Skip to content

Insights and Trends Fueling Innovation

Joe Mellenbruch | March 5, 2024

Impact | The Originate Initiative

The culture of innovation at Hormel Foods begins with identifying consumer needs.

The Framework

Rather than relying solely on internal ideation sessions, Hormel Foods also utilizes a network of partner suppliers that helps narrow the company’s focus to specific areas, called trend spaces. External suppliers deliver their data and recommendations, and from there, the insights team at Hormel Foods acts upon those elements to shape the direction of its focus.

We want to be sure that we’re focusing on the areas that best meet our consumers and their needs, both now and in the future.

Damita Crouse, senior insights manager at Hormel Foods

“We want to be sure that we’re focusing on the areas that best meet our consumers and their needs, both now and in the future,” said Damita Crouse, senior insights manager at Hormel Foods. “We leverage our supplier partners expertise as well as their data and insights. We ask those suppliers to look at the trend spaces we identified from a year ago, and from there, we make determinations. Is this still a relevant space? If so, has it changed or evolved? Once we get all of that feedback, that’s when our internal team starts gathering for work sessions to discuss how we’re seeing things evolve within those trend spaces.”

After aligning on the spaces themselves, the Hormel Foods team delves deeper, mining within each space for relevant data and notable patterns. Internal team leads collectively build out each trend space to illustrate what motivates consumers within each macro topic.

Hormel Foods identified five notable trend spaces for 2024:

  • Redefining Value
  • Holistic Wellbeing
  • Edible Experience
  • Impacting the Social Good
  • Responsible Food Production

“Consumer needs are constantly evolving. It’s our job to make sure we’re keeping pace with that evolution and being mindful of what consumers at large care about and what they’re looking for,” Vossler said. “In order to do that, it is paramount that we establish first a clear direction for our work, and our trend spaces help establish that framework. We are always refining our focus within those spaces to ensure that we’re getting at the root of what our consumers care about.”

The Land Beneath Our Feet

Insights at Hormel Foods aren’t always the product of survey results and focus groups. Many are gathered from consumers in person, face to face.

That’s where Dr. Tanya Rodriguez comes in. In addition to her own focus-group work, Rodriguez, a cultural anthropologist and senior human experience research manager at Hormel Foods, also spends much of her professional energy in the field. She meets with consumers in places like public markets and grocery store aisles, where she’s able to shop alongside them. She also visits people in their homes, where she’s able to gather even more insight by cooking with her hosts and taking stock of their pantry items.

In order for a company to be thought of beyond the product, but also as a company, as a real force, the company needs to understand consumers on a deeper level.

Dr. Tanya Rodriguez, cultural anthropologist and senior human experience research manager at Hormel Foods

Rodriguez immerses herself in these experiences, and she does so to help Hormel Foods develop a deeper understanding of what food means to people. How are food traditions preserved and celebrated? What are people trying to accomplish with their food choices? How are they using our products in a way that’s relevant to their lives? Asking the right questions is critical, and many of these questions often carry an element of cultural meaning.

“Trends change over time, but it’s important to know how those trends ladder up to bigger cultural forces,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a deeper form of intelligence that you need to strive for in business. It’s not just business intelligence. You need to have that cultural intelligence piece, too. In order for a company to be thought of beyond the product, but also as a company, as a real force, the company needs to understand consumers on a deeper level.”

Cultural intelligence — referred to as Cultural IQ in the Hormel Foods trends forecast — isn’t a trend space in and of itself, but rather a foundational component to which the five macro trend spaces continuously point; a “paradigm of thought,” Rodriguez calls it. To better understand the consumer marketplace and the trends occurring within it, we must first understand the cultural landscape beneath our feet.

Rodriguez explores Cultural IQ through a tectonic lens. Tectonics is a geologic term referring to the structure and surface of the earth, and how the plates upon it move and interact with each other over time. Rodriguez applies the same scientific approach to culture, examining how different cultural forces clash, how they bind us together, how they shift the landscape.

There are many examples of cultural plates, but these four that have been identified by Rodriguez as the most relevant to Hormel Foods in terms of effectively navigating the modern marketplace.

  • donation boxes of food

    The Here and Now

    Despite diverse perspectives on the state of the world, we are united by the need for meaningful nourishment through food.

  • trio of diverse people


    The essence of a strong Cultural IQ is rooted in thought diversity, where a collective of inspired people is pushing toward the same goal, and that goal is inspired food.

  • plant on a mound of soil

    The Environment

    None of us are immune to negative environmental change, and improvements in food production must be part of the solution.

  • Technology

    The future of food is inextricably linked to technology, both future and past.

“These cultural plates, they’re slow moving, but they can also have those sudden shifts that feel like an earthquake, and that can be really dramatic,” Rodriguez said. “When we’re examining trends, it’s really feeding our cultural intelligence and we become like cultural seismologists so that we can start to respond to and anticipate changes of the marketplace and we can really equip ourselves to be future ready.”

The Future

The job of keeping pace with evolving consumer demand has never been more complex. Consumers are better informed today than at any point in human history, as the immediacy of access to information has fundamentally transformed how people interact with brands.

Understanding this evolution is critical as companies work to effectively reach their target audiences. This challenge demands innovation, and that innovation, in turn, requires thoughtful insight into what consumers are seeking. Hormel Foods has made this a priority for more than a century, and today, the company’s multi-layered insights process is revealing more about the consumer than ever before.

That will continue. With each passing year, new voices and new perspectives are brought into the conversation. New questions are being asked, and new answers are being considered, all of which will keep Hormel Foods on the cutting edge of what’s next.

“Everything we do ties back to the consumer,” Vossler said. “It’s a complex task. Consumers have more information available at their fingertips than ever before, and we have to be ready for that. We have to be ready to pair up our brands and our company values so that they align with the behaviors and attitudes of our consumers.”

* Foresight Factory, Kerry Foods, Technomic & Kantar