Decoding Next: Five trends marketers need to know including cricket chips, eSports and rethinking difference

Sparks & Honey tracks cultural trends by drawing on dozens of data sources, hundreds of scouts and cultural strategists in our London, New York and Los Angeles offices.

In October, we covered hundreds of signals and featured the best daily in our app N2 (Now, Next). Here are the hottest trends summarized exclusively for The Drum.

1. Getting wasted

What happens to all the stuff we make and grow? Many of us in the non-developing world throw clothes and shoes away when we’re tired of them, and it’s estimated that one third of the world’s food is wasted after it has been harvested. We’re seeing pushback on this, as chefs, retailers and fix-it industries like cobblers are reusing, recycling and upcycling as a matter of habit.

NYC-based restaurant Sweetgreen features a dish called the WastED Salad, a mélange of ingredients that usually get thrown out, including carrot peels, broccoli stalks, roasted bread heels, and cabbage cores. Sam Kass, formerly President Obama’s private chef, recently cooked a meal made from scraps for 40 UN delegates who’d assembled in New York City. On the menu: veggie burgers made from the pulp of vegetables after they’d been juiced and bread made from a local brewery’s barley mash.

We used to think of sneakers as disposable after a particular date, but there’s a rise in high-end sneaker cleaning products as well as vintage sneaker refurbishers. In this remaker economy, you don't throw things out when they get dirty or slightly worn, especially if they were an investment to begin with.

And brands like H&M and Target are creating incentives for customers to bring in their old clothes in exchange for discounts.

2. Ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between

The so-called transgender tipping point has done more than help to mainstream transgender identity. It’s also making people question how adequate binary gender categories are in describing how people actually live gender: across a spectrum. And if gender fluidity had a spokesperson, it could be said to be actress/model/DJ Ruby Rose, who recently greeted the MTV Europe Music Awards (EMAs) audience with a hello to “ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between.

Transgender models are not new, but Loiza Lamers, a 20-year-old transgender hairdresser and makeup artist, won Holland's Next Top Model in its eighth season, a first for the franchise. Can a gender-neutral beauty pageant or modeling agency be far behind?

Stephanie Meyer of the Twilight juggernaut celebrated its 10th-year anniversary by getting with the gender zeitgeist and rewriting the vampire love story with Bella and Edward’s genders swapped. "Gender and species aside,” Meyer said, “Twilight has always been a story about the magic and obsession and frenzy of first love.”

For many college students who identify as genderqueer or gender nonconforming, transgender doesn’t go far enough in challenging the social construct of binary genders. And the idea of being in the middle of female and male still makes those the dominant poles. At least for some gender outlaws, binary gender is so 20th century.

3. Rethinking difference

The way society has viewed people who have physical or cognitive differences from most people — disabilities, scars, ADHD or autism — has moved from stigmatizing to inclusivity. But these differences, increasingly, are being seen as positive and celebrated rather than merely destigmatized and accepted.

A company called Alleles is creating bespoke prosthetic covers made of flexible plastic that are meant to decorate a person's prosthetic limb and draw attention to it. Co-owner Ryan Palibroda believes that prosthetics will be influencing fashion rather than the other way around and that normalizing differently abled-people is just a start.

Sesame Street has included a new muppet into the fold — Julia, a character with autism. The 'Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children' app features story cards that educate children and adults about autistic children, with an emphasis on their similarities to non-autistic children as well as their special abilities, which include enhanced memory and pattern-recognition skills.

Canadian model Winnie Harlow, who has a skin condition called vitiligo which causes skin to depigment in patches, has gone on to compete in “America’s Next Top Model” and also to be a model for fashion brands like Desigual. “It’s my genuine opinion that it’s those quirks that make you gorgeous,” Harlow has said. “Let whatever quirks you have shine.”

4. eSports is huge

While some argue over whether eSports, or competitive video gaming as a spectator sport, is a sport or a competition, analysts predict that by 2018, it will grow to be a $1.9bn industry and Europe and the US, two markets that lag behind Asia, will soon be driving its growth.

“We’re witnessing the birth of a new sport,” said Megan Greenwell, senior editor at ESPN Magazine. There are over 205 million fans globally and 32 million and growing fans in the US. They play and watch eSports on Twitch, which live-streams video gaming 24-7, and a championship game like League of Legends hosted in a huge sports auditorium can garner more than 32 million viewers, more than double the World Series and NCAA Final Four.

eSports teams like League of Legends players Evil Geniuses become celebrities much like their traditional sports colleagues, and they’re getting travel visas, college scholarships, and championship purses that put them on a parallel track to conventional sports stars.

One of the biggest challenges for eSports will be to capitalize on the fact that it is truly a democratic sport, in that there are not barriers to entry for players — neither age (within reason) size, nationality, nor gender. But there are few female eSports players, and those who do play professionally have talked about sexism and bullying. Gender-neutral eSports for the future, anyone?

5. Bug appetit!

Meat is not ecologically sustainable on the scale we’re eating it, and more and more innovators are looking for ways to create sustainable protein out of insects, nuts and plants.

Since 2009, the folks at Beyond Meat have been trying to shift how we think about meat, from its source — cows or chickens, for example — to what it’s made of, which is essentially five components: Amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, minerals and water. Using sophisticated smell and flavor-detecting equipment, they’re able to take ingredients like peas and build flavorful meat-like substitutes.

Impossible Foods, the brainchild of a Stanford medical professor, is soon going to roll out a veggie burger that is so close in look and taste to the real thing that those who have tried it cannot tell the difference. The company has discovered which proteins give meat their bloody color and flavor and are "growing" a better, cruelty-free, environmentally friendly burger.

We’re seeing more and more bug-based products gently dipping their toes into the American food market, like Cricket Flours, a finely-ground combo of North American-raised crickets and Peruvian cacao, and Chirps Chips, made from ground crickets and dusted with flavors like cheddar cheese powder. People in Thailand, Mexico and China routinely eat insects, and pretty soon we will too. Unlike meat-based protein, insect protein is sourced from critters with a small ecological footprint — literally and figuratively!

Barbara Herman is senior writer at Sparks & Honey

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.

Come on in, it’s free.

This isn’t a paywall. It’s a freewall. We don’t want to get in the way of what you came here for, so this will only take a few seconds.