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Meet Datassential’s Trendologists

Food Trends, Ingredient Trends, Menu Trends

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Claire Conaghan, Renee Lee Wege and Jaclyn Marks are familiar faces to many of our customers, authoring many of the company’s 300+ reports published every year in Datassential’s smart library, Report Pro and regular presenters on our long-standing Simply Smarter webinar series. 

Three of our long-tenured employees, they have recently added the title of “Trendologist” – a nod to their years of tireless work for our customers and a hint at what’s to come: a comprehensive and consistent analysis of the latest trends in the food industry and how the foodservice ecosystem can take advantage of them. 

This is all to say, you’re in good hands. With the recent launch of Datassential’s 2024 Food Trends, we take a look at their plans and a peek into the personalities of our three Trendologists. 

A Day in the Life

For Jaclyn and Renee, who are responsible for producing our TrendSpotting publications, reports designed to power food and beverage industry innovation, the day begins by reading the latest industry news. 

“I think this is a great way to always have a pulse on all things food and beverage, from new, quirky LTOs to innovations and technology,” Renee said. 

Early work might also include a check of various social media platforms, to ensure they’re staying in the loop with the latest trends in food and beverage. 

From there, Renee and Jaclyn jump into work on our TrendSpotting reports. There’s a monthly schedule to maintain, but they still leave room for pivots as the landscape shifts. 

“As we all know, trends move so quickly, so it’s great to be able to adapt as needed and cover such a wide range of topics in this role,” Renee said. 

For Claire, the first move is usually a check of the inbox and responding to colleagues’ questions, which usually leads her to dive into our tools to answer them. More often than not, that’s a look at Menu Trends

From there, Claire digs into the parts of the data that are sometimes overlooked. She searches for themes in groups of just 5 to 10 menus, peruses new items and the U.S. innovators section of Menu Trends. Then it’s off to answer media requests or other questions from colleagues.

One of Claire’s main responsibilities is to update our Menu Adoption Cycles (MACs), hundreds of visual trend cycles on everything from coffee or healthy food to European cuisine, which she does Wednesday afternoons and Thursday mornings, making that her favorite part of the week. 

She looks at growing trends in each of the week’s particular focus areas and then presents them to a group of colleagues – Samantha Biljan-McElheny, Huy Do, and Rory O’Connor – she’s named the MAC Council.

That group discusses each trend, sharing their input and often sparking new ideas until the group has a slate of burgeoning trends to show our clients. 

Even Trendologists Dislike Some Foods

Sure, they’d try anything once, but there are certain foods that even Trendologists can’t get behind. Jaclyn and Renee hate olives. For Jaclyn, you can add pickles to that list of disliked foods, saying they are “near olive-level hate for me.”

For Claire, she says she’ll eat anything, but she admits she “can’t say she’s trying that hard with canned mushrooms.”   

“As a kid I hated both mushrooms and tomatoes and now they are two of my absolute favorite foods,” she said. “I literally trained myself to like mushrooms. For tomatoes, it turns out all it took was tasting a truly fresh summer one – a revelation just like everyone says.” 

Flavors the Experts are Rooting For

Jaclyn says she’s really excited about the growth of edible flowers, especially violets (one of our 2024 Flavors to Watch), which have a stunning purplish-blue hue that happens to be one of her favorite colors. 

“Not only are they beautiful and lend a social media-worthy element to a variety of foods/beverages, they’re also more environmentally-friendly compared to non-edible garnishes,” she said. 

Claire is excited to see if grains of selim can grow. She bought the seeds, which are often described as having a musky flavor, for a specific recipe where they were intended to provide a smoky meatiness in a vegetarian dish and was shocked at how much it did. 

“It really tasted like there was meat in the dish. It is an odd flavor – anything described as musky is going to take some time to grow – but there’s potential there.”

Are These Menu Items Sleeper Hits?

There are plenty of interesting ingredients that come our way that never quite catch on with a large swath of consumers. 

And there are a few that the Trendoligsts still have their fingers crossed about, despite them not necessarily getting the attention they deserve (yet). 

“I’m like a broken record on n’duja, but I can’t believe it refuses to take off here,” Claire said of the spicy, spreadable pork sausage. “It is a dish that has lower affinity once tried, but is used in LTOs all the time in the U.K. I also happen to love it, but that may be my Midwest nature since sausage dishes skew here.”  

“Less weird and more likely to grow – I love seaweed and hope we finally find ways to make it take off soon,” Claire added. “A little adds so much savory to things and I am really enjoying learning new ways to use all the varieties.”

For Renee, there are a number of ingredients she wishes consumers would pay more attention to. 

“I’m Chinese and love traditional Asian ingredients so I have a special place in my heart for some Asian trends I feel like could be way bigger than they are. Interactive, customizable experiences like hot pot and Korean BBQ are two examples of immersive eating that I sometimes can’t believe aren’t more common.

“I also love salted egg yolk and remember writing about how many have described it as an ‘Asian parmesan’ – I’ve wanted it to be a “Flavor to Watch” for years, so maybe next year is the year?!”

The “Alpha” Trendologist Generation?

All three of our Trendologists happen to have kids – members of Gen Alpha – a generation that Datassential has reported on extensively. But being the offspring of Trendologists doesn’t make them immune from some standard kid dislikes. 

Claire’s kids – Audrey, 6 ½, and Jack, 3 ½ – love anything salty and tangy, including canned tuna, anchovies and pickles. But up until recently, black pepper was on Audrey’s personal “banned foods” list. Claire says Jack is pickier, but he loves yogurt with sprinkles. He won’t eat leafy greens, despite them being Claire’s favorite; yet she’s unphased: “My daughter was like that, and I defeated her, and I’ll get him eventually,” Claire said. 

The youngest of these Trendologists-in-training, Jaclyn’s son Jason, is only 10 months old so “what he likes and dislikes changes on almost a daily basis,” Jaclyn said.  

His favorite foods at the moment are bananas and cheese. His parents have learned too, that if they want Jason to try something, sometimes all it takes is a sprinkle of cheese on top. For the moment, he doesn’t like meat, but he will eat fish. 

Renee’s son Luke is almost 3, and currently has far more dislikes than likes. 

“I have no idea how, but this kid can literally live on Ritz crackers, Goldfish crackers, meatballs, and sausage. Oh, and all the french fries, as long as they aren’t too crispy or brown,” she said. 

But Luke’s latest obsession is surprisingly healthy: Beans. 

“I’m ecstatic he finally likes something easy and actually healthy!” she said.

To see the full list of what trends we forecast for 2024 and beyond, click here

You can also find a free preview of our 2024 Annual Report here. 

The full 2024 Annual Report – with all these valuable insights and so much more – is only available for subscribers. For more information, click here.