All Hail Kale: A Food Fad Triumph; Marketing Plays a Huge Role in Determining the Popularity of Everything from Croissant-Doughnut Hybrids to Bitter Vegetables. Alice-Azania Jarvis Looks at How the Tastemaker Industry Is Responsible for What's on Our Plates

Sunshine Coast Daily (Maroochydore, Australia), July 12, 2014 | Go to article overview

All Hail Kale: A Food Fad Triumph; Marketing Plays a Huge Role in Determining the Popularity of Everything from Croissant-Doughnut Hybrids to Bitter Vegetables. Alice-Azania Jarvis Looks at How the Tastemaker Industry Is Responsible for What's on Our Plates


ANYONE who doubts the ability of a stalky, bitter brassica to capture the public consciousness, consider this: last year, 262 babies in the United States were named Kale.

The cruciferous vegetable has become an unavoidable presence on restaurant menus. It has been converted into crisps, popcorn, smoothies and cocktails.

You can buy kale hand cream, kale face scrub - even iPhone cases bearing the words "Keep Calm and Love Kale".

There are no records of how many toddlers answer to the name "Cupcake"; christenings of "Cronuts" are unreported; and "Come here, Kimchi" has yet to echo across playgrounds.

Nevertheless, all have achieved a similar ubiquity in recent years, becoming dinner party musts, restaurants staples or - in the case of the cronut - the subject of countless half-baked imitations.

We might think of taste as individual - but the way we fall for the same thing at the same time suggests it's anything but. Why does this happen? And were do these trends come from?

"Marketing plays a tremendous role," says the Canadian food writer David Sax, author of the new book, The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue.

"Industry bodies get chefs to use an ingredient and they'll commission studies into health benefits. Then it's featured in the press."

Much of kale's success is down to Oberon Sinclair, who runs the transatlantic creative agency My Young Auntie. Two years ago, the New York-based publicist was hired by the American Kale Association.

Exceptionally well-connected, with a background in fashion and music, she targeted New York's coolest eateries, begging chefs to serve the little-known vegetable. Before long, it was appearing on menus at Balthazar, the Fat Radish, Babbo and Bar Pitti.

In early 2013, The New York Times hailed kale's a[approximately]veggie chic'. "Whether at big-ticket galas or intimate dinners, the wintry vegetable has popped up at functions throughout the city," it said. Sinclair ordered a line of sweatshirts and bags from the textile designers Prinkshop; kale-inspired fashion was born.

If trends can be co-ordinated like this, can anything become the next craze? Would Sinclair have succeeded with turnips?

"No," she says, firmly. She believes kale worked because it offers something tasty but wholesome at a time when diners are more health-conscious than ever.

"A good trend answers a need," Sax says. "It'll pick up on something in greater culture."

Representatives from the hospitality sector congregate to discuss the Next Big Thing at conferences around the world.

In the US, the National Restaurant Association surveys 1300 chefs annually to see what they're cooking, using the answers to make predictions. …

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All Hail Kale: A Food Fad Triumph; Marketing Plays a Huge Role in Determining the Popularity of Everything from Croissant-Doughnut Hybrids to Bitter Vegetables. Alice-Azania Jarvis Looks at How the Tastemaker Industry Is Responsible for What's on Our Plates
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