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Mining Google Trends Data to Up Your Foodservice Game

How often do you Google?

In 2006, ‘google’ was added as a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary. You know you’ve arrived as a company when your corporate name becomes a colloquial word describing what consumers do five billion times per day.

Google Trends

In 2008, Google launched Google Trends website as a means of putting ‘big data’ into the hands of all users. Google Trends data compile what was most searched on Google today, yesterday, and over time. It lets you plug into data from across the world and across the street. Users can access data going back to 2001 – customizing searches by subject, sub-topic, geography, and timeframe. Google Trends lets you keep tabs on both the topics that are trending today – data are updated in real time – and to quantify the relative volume of searches that have taken place. This helps differentiate between transitory fads and deeper consumer insights.

How can you make Google Trends work for you?

Here's an example: In his blog “How to Use Google Trends for Keyword Research: 7 Effective Ways,” Nick Churick compares the relative popularity of two searchwords – Fidget Spinner and YoYo: Note the worldwide spike in popularity of Fidget Spinner searches just after May 2017. However, within three months, the stable core interest in YoYos surpassed the nearly forgotten Fidget Spinner, distinguishing between fad and lasting fan favourite. Similarly, a comparison of kombucha, the trendy Asian fermented tea drink, and coconut water over the last five years demonstrates the compound growth momentum for kombucha. Interest in Kombucha looks to be more deeply penetrated and expanding over time.

How Google Trends works and what it means to foodservice operators

Trends can be looked at per hour, per day, etc., and also cumulatively – a virtual real-time open window to look through. Alternatively, you can use keywords to get answers to specific questions. Want to know how different diet trends are evolving and may ultimately impact consumer preferences? A review of Rising Diet Queries in Canada over the last decade reveals multiple manifestations of the high-protein/low-carb Keto diet.

 Screen Shot of Google Analytics

Plug 'n Play

If you go to the landing page for Google Trends, and select your desired region of interest as Canada, you can review “Daily” or “Real Time” search trends.

Wondering what the public is searching – sports, pop culture, politics, news...and foodservice – it’s all there for you to discover.

Just scrolling through topics on any given day, you’re likely to come across something like the item below (number 16 on the list of trending searches on October 29, 2019), that catches your eye and is relevant for your operation. In August 2019, Subway announced that it was rolling out a new LTO vegan option, the Beyond Meatball Marinara sandwich, in Canada and the US, in response to significant consumer pressure for vegan options.

The Beyond Meatball features vegan meatballs specially developed by Beyond Meat in partnership with Subway, which can be ordered vegan by omitting cheese and selecting a vegan bread option. The sandwich launched as a test item in Halifax, NS and four US locations in September 2019. At the end of October, Subway UK announced that it would be trialling the Meatless Meatball Marinara sub in select locations with plans to roll it out across Britain in 2020. That piece of news likely led to the spike in interest from Canadian consumers invested in this trend.

Industry Tip: If your operation relies on beverages to attract customers like Millennials, know which drinks have legs before you stock up.

Google Trends lets you continue to drill down on any topic like this that hits your radar. Want to continue to look at vegetarian cuisine? The data confirm that it shows up as one of the top food topic searches in Canada over the past decade. A review of sub-topic searches reveals that one of the drivers of this trend has been consumer interest in veggie-burgers.

The graph represents Google Trends (Canada) “Interest over time” over the last five years for Veggie-Burgers. According to Google, the y-axis scale reflects search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. Peak consumer interest in Canada for veggie-burgers was the middle of August 2017. Interest as of fall 2019 was roughly half off the peak.

Industry Tip: Looking to update your menu with the hottest superfoods and sought-after ingredients? Consider chia seeds, tumeric, and kefir.

Eyes on the horizon

If you pull the lens back, beyond Canadian borders, Google offers a wide-angle picture of what may be on the rise or coming down the track in years to come. A new Google Trends study by UK-based SousVideTools.com looked at cuisines and superfoods and ranked them based on searches per month.

This data analysis points to increasing global popularity of Korean and other Asian-influenced cuisine. Google Trends can also assist in a review of the competitive landscape. A check of Rising Restaurant Searches in Canada over the last 10 years reveals the top five hits are all growth-oriented chains: Freshii, Five Guys, Benny & Co., Original Joe’s, and Booster Juice.

Shift the timeframe and focus to Canadian regional restaurant searches since January 2019 – as a proxy for new ideas that are currently attracting consumer eyeballs – and a number of unique and creative independent restaurants will hit your screen.

Google Trends facilitates next level use of consumer search data in your daily foodservice decision-making. It’s also a powerful source to inform the question I’ve heard time and again over the years, “What are foodservice customers thinking?” As with most things in your daily life, you can ask Dr. Google.

Darren Climans is a foodservice insights professional with close to 20 years' experience partnering with broadline distributors, CPG suppliers, and foodservice operators. His practice is to understand issue-based decisions by taking a data-driven approach to strategic decision making