Ever Heard of Monk Fruit? If Not, You Will Soon!
By Wendy Goldman Scherer

Trend watching fascinates me. I don’t know about you, but I could explore the Trendwatching, PSFK and Springwise sites all day long. (Don’t judge me!)

Since we do an awful lot of social media monitoring and analysis, it’s not surprising that we see how trends build. Sometimes we catch glimmers early on. And sometimes, we’re reporting on trends that have been building for some time.

If I pair my love of trends with my overwhelming love of food, it only gets more fun.

I don’t need to tell you that food and social media are an irresistible pairing. According to the “Clicks & Cravings” study, more than 29% of social media users are on a social networking website while eating or drinking at home and about 32% of us text or socialize on a mobile device at meal time. And while this kind of behavior may drive some folks crazy, it presents a unique opportunity for people in the food business.

We live in a time when information is moving faster than ever before. Sharing is instantaneous thanks to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. In fact, almost 50% of consumers learn about food via social networking sites, and 40% learn about food via websites, apps or blogs. With numbers like that, if you’re not harnessing the power of social media to promote your food products then you should be prepared to be 86’d like tonight’s Blue Plate Special.

And this phenomenon is not limited to beautiful dishes. Ingredients and condiments abound.

Earlier this year, we set out to find a trend. We looked for something we considered a little obscure and watched it grow. To fuel this experiment, we searched and read food trend predictions. Lots and lots of them. And we chose Monk Fruit.

Monk fruit, also called luo han guo, is a small gourd-like fruit that is known for its sweetness and until recently was only grown on steep, forested mountains in China. Now, a New Zealand company has cultivated a grower network to grow more of the fruit, harvest it, and turn it into a low-calorie sweetener. The appearance of a new natural sweetener is becoming big news. Tate & Lyle announced in April and again in June, about their brand of monk fruit—Purefruit. We’ve also seen that this summer, McNeill publicly launched the brand NECTRESSE™ Sweetener. It’s quite interesting that both companies are marketing separate brands, as they were both involved in marketing Splenda, with Tate & Lyle having discovered sucralose and then developed the Splenda products with McNeill, a division of Johnson & Johnson. We researchers love to piece these things together. But I digress.

Looking at the chart we created in Brandwatch, you can see the announcements of the products. The red line—news mentions—identifies the spike. But what’s very interesting is to see how the consumer conversation perked up with the news and has continued to grow.

But before those announcements? Forums. Natural health forums, in particular, carried the bulk of the conversation. It was a niche conversation. That forum conversation has remained steady throughout the year so far.

Social media. Gotta love it.

While the brand name mentions are still limited, you can see that Purefruit got an early start and that Nectresse is entering the stream.

An October 31 tweet by Cravebox helped create a small burst of conversation about both brands.

So what is the point of this post, you ask? It’s about using social media research for discovery. Using analysis tools, it is possible to code your results and look at them in a variety of ways. You can dive into the forums, for example, to see that they’re primarily natural health forums and learn what’s being said there. You can see the competitive share of voice (which admittedly here is still small), and you can see how the conversation grows. And why.

We expect you’ll be seeing a lot more about Purefruit and Nectresse. Remember, you read it here first.

Wendy Goldman Scherer is the managing partner of The Social Studies Group, a social media research firm and sister company to Scherer Cybrarian which she founded in 1995. She knew from her years as a partner with Bozell Worldwide that there was a great need for knowledge synthesis and business research that was more than a mere information dump. Scherer has been working with distinguished clients for many years now on social media monitoring, analysis, and netnography reporting. You can reach her on Twitter at @wendyscherer or via email at wscherer@socialstudiesgroup.com.