5 food trends revealed by top Google searches

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: think with Google Food Trends 2016
Source: think with Google Food Trends 2016

Related tags Report 2016

After suffering scorn for years from carb-counters, wheat-haters and consumers embracing a gluten-free diet, pasta is coming back in style with a vengeance, suggests analysis of Google searches. 

Growth in Google searches for pasta was virtually flat in the mid-2000 when the Atkin’s and South Beach diets were peaking and grew only slowly from 2011 through 2014, according to the report from Google published April 28​. But the category turned a corner in January 2015 and since then pasta searches have seen sustained growth of 26% year over year.

“Consumers are most interested in making pasta dishes at home on the weekends. They’re experimenting with new recipes and sauces that can be prepared at home or picked up at the grocery store,”​ and “there’s interest in understanding the differences between certain types of pasta and their accompanying sauces,”​ according to the report.

The report reveals most searches focus on rigatoni, followed by tortellini, linguine, penne, fusilli, mac & cheese bites and finally gemelli. They also show sauce searches favor tomato bases with Bolognese at the top, followed by alla vodka, carbonara, Pomodoro, martino, marinara, amatriciana and primavera.

Consumers also are interested in taking familiar dishes and experimenting with them, such as making baked rigatoni pie, stuffed pasta and casseroles, the report notes.  

Given that Americans are 29% more likely to search for rigatoni on the weekends, and that the No.1 video on YouTube featuring rigatoni was posted seven years ago, the report suggests there is ample opportunity for brand manufacturers to create new content with a fresh spin on the ingredient.

“It’s time for marketers to refocus their attention on pasta. There’s growing interest for a variety of pasta recipes, and consumers are seeking new ideas for their weekend eating adventures,”​ the report notes.

The trend was spotted by Google trend analysts and brand strategists who pulled top volume queries from the Google search engine from January 2014 through February 2016. They then measured their year-over-year growth, velocity and acceleration and “curated the most significant trends to illustrate interesting shifts in behavior,”​ according to the report.

Using this method the team uncovered four other notable upward food trends: mug cakes, pork shoulder, a demand for global flavors and foods, and an increasing interest in the functional benefits of turmeric.

Global flavors on the rise

Analysis of Google searches confirms that Americans are interested in learning about new cultures through food, whether or not that means they are actually eating it verses just researching is a bit of mystery still, though, according to the report.

For example, the report found consumer interest in pho has grown 11% year-over-year since 2013, and often is paired with keywords including recipe and how to make – but also restaurant, menu and delivery.

“While there’s a big appetite to create these dishes at home, global cuisine may be tough to make at home,”​ according to the report. Thus, “consumers turn to the professionals for help and seek restaurants ‘near me’ to satisfy their cravings.”

There are opportunities for brands to make these dishes more DIY-friendly, according to the report. This suggestion echoes that made recently by a Better Homes & Garden’s survey that suggested condiments are a “gateway”​ for bringing global flavors into homes.

Pork shoulders its way to the forefront

Like pho, pork shoulder is a “seasonal rising trend”​ and could be a vehicle for home cooks to explore more global flavors, the report found.

“While three out of the top five [YouTube] videos for pork shoulder feature American-style BBQ recipes, viewers are also interested in learning how to make Korean and Cantonese variations of the dish,”​ the report found.

It also found most searches for pork shoulder and similar big cuts of meat happen on the weekend, when Americans have more time to master a new skill and share the experience with friends.

“While there’s opportunity for brands to enable easier DIY cooking at home, there’s also an opportunity for brands to join consumers for an experimental weekend of cooking via video content,”​ the report suggests, adding: “Crossover versions of familiar dishes can make the experience even more exciting.”

Bite-sized snacks offer portion control and customization

Mug cakes, as an example of consumer interest in bite-sized snacks, first blipped in searches in late 2008, but they really gained upward momentum starting in 2012 and surged 82% from December to January 2016, according to Google.

Search data show that consumers are most likely to indulge in mug cakes on the weekends, but they also make a convenient weekday snack – especially earlier in the week. It also shows that consumers are embracing snacking not only for convenience, but also for customization – be that flavor or dietary restrictions to fit their personal needs.

This is based on the top associated key words with mug cake searches, which include classic flavors like chocolate and vanilla, but dietary restrictions, such as vegan, paleo, no egg, keto and gluten-free.

The report suggests the key take away for brands for this trend is that they “need to offer more than just customization based on flavors, but dietary restrictions, as well.”

It adds: “Personal choices come best in solo portions – and make for convenient snacking!”

Turmeric takes off

Consumer interest in turmeric has seen sustained growth since about 2008, but it really took off from November 2015 through January when searches on the spice spiked 56%, according to the report.

“Americans are trying to understand how to consume turmeric,”​ with many searches focused on forms, recipes and type, according to the report, which listed top associated keywords as powder, golden milk, ground, smoothie, root, drink and juice.

Interestingly, the report notes that interest in turmeric peaks on Mondays with 8% more searches. It steadily declines from there as the week progresses.

Given turmeric is associated with myriad health benefits from acne to detoxification to pain relief, consumer interest in the beginning on the week could be related to consumer interests in rebooting after an indulgent weekend or trying to optimize their lifestyle habits, the report suggests.

The report’s findings related to consumers’ digital behavior tied to turmeric and other functional foods suggests “opportunities for brands to educate consumers on the benefits associated with each ingredient, as well as provide methods, tips, and recipe content for consumption,”​ the authors note.

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