were forced to buy it.  However, since the battleground for brands and products has become overwhelming competitive with multiple media outlets and social media feeds it is critical for companies to put out something that goes beyond simply providing a service, but touches a consumer deeper.

The new golden road of consumer insights takes many twists and turns as it plows along into the consumer mindset.  It stops off at big data and takes a dive into this vast pool of information.  It spends hours and hours analyzing consumer purchase patterns, market basket, scan data, price elasticity, category growth/loss, purchase history and SKU rationalization.  It digs deep into the new census data to see what groups are rising and how the demographic landscape of the future is developing.   Thus path tries to answer who will be the next big segment to target and what are they worth?

The road then often leads us to focus groups and discussing what consumers feel in different situations.  We are looking for their innermost feelings and thoughts on our products or brands.  We carefully moderate these discussions in hope that they are willing to share these truths and personal feelings in a room of complete strangers.  When orchestrated correctly, this qualitative section of the road can be extremely insightful and interesting and provide these nuggets of information that can steer you in the right direction forward.  However, this road must also be treaded on lightly.  Just because a group of ten people tells you something, it doesn’t mean that the Holy Grail has been discovered.  This section of the road can lead you down the path to true enlightenment or true disaster so make sure you have your GPS collaborated correctly and choose wisely. 

The road then veers off into the world of psychographic data that is available and determines where these consumers are going, what they are doing, who they are listening to and how do they live.  This path captures what is important to them, what activities they do; how often they do these activities and how do we reach them in the media world.  It once again can spend hours developing algorithms to determine how likely a consumer will be to do a certain activity and what this activity could be worth.   This path is also extremely critical for the journey, but still only provides a piece of this complex consumer puzzle.

This places us at a critical point in the road.  We have been able to use information to get us here, but is has only provided part of the picture.  This is where many stop and think that they have figured it all out.  This is where the road gets tricky, unclear and vague, but this is also where the road becomes paved with gold.  It is at this point in the road where we start to truly understand the why behind a consumer’s choice.  It is at this point in the road where we become enlightened.  This fork is where new methods of data collection become critical to getting the rich understanding that you need in today’s fast paced and oversaturated world. 

This fork in the golden road takes us on a journey down the information superhighway.  It takes us to the world of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.  It provides us with so much information that is even hard to know where to begin.  This also is a tricky path to navigate since you may never meet these consumers personally, but it can be a gold mine of critical information if navigated correctly.  This is where consumers not only share their feelings and thoughts about your product or brand, but everything else in their lives.  What is affecting them right now and how is this impacting their purchase behavior?  How they are feeling about your product or brand and what are they saying to their friends?  How are they influencing their group and how is that influence trickling out across social media?

The road down the technology trail doesn’t stop there, even tough we have these public forums to peek into it still only gives us part of the picture.  So the road make take us into on-line forums, MROC’s and gamification that is capturing these internal feelings and attitudes from a loyal and dedicated group of consumers who live and die for your product or brand.  Now the road starts to be a bit narrower and easier to navigate.  Now the road doesn’t seem so long and winding.

This is where you get into the relationship with the consumer where this true insight can become harvested and cultivated.  This deep relationship is critical in understanding them and getting down to who they really are.  When you have found this part of the road and established this relationship with your consumer, insights are gained and action can be taken.

This portion of the road is often difficult to find, hard to quantify and not smooth.  It is rough; it takes careful navigation and experience to travel down successfully.  It takes the courage to think differently and the anticipation of which direction to turn that comes from experience, knowledge and a core understanding of the culture from which this road has been paved. 

This road to true consumer insight is paved with gold.  However, as marketer’s and researchers we need to understand that it will take you down multiple paths, into different landscapes and have many forks before getting to the promised land.  This road should not be traveled lightly as the path will take time, sacrifice and resources.  Not many have been able to make this journey successfully, but for brands like Apple, Chipotle, Clif, NASCAR, Coke and Mt. Dew to name only a few; this road has been successfully navigated and they have armies of loyal followers awaiting their next move.



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