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  February 29th, 2016 | Written by

Fresh Off the Boat: The Recipe for Creativity

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  • Surrounding yourself by people who think the same way will inevitably lead to the same old ideas.
  • Hiring more foreign talent is the only way of staying relevant in the U.S. food and beverage market.
  • After decades of obesity, Americans care more about the nutritional qualities and provenance of what they consume.

The Pepsis and Unilevers of this world have been clear: surrounding yourself by people who think the same way will inevitably lead to the same old ideas. And while the food and beverage industry captains seem to be poaching more foreign talent as a way to remain competitive in a global context, too few seem to realize this is the only way of staying relevant in the US market itself!

Now, this is not a plea for diversity (although, trust me, I’m all for a more multicultural workforce) but the showing of a growing consumer reality. As Americans crave new cultural experiences, the demand for foreign products is booming.

According to Sopexa’s latest foodie study, exotic foods are on the rise, with 94 percent of Americans angling towards world cuisines. And while, of course, the U.S. is a place where cultures have historically converged, Americans’ hunger for new culinary lifestyles has been triggered by two specific factors: obesity and technology.

After decades of increases in obesity, Americans started to care more about the nutritional qualities and provenance of what they eat and drink. Conscious eating led people to look for fresh, low-fat, and non-processed foods. The Mediterranean diet quickly became a thing. And so did local products from the region.

Today, experts say African cuisine—with the rise of healthy spices, like harissa, or cooking methods, like tagine—will be pushing Mexican aside as the ethnic flavor of the moment. All of that means eating better is now more than a lifestyle; it’s a discovery – an adventure.

Clearly, winning over modern foodies means we need to think outside the box, starting with hiring people who have traveled, lived outside of their comfort zone, and can adjust their creative mindset to bridge cultures. After all, who else is better suited than an expat to explore, identify and spread new culinary ideas?

Our food system needs more international input from people who understand how behaviors evolve locally, while importing with them innovative, tasteful alternatives that will delight increasingly food-savvy Americans who care about calorie intake and keeping their mind sharp and heart healthy. This discovery extends beyond the flavors themselves. Recent studies have shown that millennials—today’s largest and most diverse U.S. demographic—care more and more about the story of a product or a brand. Stories of provenance, culture, nutrition, and sustainability are now at the heart of the business equation. And the way to tell them is online, with 86 percent of American foodies saying the internet is their number-one source of food information. And with 66 percent of foodies bragging about their preferences on social media, companies have everything to win by sharing their stories with them online.

So with the digitalization of foodies and increasing worldliness of millennials, food and beverage brands need to arm themselves with talent with transient experience, who can reinvent their universe by injecting some fresh, nonconformist perspective into their storylines. But this means we as an industry need to go the extra mile in order to bring in people who get cross-cultural nuances, who think both globally and locally, and can foresee and shape the food and beverage trends that will build long lasting relationships with American consumers.

Pauline Oudin is U.S. managing director for Sopexa, a global agency for food and beverage marketing.