How Food Companies Knew Years Ago What You’ll Eat Tonight

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When did you decide what you wanted for dinner? Maybe 20 minutes before you started cooking, ordered takeout, or chose a restaurant? Maybe a few nights ago, when you made plans with friends, or perhaps a few days ago, if you’re really organized, when you planned what groceries to buy for the week? In any of those cases, there’s someone who knew what you’d want to eat long before you did: professional food trend forecasters who predicted the rise of Greek yogurt, kale, or the cronut.

For a fascinating piece aptly named “These people know what you’re going to want to eat before you do,” Vox’s David Sax spoke with a variety of food trend forecasters to find out how the process of predicting food trends works. It turns out that it takes a lot of smart data analysis and a healthy dose of instinct about what people are going to want to eat.

Sax started with Barb Stuckey, a food developer for food and drink innovation firm Mattson. Mattson describes its team as “specialists in new food and beverage products.” Mattson and a few other companies like it take on clients from the food industry who are interested in developing products that correlate with what customers want when they want it, and not after. Stuckey looks at the trends that relate to the specific demographics and market that a client is trying to target, using market research, data analysis, and trips into “the field” to observe food trends where they originate and as they unfold.