Should You Avoid the Term “Artisanal”?

Marketing isn’t easy. You need to set yourself apart to stay ahead of the competition. And in an age of mass-manufactured goods, small scale is in. Small scale means scarce, and scarcity increases the perception of value.

Mix in the romantic ideal of a master craftsman and you get a sure fire adjective for marketing success — “artisanal”. Which has two definitions:

1. Pertaining to or noting a person skilled in an applied art:
The men were taught artisanal skills such as bricklaying and carpentry.

2. pertaining to or noting a high-quality or distinctive product made in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods:

It’s easy enough to tack on to a product, hence the proliferation of artisanal products and their variations.

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But first of all, is it still a thing in 2015? Hufftington Post wrote about how the term has been abused and overused in 2011, followed up by an excellent piece by Time in 2012 about how the word lost its power through misuse by big brands. In fact, someone created a blog just to document abuses of the term.

Personally, I hate the term. let’s see what the data has to say.

Oddly enough, Ngram viewer shows that is the use of “artisanal” in books peaked around 1997.

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Source: Google Ngram Viewer

Long term trends aren’t that clear but there seems to be an uptrend starting from 2013.

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Source: Google Trends Analysis

Since Google Trends only shows relative search interest, let’s have a look at actual average monthly search volumes. In the figure below, you’ll see that 27,000 people search for the word “artisanal”

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That probably includes the bunch of people searching for the meaning of the term, so let’s look at specifics instead.

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In the last 12 months, global monthly searches for artisanal pizza went from 210 to 260. Does that mean more people want it?

Next is “artisanal bread”:

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From 590 searches a month to 880 searches a month — that’s looking like a trend to me.

On the other hand, I’m not seeing much of a pattern with “artisanal cheese”.

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Artisanal chocolate reached a fever pitch with 720 searches in December 2015 before settling to 590 in January. Perhaps the Mast Brothers artisan chocolate scandal had something to do with it? If you exclude January, however, it does look like an upward trend.

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Though these are only metrics that show you the interest from people searching on Google, it does indicate there is no clear cut decline in the interest for artisan foods. From this data, there isn’t any strong evidence for increasing demand either. I suspect, if we dig further and segment the search volume (our proxy for demand), that we will find some countries’ interest in the term in decline with others in an uptrend, hence balancing each other out.

According to Specialty Food Association of New York, sales of artisanal and specialty products “reached a record $109 billion in 2014, and continue to outpace tepid growth of conventional food sales.” That means the market is still growing, and it’s understandable that companies are eager to jump on the bandwagon.

I initially set out to prove that using “artisanal” is pointless because the people no longer care about the word itself, but it turns out it isn’t that simple. Nevertheless, if you plan to use it for your product, use it with smartly and with integrity.

Megan Twitter of Quarts writes:

Of course, all of this emphasis on small-batch, handmade, buzzword-worthy food means that you have to be a discerning customer. Not everyone who claims to be an artisan is, since there are no legal requirements to use the word. That’s why you’ll find “artisanal” soda from Pepsi, “small-batch” beer from MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, and even “hand-tossed” pizza with manufactured imperfections from Pizza Hut.

Yes, once in a while an “artisan” company doesn’t follow through on their marketing. But fortunately, chocolate isn’t like apples: One bad bar can’t ruin the bunch.

Just don’t be these guys:

The Timmy Brothers — Water Makers from Paul Riccio on Vimeo.