Food Trends - The science behind our menus

Ciran MadanesMeet the woman who knows what you’ll be eating next year.

If anyone can see into the future of food it’s Ciran Madanes.

As Sodexo’s Head of Insight it’s her job to identify tomorrow’s hottest trends in food and drink in order to stay ahead of the curve, and deliver menus that excite staff and customers.

It’s tasty work – if you can find it – and Madanes loves the mix of crunching food and data. But, she confesses, it’s not as glamorous as many people think.

As the “eyes and ears” of the company, a typical day involves “an awful lot of reading”. It’s her job to condense huge amounts of information into a clear story with clear outcomes for the wider business.

Beyond the focus on food, her remit extends to broader consumer trends. “Food is only part of the journey. Our analysis takes in everything from flexible working to the way consumers pay and the role automation plays in food delivery. Our goal is to come up with the optimal customer journey and to help people be at their best from a dietary point of view.”

These skills feed into her current role which demands she has her finger on the pulse of food and consumer trends and is able to extract key points. “Ultimately it’s educating and helping to shape the way people think about food and consumption. At the same time I’m thinking about how each segment is evolving – that today’s university students will be tomorrow’s workforce, for example – and bringing it all together.”

Why is it so important to know what’s around the corner? “We always design today for future services, so you need to know just where the world’s headed.”

Sustainability, value consciousness and convenience are all huge trends, says Madanes. There is also a big focus on health and strong plant-based offerings. “Part of my job is to monitor these macro trends as they evolve and work out where they are going and whether they have legs. With healthy eating, for example, we think there’s a strong generational shift in the way people are eating and so it’s here to stay.”

That said, stark intergenerational differences persist.

“Certain trends will be amplified in certain age groups. Millennials might be into superfoods, but older consumers have a much more balanced diet. Our corporate services are often serving four generations under one roof and there are big differences between them so we have to balance variety with regular innovation. It’s quite a challenge.”

Food trends for Madanes are not about working out how to add charcoal shavings to pasta dishes or teaching chefs how to make Thai rolled ice cream. Instead, the trends she’s really interested in are the ones that don’t go away but are continuing to evolve.

Years ago healthy food was about low calories, now it’s centred around vegan and free-from foods. In a similar way, street food is now becoming premium and we’re seeing more niche cuisines emerge within this arena. In my job you have to learn to call whether something is an Instagram fad or not.”

Matters of taste are, of course, subjective, so she shares the tasting workload with everyone from colleagues to cafe managers.

Ultimately Madanes’ insights find their way into Sodexo’s supply chain, kitchens and menus via monthly updates outlining consumer and high-street trends, working closely with chefs on promotional items and tailored food tours to help staff and clients understand the company’s capabilities and how its cuisine is evolving. “It’s part art, part science,” she concludes. "I have to translate trends and connect the dots and increasingly turn big data into bite-sized bits of information. In this respect, it’s a bit like seeing into the future.”