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#1 Food Trend for 2012: Black Market Foods

This is one of The Food Channel's Top 10 Food Trends for 2012, based on research conducted in conjunction with CultureWaves®, the International Food Futurists® and Mintel International. For the full list, click here.

Intentional scarcity is the new food marketing come-on. No, we’re not talking about anything illegal here. What we’re talking about is the growing use of intentional scarcity and limited supplies of items that serve only to drive up their popularity. After all, if we humans are told there is something that’s really hard to get, we immediately want it. The Black Friday limited-supply “doorbusters” are a good example—so is the McRib. There’s sort of a reverse psychology going on here. Many of us remember the old Soup Nazi episode from Seinfeld (did you know, in an ironic twist, those soups are now available in stores?).

Another example of this limited supply philosophy: the Tamale Queen in Atlanta, whose signage proclaims they serve from “11 a.m. to 2 p.m. or ’til the food is gone.”

The Donut Vault in Chicago has a similar philosophy, advertising that they serve “Tuesdays-Friday starting at 8:30 a.m. until we run out. And Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. until we run out.” What’s more, customers can only buy six at a time—so if you need them for the whole office, take half of the office with you.

Same thing happens in Boston, where the Silk Road BBQ sets up in Rowes Wharf Plaza and serves charcoal-grilled meat skewers “until they are gone.”

This isn’t exactly the McRib message, where a Limited Time Offer keeps coming back to tempt its followers, nor is it really the seasonal message of, say, a Christmas Starbucks blend. But it does smack of some similarities. In all cases, the vendor is in control of his/her product, and the lack of availability creates an unexpected craving.

The rise of this trend may be partly tied to the portability and sporadic availability of street trucks, but this is more—this is about creating demand. It’s as though restaurants, which traditionally would always have plenty of their menu ingredients in stock, are now being given permission to run out. In fact, it says “fresh,” since there is an implied message that the restaurant makes its food daily, and if you aren’t there early, well, you could just miss it.

So don’t blink. Those donuts may be gone.

CultureWaves® connections: Power Plays, Barely Legal

For more evidence read:

First Look: Donut Vault

Tamale Queen: Just the Beginning

McRibs and the Art of Artificial Scarcity

Black Market Menu Coming to Mama Fu's