Shifting consumer preference for food and drink products can be determined and projected by using the zeitgeist model

By Peter Heshof

Fashion cool girl eating a slice of watermelon in the form of ice cream on a white background

Changing consumer preferences and food trends don’t just happen by accident. Food trends are driven by the fixed cycle of the zeitgeist, the dominant mentality in society. If you are aware of this cycle, you can predict which trends will become dominant and which one you can leave behind.

The zeitgeist trend model is based on the idea that societies develop in cycles, like the Kondratieff wave in economics. To create a consumer cycle, the model uses eight consumer worlds (see graphic below) where every world stands for a core need people have. The eight consumer worlds are plotted on the well-known model of Carl Jung “I versus We, and Freedom versus Secure”.

It is not a static but a dynamic model because every 40 to 50 years the same consumer needs become dominant, but expressed in a different form, product, service or experience.

The zeitgeist trend model

The zeitgeist model that I’m discussing today is the result of more than 20 years of translating it into food trends.

The graphic below gives an overview of food trends since 2000. The years are not an exact date but an indication of the start of a new ‘zeitgeist period.

Zeitgeist model: food trends overview since 2000

Back to origin: The ‘green zeitgeist’

The ‘green zeitgeist’ was a reaction against a trend in the nineties, a period that focused on processed food to maximise taste and profits.

An iconic product of this period is Pringles chips with its processed potatoes and long ingredient list full of artificial colours and flavours.

As a correction against processed food, the industry went back to basics, back to the origin. The mentality was: “It’s time to get back to the way humans used to eat before industry ruined food.

Some of the trends that emerged in this period include:

  • Food connection: what is in my food, and where does it come from?
  • Trusted naturalness: we only believe in natural or even organic food
  • Passion for the best: we want the best coffee, burger and pizza
  • Simplicity: make what’s in my food transparent with clear ingredients
  • Sustainability: we want honest and responsible food

Food wellness and everyday excitement: The ‘yellow zeitgeist’

The green-back-to-basics period has become the new norm in the food industry. Western society shifted towards the ‘yellow zeitgeist’ period with two food themes, each driven by an underlying dominant consumer world.

The emotional world led to food wellness. People realised that what they eat and drink has a direct influence on how they feel – and people want to feel good.

Typical food trends of this period include:

  • Feel-good food: we want food with fewer baddies like sugar, salt, gluten and more goodies like greens
  • Plant-based: we want food that feels better for me, the planet and the animals
  • Do good: we prefer food that makes a positive societal impact
  • Sensorial pleasure: food should touch all our senses

The world of freedom – the basic need of consumers to be free, to enjoy life, and have fun – led to everyday excitement. Look at social media – food has become the new fashion. People are using food to create accessible excitement in their daily lives.

Here, typical food trends include:

  • Flavour excitement: like the rise of Mediterranean and Southeast Asian cuisines or even a fusion
  • Casual eating: from plate to bowl, and from formal eating towards a more informal, flexible way of eating
  • Snackification: main meals are snackified

These food trends are still relevant today and will continue in the coming years. However, we’re now entering into the ‘blue zeitgeist’ at a fast pace, partly due to the accelerating effect of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Smart wellbeing: The ‘blue zeitgeist’

The ‘blue zeitgeist’ will become dominant in the coming years. In this smart-wellbeing period, consumers want to know what is best for them and best for the planet.

The trend is not based on a foodie influencer but based on science, on a rationale, or on personal health ID based on DNA, microbiome, blood, and lifestyle, for example.

We go from the emotional world of storytelling and experiences towards the rational world of facts and proven impact. Our new hero will not be the tattooed maker with the longest beard, but the clean expert with new technologies.

There are six top food trends and 15 sub-trends towards 2030, including fusion of nature and technology, functional food and personalised food. I strongly recommend you to start today investing in blue brands or developing blue concepts because it takes much more time to develop them.

About the author

Peter Heshof portrait photo
Peter Heshof is a zeitgeist watcher and consultant on consumer and food trends based in the Netherlands.
Since 2003, he has been helping companies to build future-proof brands based on the zeitgeist trend model. He guides and inspires food companies in Europe with innovation-driven advisory and presentations, as well as speaking at conferences.
  • Zeitgeist-watcher & Marketing strategist at Bloom
  • Connect on LinkedIn

Date published: 28 October 2020

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