If you want to pick one hot flavor trend for 2014, look no further than ginger, says New York-based flavor house Virginia Dare.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA about what’s hot and what’s not in the world of flavor, group VP marketing Anton Angelich said: “From candy to beer to tea, everything with ginger is hot right now.
“Ginger works really well in alcoholic beverages as a mixer, in ginger beer itself, in confections, muffins and cookies.
“It also ties in with increasing demand for strong flavors, spices and heat and has strong health associations for consumers. For example, we’ve recently developed a Rooibos ginger tea that’s been a big winner.”
On a broader level, he said, “Natural is the umbrella trend. Almost everything people are interested in is natural, even though the word is not defined. People want simplicity and kitchen cupboard ingredients.”
A taste of home? Tart cherries, blueberries and black raspberries
Drilling down to specifics, when it comes to fruit flavors, many customers are moving away from exotic fruits flavors and returning to North American favorites such as sour cherries, blueberries and black raspberries, which is reflected in some new flavors for smoothies that Virginia Dare has been developing such as ‘wild blueberry honey’, and’ tart cherry’, he said.
For apples, he added: “You see all these varietals in the produce section - pink lady, braeburn and so on, and then you go to the center of the store and it’s still plain apple sauce, apple juice.
“But that’s starting to change and we’re doing a lot of work on apple flavors such as Fuji and Honeycrisp. The same applies to melon, it’s all about honeydew, cantaloupe or watermelon now.
“People are also looking for fruits that are refreshing such as plums, melons, nectarines.”
Cantaloupe, watermelon and nectarine (along with guava, pear, strawberry, tamarind, mango and pineapple) also feature in flavors Virginia Dare has been testing with Hispanic consumers in ready-to-drink agua fresca fruit-based beverages, which typically contain about 20% juice and natural flavors, he said.
“The beverages were hedonically tested with Hispanic consumers and scored highly for taste acceptance.”
We watch what is happening in ‘experimental environments’ such as college towns and immigrant communities
So how does Virginia Dare keep on top of trends?
“We do a lot of trend tracking, we buy market data, monitor blogs and magazines, work with consumer focus groups, conduct online surveys, and we also do a lot of work with Hispanic consumers because they are the fastest growing part of the US population and they are changing US food culture”, said Angelich.
“We also watch what is happening in experimental environments such as college towns and immigrant communities.”
Recent research has also generated some interesting feedback on specific categories, he added, with a survey of 979 nutrition bar users revealing that Nutella, coffee, tea, chia and Greek yogurt have particular appeal for Millennials, while Maple and salted caramel have particular appeal for Boomers (although Millennials like these too).
All age groups liked mango, tropical fruits, chocolate and peanuts/peanut butter, but when it came to product positioning, younger people gravitated more to generic wholesome nutrition claims while Boomers were more accepting of condition-specific claims, he said.
In ice cream, you’ll see 31 flavors, but when you look at actual sales, it’s always led by chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and cookie dough
But which food categories are the most dynamic when it comes to flavor innovation?
“Beverages are often where you’ll see things start because they are easiest to work with from a formulation perspective”, he said.
“There’s a lot of experimentation in yogurts right now but how many of the new flavors are just curiosities that are not sustainable remains to be seen.”
As far as real Cajun food in the supermarkets, it really never took off
There is a lot of innovation in ice cream and chocolates, he said, but the unusual flavor combinations you’ll see in gourmet chocolate stores or swanky restaurants do not always translate well into the mass market.
“In ice cream, you’ll see 31 flavors, but when you look at actual sales, it’s always led by chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and cookie dough. You see a similar trend in gum. A lot of flavors come and go.”
Meanwhile, cooking trends that suddenly become very popular on TV cooking shows, magazines, blogs and recipe sites don’t always find their way into the supermarket aisles, he observed.
“Take Cajun cooking. You started to see condiments, spices and flavored chips and so on, but as far as real Cajun food in the supermarkets, it really never took off in the way you might have predicted from all the interest in cookbooks, magazines and cooking shows.”