Rogue Report Episode 5

In an episode of Seinfeld, Elaine notices her boss eating a Snickers bar with a knife and fork. Surprised, she describes the situation to George and Jerry. Later in the episode, George tries the technique and in turn is seen by his boss. By the end of the episode we see that this curious method of eating a chocolate bar has spread far past their immediate circle of friends and has become a trend. Today, Elaine’s boss would perhaps be called an influencer.

Food trends are not always that obvious or circular. Some take years or decades to emerge while others move quickly across the world. Some are happenstance while others are the result of careful planning.

What can brands learn from how some food trends come and go and how others take hold and become diet staples?

Create desire

If you love (or even just like) potatoes you have Antoine-Augustin Parmentier to thank.

His strategies for popularizing the potato close to 300 years ago could still be used as a playbook for brands today. Parmentier not only held invitation only suppers featuring the spud, he set up an elaborate stunt to position the potato as a most desirable food.

On land donated to him by the King, Parmentier created a garden of potato plants. Guards were hired to watch over the garden. The genius part was that the guards were instructed to look away as soon as anyone attempted to steal a potato. Thus planting the suggestion in people’s minds that potatoes were indeed valuable (and perhaps even worth risking prison for).

What does this mean for your brand?

The illusion of scarcity has helped several brands grow at a faster pace than if their product was more widely available. Sneaker companies have played on this with limited edition colour ways or themes of popular models.

The current popularity of the Stan Smith sneaker can partially be attributed to the fact that adidas removed them from the market in the early 2010’s in order to create a bigger buzz once they were reintroduced a few years later.

Now trending

While Parmentier pushed the hand of fate, the success of his interventions were helped along by the fact that in the late 1700’s France was looking for a replacement for wheat and that the lowly potato had saved a number of lives during a famine in the north of France. As stated in this space previously, the intersection of trends and events is fertile ground for the genesis of new trends. Intersecting trends can help explain the current interest and popularity of fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha, and kefir.

One of these trends is the continued rise in interest for superfoods (natural foods of which the benefits go beyond simple sustenance).

The second is our evolving tastes meaning people are seeking new and novel sensations. With their distinct tastes and purported positive impact on gut health, fermented foods fit nicely into the aforementioned trends.

What does this mean for your brand?

Consider the trends or even legislation changes that could have an impact on your brand. The impact of the legalization of cannabis is great example. CBD and THC have shown up as an ingredients in countless different products.

Facing increases in rent and overhead costs amid the difficult state of bricks and mortar retail, some third wave coffee shops now shift into natural wine bars in the evening. A smart move for profits but also based on the realization of their consumers overlapping interests in both beverage types.

Always be (slightly) reinventing

We eat our potatoes a bit differently (or at least with a few more variations) than Parmentier did. He might not have imagined the ways we would eat potatoes today, whether frozen french fries, the Canadian poutine, or even hash browns. So not only do our perceptions of certain foods change over time but the way we consume them do as well.

Consider mochi ice cream. While mochi ice cream dates back to the early 1990’s, the sweetened rice dough that forms the exterior of the treat has been consumed in Japan for several hundred years. The new twist on it puts mochi ice cream well on its way to someday becoming a household name across North America.

What does this mean for your brand?

People’s tastes and behaviours evolve. Consider ways that your brand can remain relevant throughout your consumer’s lives. This doesn’t always mean radical change. A recent commercial from the Egg Farmers of Canada simply encourages people to consider eggs outside of the typical morning window.


Act first

Humans are creatures of habit; a trait that serves us well, as eating the wrong thing could lead to an untimely death. The potato was once seen as poisonous. After all, it’s grown underground and was fed to pigs. To test his belief it was comestible, Parmentier lived on a potato diet. What currently ignominious food might we adopt on a large scale?

