Trends reports are fun to produce and entertaining to read. They can be used as thought leadership and can even stimulate innovation. But they often do little more than that. So when Unilever Food Solutions (UFS) approached us with a bigger ambition, we were intrigued.
“We have a very uncomfortable, intentionally ambitious goal. We want to influence the design of every menu of every food service operator around the world.” Rashmi Noronha, Global Insights Director, Unilever Food Solutions
Unilever has a commitment to producing more plant-based foods as part of its ‘Future Foods’ ambition, to help people transition towards healthier diets and to help reduce the environmental impact of the global food chain.
The Global Insights team at UFS wanted a thought-leadership report that would raise brand awareness and, by exciting chefs about the opportunities offered by plant-based foods, help to move the world towards a more sustainable future. The team approached The Forge, and ‘Project Trendsetter’ was born.
How to smash an ambitious goal
If we were going to change the world, we knew we had to elevate Project Trendsetter above your average trends report. We wanted chefs to take the report straight to their kitchens and start cooking up innovative, delicious meals.
It’s hard to get excited about going to a restaurant and ordering a plant-based meal…. We wanted to break the myth that plant-based food is not tasty or indulgent. Rashmi Noronha, Global Insights Director, Unilever Food Solutions
Take one fresh methodology…
We started with extensive desk research, not just around food trends but including adjacent industries such as design and fragrance. We conducted qualitative interviews with pioneering chefs around the world and surveyed over 1,600 chefs via an online panel. The project team included UFS’s in-house chefs and social listening researchers as well as representatives from organizations that produce flavors and fragrances.
We were determined to make the output practical and actionable. The report, Future Menus 2023, was sprinkled with recipes, beautiful food photography, quotes from chefs, menu inspiration and hints and tips for how to put each of the eight trends we uncovered into practice.
And serve up with flair
UFS launched Future Menus 2023 at an event for customers and press, which included cooking demonstrations and opportunities to taste the food and ask questions. The trends were brought to life by world-class chefs such as Emile Van Der Staak, who was the face of the Irresistible Vegetables trend.
Three billion and counting
Following the launch, more than 1,300 earned media articles were written about the trends, garnering over three billion media impressions. The report has been downloaded more than 16,000 times so far, generating new quality leads for the business, and brand awareness of UFS has risen, Rashmi Noronha says, “off the charts.”
Why it worked
What was it that made this trends report so wildly successful? We think there were five key factors, as follows:
1. Bold, clear and authentic vision. Unilever has a long-standing commitment to sustainability and plant-based foods. Because the project was linked to brand purpose, it had support at the highest levels of the organization, including the President of Nutrition, Hanneke Faber.
2. Diverse and thorough technique. The Forge team conducted extensive desk research and took a true 360o approach, using mixed methods including qualitative depth interviews, social listening and quantitative surveys. Experts such Unilever’s own chefs and representatives from flavour houses joined workshop sessions to build the specifics of ingredient, technique and dish within each trend.
3. Practical and actionable approach. UFS is positioned as being run by chefs, for chefs, and that positioning was clearly articulated throughout the report, with colourful design and endorsement by in-house and celebrity chefs. Each trend included a series of recipes that chefs could use in their own kitchens and menu designs.
4. Collaboration and communication. Part of the challenge for The Forge was to build on the work done by Rashmi Noronha and her team to bring together and take input from internal and external stakeholders. As the project progressed, a spirit of true partnership emerged.
5. Strategic approach by The Forge. We took a consultative approach throughout, attending stakeholder meetings within Unilever and ensuring that the project maintained its focus on the goal. It was our conviction that trends reports can be so much more than just interesting so we kept reaching for strategic ways to turn insights into actions.
The Forge has been an excellent strategic partner… what The Forge has managed to do very well is take on the role of co-creator of the programme. Rashmi Noronha, Global Insights Director, Unilever Food Solutions
Trends to drive change
Our biggest takeout from this project is that trends research doesn’t have to just sit on the shelf gathering dust, once the initial launch is done. Done right, trends research can be actionable for end customers, drive awareness and engagement, generate leads and, ultimately, change the world.