For 2016 expect a focus on “alternative pulse proteins” (think dried peas and beans) and zesty Asian spices—two of the 5 top trends named by the McCormick Spice Company.
Since the year 2000 the $4 billion multinational McCormick & Co., headquartered in Baltimore County, Maryland has been predicting and shaping “the future of flavor” based on input from top chefs around the world. According to the company, its annual flavor forecast is “inspiring healthy choices and connecting the world through flavor.”
The McCormick flavor forecast intrigues me on several levels, (the most basic being as an enthusiastic eater). From a digital health and consumer engagement perspective, I appreciate the extent to which food shapes health. So I started thinking about opportunities for cross-sector collaboration between the digital health sector and the food industry (specifically flavor and trend-makers like McCormick, as opposed to, say, producers of high fructose corn syrup, who have competing agendas), and I wondered:
How much does McCormick’s flavor forecast reflect vs actually shape trends? (In a parallel universe the annual Color of the Year picked by Pantone influences millions of dollars worth of investments across design-related fields…. Rose quartz and “serenity” blue for 2016 ICYMI.)
How much does McCormick harness “big data” to analyze what’s going on in real time? It should be able to tap into data about which spices and flavorings are bought in what volume and where around the world. Flavor forecasts shouldn’t depend solely on the opinions of top chefs who hold crystal balls, but on an analysis of real people who are voting with their palettes every meal, or at least through the orders of large distribution chains and resteraunts).
How much should McCormick be influenced by nutrition and environmental sustainability in proactively shaping trends? Already it touts some of its flavor choices for 2016 (such as green tea, ginger, and citrus) as “blends with benefits.” Is that reactive, or proactive?
There is a huge opportunity to leverage the increasing overlaps between food, data, health, and media. Already McCormick has invested in FlavorPrint—a service that reads your personal tastes and sensibilities based on your reported food preferences and recommends foods. So for example, if you like black coffee, you may love smoked brisket. Through a health lens, though, it might be better to also recommend something better for you and the planet—grilled tempeh, perhaps?
IBM’s Chef Watson is already experimenting with “cognitive cooking” by creating new dishes based on an analysis of how flavors and textures work together. As we explore the new digital flavor and food frontier, let’s remember to leverage the close ties between food and not only to our taste buds, but our overall health.