The insect-as-food market will reach 1 billion dollars in the coming decade. Entomologist Georges Brossard’s mission was to help people better appreciate insects. He promoted insects as a sustainable source of protein. The Montreal Insectarium, founded in part by Brossard, often holds events to allow the general public to taste for themselves. Will we look back on him as the one who instigated the arrival of insects on our plates?

What does this mean for your brand?

Do before you say. We can’t expect people to quickly adopt behaviours that might previously have appeared strange to them. George Brossard understood this well.

Instead of trying to convince people to eat insects right away he knew that he would first have to change the overall perception of insects. He brought insects to people instead of expecting people to go towards insects.

Change doesn’t come easily. Consumers are creatures of habit. But much like Parmentier and Brossard, brands must pay attention to circumstances and contexts where breaks in habits lead consumers to a period of openness, and then to the creation of new habits.

Rogue Report Episode 6

In the 1997 film Life is Beautiful, a father, played by Roberto Benigni, hides the scary and stark realities of life from his son as they are both being held captive in a World War II concentration camp. He does so by creating a game. The father’s intention is not to dupe his son. He simply wants to help his son conserve his freedom anyway possible. In this case, it is gifting his son with a free mind. As art imitates life, the idea of an imprisoned body but a free mind is a popular theme in culture. Remember when Braveheart screamed, “they may take my life but they may never take my freedom”? Or in Game of Thrones when Mance Rayder replied to Jon Snow – “The freedom to make my own mistakes was all I ever wanted”?

While we are lucky in that most of us are still in good health, and that the end of the confinement period appears near, the realities of the economy and the possibility of loved ones falling sick, do make for depressing thoughts. But as we have shown time after time, human beings are a resilient bunch. We are able to convince ourselves of numerous illusions in order to cope with just about any situation.

The quarantine period has revealed that some people turn to certain foods to keep their freedom of mind. Today we explore some of those examples as we ask ourselves what can we learn from food-related decisions during the Covid-19 quarantine.


Simply put, the roots of the word nostalgia come from the concept of returning home (nostos) and pain (algos). So it is fitting that as we are forced to be homebound, we turn to food, particularly snacks, that remind us of times when we were perhaps most snug at home – our childhoods.

Kraft Canada announced increasing demand for its peanut butter and for Kraft dinner – two comfort classics. According to some reports, sales in the soup category, another item that harks back to memories of being fed by mom or dad, have grown by over 350% compared to last year in the same period.

What does this mean for your brand?

This phenomenon also applies to categories outside of food. Streaming movie platforms have seen renewed interest for old classics, and Tiktok has been a flood with #MeAt20. Aside from the fact that it is one of the only new sports-related content these days, the Last Dance documentary featuring Michael Jordan, the quintessential 1990’s sports superstar, owes its surprising popularity to feelings of nostalgia for many viewers.

Consider what nostalgia-related attributes your brand or organization has that can help comfort consumers in trying times. It could be bringing back a retired flavour, past advertising, or even older packaging visuals.

Zoom Crunch

When Zoom first launched in 2011, who would have thought that it would be a go-to platform for friends to spend time together over drinks. The lockdown has forced many of us to find alternative ways to spend time with family and friends. Video chat platforms have provided a solution, well almost.

Whether after-work drinks, brunches, or over coffee, people are finding ways to connect over food. If you miss your favourite hangout, Doordash, the food delivery company, created a series of Zoom backgrounds from some popular chain restaurants such as Chili’s or Baskin-Robbins.

What does this mean for your brand?

Peanut, an app that helps connect mothers and those expecting, is hosting a virtual Mother’s Day brunch with celebrity mothers such as Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson. Post Malone live streamed a Nirvana tribute concert from his home to raise funds for the World Health Organization.

The rise of live-video chat platforms provides people with ways to connect with experts or celebrities in ways that sometimes go beyond the typical access they may have had using other social media. Consider what existing partnerships your brand can leverage through live video chats that help consumers feel closer to your brand or organization.

