Juliette Kellow, Registered Dietitian and member of the British Dietetic Association

Juliette Kellow, Registered Dietitian

With the power to influence and change what consumers eat, it’s vital health professionals stay abreast of food trends and fads. Registered Dietitian Juliette Kellow explains…

The start of a new year typically brings with it a barrage of food, diet and nutrition trends and fads that promise everything from weight loss and improved digestion to better sleep and increased mental capacity. Wherever our clients look, they’re faced with advice and information from newspapers, magazines, TV programmes, adverts, supermarkets, and social platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.

But while the new year may see the latest must-have ingredients and meal plans thrown into the nutrition spotlight, food trends and fads don’t actually start on the 1st January. Nor do they finish on the 31st December, ready for a new wave to take over at the strike of midnight. Trends and fads can emerge at any time. Some appear and disappear quickly, while others grow, evolve and last for years, even becoming mainstream. Others exist without us even realising. And national and global events can quickly stop predicted trends in their tracks and create new, unanticipated ones.

The topic of food trends and fads may seem disconnected from the scientific, evidence-based world that health professionals are familiar and comfortable with. But every single one of us, including our clients, are subjected to them on both a conscious and unconscious level every single day. As a result, even trends or fads that are short-lived or seem gimmicky, can influence and shift consumer behaviour towards certain ingredients, foods, meals or eating habits in both the short and long term. In turn, this has the potential to affect nutrient intakes, dietary balance and ultimately, health.

Furthermore, clients, consumers and media often want a health professional’s expert opinion on the latest trends and fads. Do I need to eat this ancient grain I’ve been reading about? Should I buy a hydration drink that’s trending on TikTok? Will this food I saw on a TV show really help ease my menopause symptoms? Are ultra-processed foods as bad for me as this newspaper suggests? Is food cooked in an air fryer healthy and, if so, should I buy one? These are just a few examples of the types of questions we may be asked.

In short, it’s vital health professionals are familiar with the latest trends and fads, so they can provide clients, consumers and media with evidence-based advice on the benefits and pitfalls, together with suggestions on how they can be modified or included as part of a healthy, balanced and sustainable diet.

But where do trends and fads come from and how do they differ?

Trends vs fads

While trends and fads are often considered to be one and the same, they are in fact, different. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, they are defined as follows:

TREND – A general development or change in a situation or in the way that people are behaving

FAD – A style, activity or interest that is very popular for a short period of time

Trends are based on predictions or forecasts grounded in data. Global companies such as Mintel or Euromonitor, for example, have teams of industry experts and analysts who specialise in identifying past and present food trends and forecasting future ones using market research and consumer facts and figures. Food providers such as supermarkets, catering companies and food brands use this data – often alongside their own research – to identify trends in their market. This in turn, is then often used for developing new products or helping to decide where the focus should be for marketing, advertising and public relations. Some food companies e.g. Waitrose, Asda and Whole Foods, also create their own reports, including their predictions for the forthcoming year and highlighting their products that fit these trends.

The element of time is a key factor in defining whether something is a trend or a fad. Trends usually evolve slowly, build gradually and reflect a progression in time. They’re often long lasting and can lead to long-term change in culture. Often, they might not be obvious, resulting in consumers interacting with the trend on an unconscious level. For example, the trend for adding a salty flavour to traditionally sweet foods has developed over several years. While not promoted as a trend, consumers will likely have been exposed to it, for example, through TV cooking shows making salted caramel sauce, menus serving blue cheese ice cream with desserts, supermarkets selling sweet and salty popcorn, and food magazines including recipes like miso brownies. The end result is consumers adding more salt to their diets using sweet treats as the vehicle for this.

Meanwhile, not all trends can be predicted! As seen in the past few years, major events that impact consumers can set up new and completely unpredictable trend pathways. The COVID pandemic is a prime example, where home-baking, family mealtimes, cooking from scratch, reducing food waste, and a renewed enthusiasm for canned and frozen foods quickly gripped the nation. Some of these, such as canned foods, have stood the test of time and continue to evolve, helped by consumer desire for budget-friendly foods.

In contrast to food trends, food fads tend to be unpredictable and often stem from social media platforms or traditional media spaces such as TV and newspapers. For example, they may result from a recipe that goes viral, a TV chef using a specifc ingredient that causes it to sell out, or a product recommended by a celebrity or influencer with a huge following. We even have the term ‘trending’ used to describe things that are popular on social media!

Food fads seem to come out of nowhere, rapidly gain momentum and reflect a specific moment in time. Fads can also exist as part of a much bigger food trend, for example, school dinner cakes may have been a fad, but they appeared within a growing trend for nostalgic foods. Fads typically come and go quickly and don’t normally cause a change in culture – think of last year’s cottage cheese ice cream, watertok, grated frozen fruit and girl dinners! That’s not to say fads can’t stand the test of time. For example, putting avocado onto toast might initially have been considered a fad, but it’s stood the test of time and is now a staple on breakfast and brunch menus.

Meanwhile, it’s important not to dismiss fads just because they often come and go quickly. Consumers typically make a conscious decision to connect and interact with fads, and even if they are short lived, they can still impact behaviour in the longer term. Imagine this scenario: a client sees #ButterBoard trending on TikTok and decides to make one when friends visit. After trying the butter board, the client remembers how much they like butter so swap the polyunsaturated spread they’ve been buying for years for butter instead! The butter board fad is over and has only been tried once, but it’s instigated a dietary change that’s led to an increase in saturated fat for that person, potentially affecting their heart health.

The reality is, both trends and fads filter into daily life through supermarkets, restaurants, TV food shows, advertising, newspapers, magazines, online sites, and social media platforms. This makes them visible and accessible to consumers, potentially influencing what they choose to eat, both in the short and long term. As trusted and credible sources of information, consumers, clients and media often look to health professionals for advice on the latest trends. They will also benefit from guidance on how to make the most of trends that have a positive impact on health and how to adapt trends to enjoy a diet that’s healthier, balanced and more sustainable.

To discover the key food trends for this coming year, watch our webinar on the A to Z of Foods Trends for 2024, presented by Juliette Kellow.

Further reading/listening

Indeed. Trend Forecasting: What it is and how to use it (with tips). Published online 25 June 2022.

Mintel Little Conversation. S04 Ep89: The what and why behind a consumer trend. Aired March 2022.