Speaking at the recent Research Chefs Association (RCA) conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Holman said that consumers are not as adventurous as product developers might like to think – but they are more interested in trying new flavors than ever before. She said that this is due to a combination of factors, including a more ethnically diverse US population and more frequent overseas travel.
“Thirty-seven percent of Americans have a passport,” Holman said. “That might not seem like a lot, but it’s up 7.3 percentage points since 2003.”
Many Americans are learning about new ethnic flavors through cuisines that provide a twist on the familiar. In a joint presentation, Holman and corporate chef at Wixon Mathew Freistadt said that “global barbecue with a street food slant” has been an entry point for many Americans to flavors from other cultures.
In addition, Holman said that the urbanization of America has driven consumer awareness in ethnic flavor, whether that is Mediterranean, Southeast Asian, Latin American or Indian – and other ethnicities are entering the mix, including Korean, Vietnamese and Peruvian.
“When people move to the city there’s a lot of restaurant options and this is helping to drive ethnic eating,” she said, adding that celebrity chefs and travel programs on TV are also instrumental in raising consumer awareness of different flavor profiles.
Reaching Middle America
Freistadt also urged research chefs to experiment with flavors that they may have been aware of for a while, but might not yet have reached Middle America.
“It may seem a bit boring for chefs because it’s out there already – but it’s not out there. It’s not in the smaller towns,” he said. “Don’t overlook superfruits – there’s still a lot of room.”
Holman said that the number one superfruit is blueberry, and it is still seeing some growth in new product introductions. But other superfruits such as goji berry and mangosteen are growing strongly, although from a relatively small base.
She added that working with flavors that are already becoming established trends in major cities also has the benefit of making new products and categories using the flavor easier to market.
“Going on the back of a key trend, you are letting someone else heavily market the trend and drive awareness,” she said. “…Being first to market gives the opportunity to own the brand and win big, but it is more difficult and harder to market.”