From shelf-reliance to self-reliance

With news of hoarding and empty grocery shelves, many have turned to ways they can become more self-reliant. There has been an increase in sales of chickens so even people in urban environments can have an ongoing supply of eggs. Others have raided seed supply companies in order to grow their own food.

Grocery stores have reported runs on yeast and flour as people have begun to bake their own bread. Many have even found the time to begin their own sourdough starter, an endeavour that requires daily attention.

So much attention that some bakeries have offered a sourdough starter babysitting service. A service that existed Pre-Covid but which might see increased interest Post-Covid.

What does this mean for your brand?

Even slight increases in feelings of control can actually lead to significant improvements in emotional well-being. Studies have shown that certain actions, including allowing nursing home residents to care for a plant, improved certain aspects of mental state. Hairstylists are creating videos to help their clients.

Consider ways that you can help people feel more in control of their environment. Provide easy-to-follow how-tos and instructions that might previously not have been available. And reconsider how your client service is trained so that they can help empower customers who might be in a pickle.

Mood food

During these heavy times, many people have turned to cannabis to help them relax and lighten their minds. In March 2020, Ontario reported a sales increase of 600%, while a third of Quebecers reported consuming more cannabis.

With coffee shops closed, and people no longer in work environments where coffee is sometimes supplied, significant increases in sales of coffee in grocery stores suggest that people are finding ways to get their caffeine fix. Some things may feel that they are out of our control, but we are quickly finding foods that help us adapt mentally as best as possible to our current situation.

What does this mean for your brand?

Many brands are finding ways to help ease the mental toll the Covid crisis is having on us. Headspace is giving away subscriptions to all L.A. county residents until the end of the year. Celebrities such as Lizzo are leading mindfulness activities through their social media channels. And companies like Sephora are creating ASMR content in an attempt to help consumers reduce anxiety.

Consider finding ways to help consumers relax. Include breathing exercises on communication channels on which consumers might be asked to wait. Provide uplifting content when possible, though always remembering to ensure a clear fit with the brand.

We all have different coping mechanisms to get us through tough times. Food is one. It is something we use to attempt to regain control when we perceive it might be lost. As the Greek stoic philosopher, Epictetus said,


If you can, please donate to your local food bank. As a thank-you for reading, the author of this piece donated to La Tablée des chefs, a Montreal-based organization that provides youth with culinary education and helps feed those who are most in need.

Rogue Report Episode 7

Recently Survivor aired its 40th season. Compelling storylines have become a Survivor trademark and have made it a leader in unscripted reality. To better understand how Survivor has lasted 40 seasons, we must turn to Mark Burnett.

Burnett, a former member of the British Army, is an excellent planner. Burnett perfected his skills by applying them to a precursor to Survivor, the Eco-Challenge. The Eco Challenge was a reality show in the form of a multi-day and multi-discipline endurance race. Teams of four would have to trek, swim, bike or climb day and night over treacherous terrain. The team not only had to face the competition from other teams but as with any endeavour that generates extreme fatigue, they would have the fight their proverbial inner demons and those of their team members.

When selecting teams Burnett didn’t start from the beginning, he started from the end. Predicting where he believed each team member would crack. Where it would become just too much. Where the terrain would become too daunting both physically and emotionally. And then he planned backwards from there. Through this he was able to not ensure a great race but, in this pre-drone era when the camera people had to be able to follow the contestants, he was able to predict when and where and on who the camera should be focusing.

Planning backwards from the future can sound a bit like science fiction. After all, to the best of our knowledge, at least, no one has been 100% successful in predicting what the future will bring. But what science fiction allows us to do is to consider alternative realities. And these alternative realities can help us make better decisions to be better prepared when unforeseen events happen upon us. So it begs the question, how can science-fiction help us better prepare for an uncertain future?

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”

Sensing the future

Certain pieces of science-fiction focus on the role of our different senses in our daily lives. In a Quiet Place, a family has to adapt to living a life with as little sound as possible. In this reality they experience life on mute. With everything from laughing and crying to noisy children’s toys being outright life-threatening. Other films have shows how the use of biometrics or neural transmission might lead us to be less reliant on our sense of touch. This might also be an impact of Covid-19 as we have already started to rethink handshakes and the handling (or lack thereof) of in-store items.

