How can food entrepreneurs identify food trends? We spoke to the community manager of the country's most popular online food community to find out.
When Mark Del Rosario set up Let’s Eat Pare, a Facebook group for those in the food and beverage industry in November 2016, his plan was simple: to create an online platform where restaurateurs, suppliers, small business owners, home cooks, and foodies can share ideas and advice on how to run and manage a food business.
“From my own experience of owning a restaurant in the past, it was very challenging,” recalls the 39-year-old. “You go outside and you see a lot of these restaurants opening, but at the same time, a lot of them would also close. I said to myself, ‘We have to help the industry. There has to be some service or platform that can do that.’”
Now, more than two years later, Del Rosario has become the proud community manager of what is arguably the country’s largest and most engaged online community of food entrepreneurs and connoisseurs (Let’s Eat Pare, or LEP, has more than 155,000 members and counting). Advertisers and business owners can only dream of the engagement and reach a single post in LEP makes. One such post can literally make a business, and for many formerly home-based food entrepreneurs, it has.
But in those two years, Del Rosario has also seen many fleeting food fads come and go; all had hopes of becoming the next big Instagram craze. So how exactly can you identify food trends that you should invest in? Del Rosario shared some key insights at the Leveling Up Entrepreneurs, Pare event last February 18, 2019 held at Café 1771 in Ortigas, Pasig City. Here are his pointers.
In your more than two years of managing Let’s Eat Pare, you’ve seen thousands of food concepts come and go. What do you think are the characteristics that differentiate lasting food trends from novelty food fads?
If you want to really create an impact, it has to cut across different market segments. Take, for instance, the Korean barbecue trend. We’ve seen multiple iterations of it: a full-blown restaurant, a smaller-scale version, and you’ll even see it in a food court.
There has to be a cultural shift that happens, and not just a flash in the pan. It can’t just be a product that exploded overnight and disappeared after a while. It stays because it changed [people’s dining] culture. And the fact that people can make different variations of it also influences [the trend’s longevity] a lot.
How can you tell if the trend is really here to stay?
I always try to analyze how it started: What’s the provenance? What influenced it? What was the cultural shift? That was actually my job before. I would talk to restaurants, show them what the trends are, and then we’d create solutions based on those trends.
Because we know where the market is going, we can determine what consumers want and the experience they’re looking for. We would then create solution-based recipes using our products. We’d present the concepts, perform a study, show them the numbers, and then we’d do the commercial plan on how to introduce it to the market and sustain it.
There are some people who can’t help it, and simply want to make quick buck by investing in those fleeting food trends. Do you see any dangers in that?
Sometimes, they don’t know when the trend will fall. They’ll order so much inventory and start investing in a lot of things. Meanwhile, some of them try to maximize the trend by over-expanding. You’ll see that they have a lot of restaurants, and then some of them end up closing. And the hard part about that is that a lot of people who don’t know any better think the fad is going to stay and will actually invest in it. They buy the franchise not knowing that it’s about to die already.
Is it entirely possible, then, to ride a trend and then transform it into something that’ll last?
You have to invest a lot on research and development in understanding the market. You have to know where it’s going. If it’s a Korean grill, what’s the next step? How do you sustain it? How do you keep the people interested in it? They can only have so much because at some point, a new trend will come in, and it’s going to disappear. Always look at your business and ask, “What will I do next? What if I’m obsolete tomorrow? What should I do?”
You’re also heading a group of local food vendors helping them set up their businesses, market it, and manage it. And you’ve also worked with the Department of Trade and Industry, especially with their Negosyo Center that helps businesses register and set up, and offers various trainings on how to run and manage an enterprise. What have been the primary concerns you’ve heard from your members?
While the need for efficiency [in registration and acquiring permits] will always be there, a lot of our members have issues in investment. Some people are scared to invest in their businesses, so that’s why the Let’s Eat Pare community, as well as the DTI, are here to teach them that running a food business is not rocket science; there’s a process, and it’s an easy process that needs a lot of preparation.
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