A Forge ARticle 

Making trends sticky: three billion media impressions and counting


Trends reports are always fun to produce and, if done well, entertaining to read. They can be used as thought leadership and can even stimulate innovation. But they often do little more than that. So when Unilever Food Solutions approached us with a much bigger ambition, we were intrigued.

“We have a very uncomfortable, intentionally ambitious goal. We want to influence the design of every menu of every food service operator around the world.”

Rashmi Noronha, Global Insights Director, Unilever Food Solutions

Unilever Food Solutions (UFS), a Unilever brand, offers catering supplies to the food service industry, and aims to be the leading global provider of culinary and commercial inspiration to chefs. The business employs a network of food service professionals, including over 300 chefs, to help source ingredients, develop products, create inspiring recipes, and provide chef training and support. 

Unilever has a long-standing commitment to producing more plant-based foods as part of its ‘Future Foods’ ambition, in order to help people transition towards healthier diets and to help reduce the environmental impact of the global food chain.

The Global Insights team at UFS wanted to create a thought-leadership report that would raise brand awareness and, by exciting chefs about the opportunities offered by plant-based foods, help to move the world towards a more sustainable future. The team approached The Forge, and ‘Project Trendsetter’ was born.

How to smash an ambitious goal

If we were going to change the world, we knew we had to elevate the output of Project Trendsetter above your average trends report. It wouldn’t be enough to come up with some interesting trends – we wanted chefs to take the report straight to their kitchens and start cooking up innovative, delicious meals.

“At the moment, it’s hard to get excited about going to a restaurant and ordering a plant-based meal. There is no equivalent to, “let’s go have a burger” in the plant-based world. So we wanted to break the myth that plant-based food is not tasty or indulgent.”

Rashmi Noronha, Global Insights Director, Unilever Food Solutions

Take one fresh methodology…

We started with extensive desk research, not just around food trends but including adjacent industries such as design and fragrance to really get ahead of what might be inspiring and exciting for chefs and their customers.  We conducted qualitative interviews with pioneering chefs around the world and surveyed over 1,600 chefs via a quantitative online panel. The project team included UFS’s in-house development chefs and social listening researchers as well as representatives from international flavour houses – the organisations that produce flavours and fragrances for foods, cosmetics and other household products.

Season well…

We were determined to make the output as practical and actionable as possible. The resulting report, Future Menus 2023, was sprinkled with recipes, beautiful food photography, quotes from chefs, menu inspiration and hints and tips for how to put each of the eight trends we uncovered into practice. The ideas and executions of the trends did include some meat and dairy, but the overall report had a strong focus not only on plant-based foods but also on sustainability, waste reduction and healthier eating.

And serve up with flair

UFS launched Future Menus 2023 at an event for over 100 customers plus industry press. The day included cooking demonstrations and opportunities for customers to taste the food and ask questions. The trends were further brought to life by the sponsorship of world-class chefs such as Michelin-starred Emile Van Der Staak, the face of the Irresistible Vegetables trend.

Three billion and counting

Project Trendsetter was hugely successful. Following the launch, more than 1,300 earned media articles were written about the trends, garnering over three billion media impressions. The report was downloaded 16,000 times and counting, generating new quality leads for the business, and brand awareness of UFS has risen, Rashmi Noronha says, “off the charts.”

This is not a one-off for UFS. The team will repeat the report annually and Future Menus has become a platform that will run all year round, providing advice, information and inspiration for food service businesses worldwide.

Why it worked

What was it that made this trends report so wildly successful? We think there were five key factors, as follows:

1. Bold, clear and authentic vision. The ultimate goal of changing all the menus in all the food service businesses around the world took time to develop and be fully understood. Unilever has a long-standing commitment to sustainability and plant-based foods, and so the idea for Project Trendsetter went through many iterations, becoming clearer all the time. The vision with which the Global Insights team finally approached The Forge was clearly articulated precisely because it had been distilled from Unilever’s wider goals. In addition, because the project was linked to brand purpose, it had support at the highest levels of the organisation, including the President of Nutrition, Hanneke Faber.

“One of the key success factors was having such a clear stance on the plant-based agenda. It brings Unilever sustainability linked values to life and further underlines our commitment to selling more plant based solutions. So it just feels like the natural next step of what our business should do.”

Rashmi Noronha, Global Insights Director, Unilever Food Solutions

2. Diverse and thorough technique. Instead of leaping straight into primary research, as can be tempting, The Forge team took the time to immerse in the world of food by conducting extensive desk research. Including adjacent industries such as fragrance and design maximised the creativity of the final approach and helped to future-proof the trends. Following the desk research, the methodology took a true 360o approach, looking at the topic from all angles and using mixed methods including qualitative depth interviews, social listening and quantitative surveys to develop the insights. Finally, the wider project team included experts such Unilever’s own chefs and representatives from flavour houses who shared their expertise in spotting and tracking emergent flavours from around the globe. Once The Forge team had developed the eight trends, this wider team of experts also came together as co-creators in workshop sessions to build the specifics of ingredient, technique and dish within each trend.

3. Practical and actionable approach. UFS is positioned as being run by chefs, for chefs, and that positioning was clearly articulated throughout the report. The report was full of beautifully shot images of chefs at work, together with their Instagram handles inviting readers to reach out and engage further with them. The report also featured quotes by chefs, tips and interesting facts. Most importantly, each trend included a series of recipes that any chef picking up the report could go and try out or modify to fit in with their own kitchen and menu design.  The colourful design and endorsement of celebrity and in-house chefs also served to excite and inspire the customer base and bring the trends to life in a meaningful way.

4. Collaboration and communication. The scale and scope of Project Trendsetter meant that there was a lot of work to do to get all the partners in the project working as a team.  Part of the challenge for The Forge was to build on the work done by Rashmi Noronha and her team to bring together and take input from internal and external stakeholders. As the project progressed, a spirit of true partnership emerged.

5. Strategic approach by The Forge. We are so proud to have taken this project to the heights that it has achieved. We took a consultative approach throughout, attending stakeholder meetings within Unilever and ensuring that the project maintained its focus on the goal. It was our conviction that trends reports can be so much more than just interesting so we kept pushing the boundaries of the vision and reaching for strategic ways to turn insights into actions.

“The Forge has been an excellent strategic partner… they’ve been true partners with us in the sense of engaging with our internal stakeholders, coming with us to meetings. A lot of agencies default to ‘I’m running a project for you and you’re gonna get the report on this date’ but what The Forge has managed to do very well is take on the role of co-creator of the programme.”

Rashmi Noronha, Global Insights Director, Unilever Food Solutions

Trends to drive change

Our biggest takeout from this project is that trends research doesn’t have to just sit on the shelf gathering dust, once the initial launch is done. Done right, trends research can be actionable for end customers, drive awareness and engagement, generate leads and, ultimately, change the world.  Rashmi Noronha says it best:

“I would encourage the research industry see that trends research can make a huge difference.  There’s such a lot of good work sitting in marketing teams around the world that is not activated. And that’s a loss to everyone. Our industry will be better off when we recognize the power and potential of the trends report, and what it can achieve when activated with commitment to drive change.”

Rashmi Noronha, Global Insights Director, Unilever Food Solutions

Have a question for us?

Let us know how we can help.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.


Receive our thinking before it is published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.