What does this mean for your brand?

In 2010, Sun Chips launched new packaging, touted as the world’s first 100% compostable chip bag. The idea was terrific and considering the fight against excess and non-recyclable packaging we still fight in 2020 it was ahead of its time. The one big, and apparently insurmountable barrier? The bag was crazy loud and was subsequently shelved permanently. Consider how your brand could adapt to a world in which noise was frowned upon. Does your product emit unessential sounds? Does the packaging make too much noise? What about if we considered our other senses? How might that impact some of your key product attributes and how could you work around this? Could this lead to interesting new rituals around the consumption of your products?

Life imitates art

In the 1987 classic Back to the Future Part 2, Marty McFly travels from 1985 to 2015. To help him fit in, his scientist pal, Doc Brown gives him time-appropriate clothes. This included a self-fitting jacket, and self-lacing shoes. The shoes are notable in that they were Nikes (created by the brand as prop for the movie). Over the years the shoes gained cult status and eventually Nike produced a limited run. The limited editions have become much sought after collectibles with auction prices reaching over 10 times the original sales prices.

What does this mean for your brand?

Remember the cloak of invisibility from Harry Potter? That fictional item inspired scientists to explore how to bring the idea to life. And while Matt Damon is not seen wearing Under Armour in the Martian, the brand created a campaign that supposed that the astronauts trained for the Mars expedition in Under Armour base layers. Imagine how your brand could meet the needs of some of the characters depicted in science fiction movies. How might this help future-proof your brand?

Fiction planning

In an episode of Twilight Zone called Time enough at last, a bank-teller pines for the day when his job, his wife, and the availability of time will allow him to follow his passion of reading more books. Then an H-bomb hits, while he happens to be safely hidden away reading in the bank vault, and leaves him alone on the earth. He relishes in his new-found freedom to spend his day reading. But as he is rejoicing, he drops and breaks his glasses, meaning cruelly, that he will be forever surrounded by books he can’t read. We sometimes plan for ideal conditions. But what if those conditions never arrive or are changed by factors beyond your control.

What does this mean for your brand?

When applying design thinking, both Stanford and IDEO use ”How might we” statements. This question is very useful for scenario planning. Use this statement to consider alternative scenarios. Among them consider few that seem absolutely far fetched. How might we plan for an alien invasion? How might our product adapt to a world in which average life expectancy is 120 years? Of course we can’t expect accurate answers, however it is a great exercise that can feed planning for more probable scenarios.

Dystopian brand scenarios

In Dodgeball the movie, the International dodgeball open airs on ESPN Ocho: “The Ocho bringing you the finest seldom seen sports”. While the movie intended this a joke, referencing the ever growing list of real ESPN channel (from ESPN, to ESPN2 to ESPN Classic, to ESPNews, well you get the idea…). Instead of taking offence, a few years after the movie came out ESPN actually created The Ocho, a 24-hour marathon of seldomly seen sports. ESPN could have taken offense to the depiction but instead used it a source of inspiration.

What does this mean for your brand?

Look to alternative sources to determine the possible future of your brand. What do science-fiction writers predict about your product category? What do they predict might replace it? Consider these alternatives as you explore potential product lines and derivatives. Afterall, almost 80 years before the iWatch, fictional police detective Dick Tracy was sporting a two-way wrist radio.

Had someone told you a few years ago that for most of the year 2020, people across the world would be housebound in order to help reduce the spread of a virus that had become a global pandemic, you would have probably asked what to movie they were referring? Many of us would have never believed that we would face something like this in our lifetimes.

Yet here we are.

A scenario played out in so many science-fiction pieces becomes real-life. Perhaps we should turn more often to science-fiction to help us be better prepared for scenarios we once thought to be too incredible to be real.