The soft drinks industry has been recently hit by a consumer shift away from sugary carbonated beverages towards healthier options, such as fruit juices and bottled water.
Making up for lost market share the soft drinks makers need to respond by diversifying their core brands. Confirming the growing appeal of citrus flavours, soft drinks giant Coca Cola last week launched a lime-flavoured version of its flagship beverage.
In the past two years lemon was the most popular flavour, but this is now changing to cold-pressed lime, said Scott May, global product manager citrus at Quest International.
"Growth from the flavour icon perspective is lime, as well as other flavours that are refreshing," he tells FoodNavigator.com.
The firm, that recently sold its ingredients arm off to acquisitive Irish company Kerry, has just launched a new Citrusense range with 'real, authentic flavour profiles' onto the global market that replaces previous citrus lines in Quest's portfolio.
Based on cold-processed ingredients, the flavour range includes orange, lemon, lime, mandarin and grapefruit with improved stability on previous citrus flavours in the portfolio.
Cold-pressed citrus fruit oils are more aromatic than their distilled equivalents but they are very unstable, explains May.
"The challenge for our citrus team was to develop technology that can deliver the aromatic profile with up front notes while at the same time providing stability for the flavour in applications," he adds.
According to May, global citrus buyers source the Citrusense raw materials from a number of different locations around the world, signing off contracts well before harvest.
Quest concentrates and fractionates the purchased essential oils prior to shipping them off to the firm's flavour technologists based around the world.
The flavourists transform the flavour compounds into a state ready to sell to customers in the different geographical locations.
In recent months Quest has seen particular demand for grapefruit flavours as severe hurricanes in the key producing region of Florida, that has an approximate 65 to 70 per cent of the global market, severely struck grapefruit supplies.
Prior to the storms cold-pressed grapefruit oil was selling for about $20 a kilo, a figure since quadrupled to about $80. Damage to the trees will mark 2005 harvests, with industry predicting the harvest will be tight.
"We have developed competitively-priced replacement flavours and oils for grapefruit, both natural and nature-identical. Our customers are screaming out for this," comments Scott May.
Depending on how much of the original grapefruit oil the product replaces, Quest maintains developers using the Quest alternative can get back to prices they were paying prior to the massive price hikes.
Apart from grapefruit, the majority of citrus fruits are sourced from both the northern and southern hemispheres, enabling Quest to balance risk, ensure supplies and reduce exposure to price volatility linked to harvest quantities.
"Key sources for lime are Mexico, South America and Europe - Spain and Italy. For lemon, Italy and Argentina are the key players," said May.
The firm puts the different fruits through the same factories all the year round. Not disclosing production capacity, Quest confirmed it did not have any 'capacity issues'.
The Citrusense brand has two arms - Citruclear that is a water-soluble flavouring system designed for crystal clear drinks, either carbonated or non-carbonated. Citrustable is a stable flavour system that 'delivers extended shelf-life, enabling the creation of lemon and lime flavours that are more stable then ever before'.
"Citrusense will be a springboard for what we will offer to the industry in the future. More new technologies and products will be launched under the Citrusense brand over the next few years,"said May.