Dan Murphy: Summer Surge … Supposedly

A new survey indicates people will be grilling more alt-meat products this year. Better check the survey design. ( Farm Journal )

In a new report titled, “Four trends set to surge this summer,” London- and New York-based market researcher Mintel offered its predictions on which food choices will be trending among consumers in summer 2018.

(Of course, on every local TV station that picks up the story, the spray-tanned news anchor who throws it over to the “lifestyle reporter” will be contractually obligated to tee it up by saying, “We know we’re in for some sizzling weather ahead, but what’s going to be ‘hot’ on the food menu this summer, Allyson?”)

Predictably, the report is based not just on the sales projections of corporate food manufacturers, who always predict robust growth for any new product category, but on consumer aspirations — in other words, on what people tell focus groups and on how they vote in online surveys about their preferences for various food categories.

Despite the squishy nature of such data, here’s the food trends Mintel is projecting for this summer:

› Low-cal ice cream. Based on the success of Halo Top Creamery’s low-sugar, low-calorie, high-protein ice cream, which was reportedly one of the best-selling ice cream brands in the U.S. in 2017, Mintel predicts more of the same. Prominent brands already muscling into the category include Breyers, Skinny Cow and Arctic Zero, the research firm noted. (Comment: It’s not the “low-cal” that’s driving sales, it’s the “high-protein.” And based on the short shelf life of such previous innovations as ice milk and no-sugar sherbet, it’s hard to imagine an indulgent dessert category morphing into a dieters-only delight.)

› Bold-flavored snacks. “As consumers watch the World Cup this summer, they will reach for snacks that feature bold, intense and exotic flavors,” Mintel is predicting, with 36% of U.S. consumers saying they “would buy more chips if there were new flavors to try.” (Comment: The World Cup will definitely NOT be driving snack food purchasing this summer — not in the USA. Besides, one-third of adults would buy more snacks if there were anything new to try. Just redesign the packaging. That’ll accomplish the same uptick in sales).

› Flavored sparkling water. “Traditional beverages, such as soda and lemonade, are falling out of favor amid health concerns and government regulations such as sugar taxes,” Mintel reported, creating a market segment hungry (thirsty?) for drinks “with more exotic flavors and [offering] alternatives to sugar and artificial ingredients.” (Comment: Flavored water is the biggest food industry rip-off since ... well, since bottled soda. At least sugared sodas give you a brief buzz — before rotting your teeth and ensuring that you’ll be packing serious unwanted poundage into middle age.)

The Ultimate Oxymoron
But now we arrive at Mintel’s fourth hot new summertime gotta-have-it food trend: Vegan Barbecue.

Seriously? If ever there were an oxymoron, “VB” is it.

“Summer is considered barbecue season, but this year, grills may be sizzling sans meat,” said Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, Mintel’s global food analyst, who cited black bean chipotle and barbecue pulled jackfruit as potential category leaders. “Although barbecue selection has become more diverse with the addition of fish and cheese in recent years, vegan barbecue might not have been a consideration for a meat-eater — until now.”

As part of its predictive dataset, Mintel referenced research indicating that 33% of consumers overall and 37% of Millennials said they “plan to buy more plant-based food products in the next year.”

And that’s where this report’s credibility begins to fall apart.

When people tell researchers about what they “plan to do,” you can be assured than half or more of them are merely responding to what they think is an appropriate answer, a response that mirrors what they should be doing.

I’m certainly not immune to that predilection, and in the interests of full disclosure, allow me to offer a few of my own personal summertime trends I intend to pursue:

  • Exercise more — specifically by dusting off (and actually turning on) the treadmill sitting downstairs that currently serves as a thousand-dollar towel rack.
  • Get more sleep — meaning, binge-watch TV a lot more selectively … like, during weekend mornings originally set aside for firing up the treadmill.
  • Get better organized — which is to say, clean out those garage, basement, attic, spare room and closet areas crammed full of junk no self-respecting yard sale would even dream about displaying.

I think I can state with a high level of confidence that a solid 33% of consumers will be joining me in planning to do more of all of the above.

Along with grilling a LOT more pulled jackfruit and black bean chipotle.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.