From Comfort Zone to Courageous
Cooking over open flames. Low ABV innovations. Micro-seasons. CBD. Ingestible collagen. Lab-grown meat. thefoodpeople’s annual trends event on November 12th did not disappoint. Nor did the food they served – my personal highlights include a squidgy, lick-your-lips sticky Fabrique Bakery cardamom bun and umami-smacking beef dashi from LUSH by Tom Kerridge.
Our founder Emma Worrollo was amongst the line-up of presenters. You might be wondering which big breakthrough youth food trend she presented. You might be thinking, what ARE today’s kids eating? After all, they’ve grown up in a more diverse, globalised world than ever before; they have an innate drive to hack, mash up and create; and their Millennial parents encourage them to experiment with and explore their identities from a young age. So they’re probably into all sorts of wacky, wonderful things, right?
You see, childhood fussiness and aversion to food trial and experimentation is an age-old problem that has stubbornly stayed put. Whilst Millennial parents are successfully encouraging their kids to expand their horizons and awareness across music, travel, gender, emotion, play and beyond, this hasn’t quite translated to food.
This is an issue that’s very specific to middle childhood. The baby category, once upon a time comprising jars of uninspiring beige mush, has been transformed beyond recognition by baby-led weaning, monkey platters and globally-inspired recipes. It’s now a haven of playful, tactile, exotic flavours, textures and experiences. And Gen Z teens are having a lot of fun exploring and expressing themselves through food and drink. It feeds their cultural curiosity, connects them socially to their tribes and offers a generous dose of much-needed escapism.
When it comes to food in middle childhood, we can’t ignore that positive shifts are happening. Kids are more empowered than any generation before them to sample global cooking, thanks to the likes of family friendly high street restaurants from Yo! Sushi and wagamama to wahaca and Franco Manca. The era of the family meal kit has enabled families to create dishes together that they otherwise wouldn’t have thought of – or had the confidence to cook. And kids are embracing vegetarian and vegan diets like never before – in fact, 70% children in the UK want more vegetarian and vegan options on school lunch menus (Linda McCartney, 2019).
But that’s only part of the story. All too often, eating rituals and obstacles to food trial are stuck in time, whether it’s the preference for the same old plain tastes (reader: if your child’s default is pizza, burger, nuggets or fish fingers, you are NOT alone), the fact that 40% of 10-year olds are eating more than twice as much sugar as they should per day (Public Health England, 2018), or the reams of food that gets wasted – lunchboxes being a key culprit.
So – we have a tension. Parents want their kids to embrace experimentation across the board, including with food and drink, but all too often, plates are being resolutely pushed away, faces scrunched up in disgust and arms folded in stubborn defiance. It’s time to change the record. It’s time for brands to give families a helping hand when it comes to food trial and experimentation – and be richly rewarded in return.
Since our primary purpose is to empower brands to create and maintain a meaningful place in youth and family culture, we decided to step in, with the help of an army of nearly 300 kids from around the country and our brand new Classroom Creator methodology. This approach, which allows us to harness our wide network of schools and youth clubs, involves sending out design thinking lesson plans and resource packs that empower kids as creators and problem solvers – and a couple of weeks later, receiving envelopes stuffed full of genius ideas and solutions.
The lesson we designed for this project centred around the ‘Yuck Café,’ a restaurant that serves only the foods kids don’t like, or are too scared to try, and that is struggling to draw any customers in. The kids were tasked with turning the Yuck Café around, by either designing an eating experience or transforming the food itself to encourage trial. We were overwhelmed by the scale and quality of ideas, which were used to inspire 5 distinct opportunity spaces.
Why this works: Surprise takes the adrenaline rush of the unknown and unfamiliar from the fearful to fun. Disguising unfamiliar foods as those kids love takes them to a safer space and brings curiosity and excitement to the trial experience.
Why this works: Kids have been raised with autonomy. Customisation and choice are wired into their DNA. They want to personalise their plate and be able to express themselves through food and design.
Why this works: Kids need to let off steam by escaping into dreamlike worlds and just feel like a kid. Using onomatopoeic, gooey and disgusting language moves trying new foods from a place that’s serious to one that’s silly and surreal.
Why this works: Kids are influencer-fluent and the right muses matter. They’re looking for a bit of magic, inspiration and enchantment to persuade them to try new things. Currently, kids’ foods are dominated by generic animal characters whose power is waning. They want to be inspired by mascots who embody wonder and pizzazz.
Why this works: Storytelling has transitioned into story-living. Kids have become fluent in fandoms and immersive experiences of the characters and narratives they love. Stepping out of your comfort zone is easier if your imagination is in story-world, so injecting narrative into food trial transforms the experience.
It’s time to shake things up. There’s a huge opportunity for food, drink and dining brands to play a new role in family mealtime that goes beyond nourishment. Listen to what’s holding kids back from trying new foods, innovate and communicate to break down those barriers – and become the favourite that stands out for understanding and alleviating the tensions between Millennial values and the realities of family life.
Interested in how your brand can transform food trial and experimentation for today’s families? Or perhaps our Classroom Creator methodology could help you solve a problem? Ellie would be delighted to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org