What Those Trend Lists Keep Missing

What Those Trend Lists Keep Missing

Here they come. 2021 Trend lists in food, beverage yadda, yadda. Nothing will stop them. Not a freight train. But curb your enthusiasm for these curations of the weird. Rare with potential to scale is what you want as a founder, not just any kind of rare. And most rare is just plain weird.

Here’s what I wrote in my book – Ramping Your Brand

“The marketplace is filled with tons of “unique” CPG products (e.g., juice with chia seeds) that literally have no competitors at all and wouldn’t scale even if Mark Cuban sold the Mavericks to fund
their growth. Walk the halls of Expo West even once, and I think you’ll agree. Here’s the hitch: the more unique a product is, the more likely it is simply weird and obscure from the perspective of cultural symbolism and consumer interest. Remember Sahale Snack’s Valdosta almond mix? Huh? Weird and obscure don’t scale in CPG regardless of promotional efforts—unless those promotional efforts can cleverly mask the weirdness with more accessible symbolism (not a task I would hand the average agency). Yet, if you hang with the ultra-differentiation agency crowd, they will easily take a potentially scalable proposition and cover it up with a jacket made of 100 percent biodynamic Weird.

The seductiveness of being super unique is that rarity is often quite memorable. I’ll never forget when I first drank aloe juice and first ate
kale chips. Never. Ever. I wish I could forget both. The memorability of the rare is why the local news discusses every twisted murder in
your local area, which has nothing to do with local homicide trends. We humans are simply infatuated with anomalous social signals, because our brains are evolved to notice anomalous social threats and to make complex evaluations of social trust. And agencies are paid, ultimately, to gain attention for your brand.

In the CPG industry, however, rarity in its purest form—rare ingredients, rare flavors, rare sensory textures, rare symbols, and rare consumer benefits—is not the kind of memorability CPG entrepreneurs want to rely on. That kind of rarity is just weird. And weird is a total black hole of money in CPG innovation.”

I urge you to read ‘trend’ lists carefully and look for what attributes they highlight that might connect, plausibly, right now to mass-market consumer outcomes of broad relevance in everyday social life. It’s the latter that ultimately scales you up the ramp.

If you’d like more in-depth content for early-stage founders and operators in the consumer brand sector, please dig around my newly re-organized resource center.

Dr. James Richardson