Finding your way through the American food trends

The diets of most American citizens don’t have the best reputation in the Netherlands. This becomes evident in conversation, where there is a pretty high probability of encountering one or more of the following clichés: ‘’All the meals are bigger there’’, ‘’Americans are obsessed with deep-frying’’, or ‘’They add sugar to everything they eat’’. The high obesity rates in the US and the nature of most popular American food brands (almost all are unhealthy products) fuel these beliefs. However, things aren’t as black and white as we Europeans tend to believe.

Unhealthy eating habits are indeed very common in rural areas in the US. But, a visit to one of the large coastal cities paints a very different picture. If you think there’s a lot of raw, vegan and organic smoothie bars in Amsterdam, I dare you to have a look in Seattle. I double dare you to go to San Francisco, whose inhabitants might well be the largest consumers of baby spinach, kale and wheatgrass. My point being: not everybody in the US has a blood sugar level as high as Coca-Cola’s. The wholesome, organic and healthy food trends are very well established in the urban hipster population. Indeed, most of these trends sprouted there and later found their way to Europe.
I’m writing about this because I recently attended the annual Natural Products Expo West in Los Angeles on behalf of TOP bv. What I found at the Expo is best described as a joyful assembly of colors, flavors, health hippies and marketing. A lot of ‘empty’ marketing. Almost all exhibiters used one or more ‘empty’ marketing terms like ‘’Gluten-Free’’, ‘’Non-GMO’’, ‘’Wholesome’’, ‘’reduced sugar’’. Most of these claims focus on what allergen, ingredient or modified crop is NOT present in the product. If Americans are good at anything, it’s using smart marketing to build strong and attractive brands. In the American food industry, there’s a lot of emphasis on the development of these brands. That’s why I was so surprised to see that the claims they used were so boring, unoriginal and repetitive.

These empty and often irrelevant claims made me change my mind about marketing in the American food industry – it’s not superior to ours. We Europeans might not have such strong brands, but at least we don’t blindly follow hyped up trends as much as our American colleagues. I do hope that we make a conscious choice to follow the healthy dietary habits of the American cities and leave the fast-food culture of the rural areas behind. At TOP we’ll contribute to this goal by developing healthy, exciting and tasty new products.

All of this shows again that America is a land of the extremes. The European challenge is easy: pick up on the right trends and let other trains pass. And I think we’re doing that just fine. Do you?

Nick van Lanen