“As high protein drinks become more mainstream, consumers are looking for new and different flavors,” and rejecting the long-held status quo of drinking the same one or two flavors day in and out, said Paulette Lanzoff, technical director at Synergy.
She explained that for years hardcore athletes, the traditional consumers of sports nutrition drinks, have settled primarily for chocolate and vanilla flavored whey protein drinks or strongly fruit flavored recovery drinks, which are made with additional amino acids and need a more acidic masking-flavor. These flavors dominate in part because they are the most reliable and easiest with which to formulate, she added.
But now vanilla and chocolate alone are insufficient because more consumers are drinking protein and sports drinks more often and want variety. They are turning to protein and sports drinks as snacks, meal replacements and as recovery drinks when they are sick, in addition to drinking them as a fuel source for workouts, according to data from Mintel.
New flavors also are needed because consumers are no longer settling for just whey concentrate as a protein source. They want protein from soy, pea, hemp and even chia – and they want higher amounts of protein, which require different flavor-masking techniques and options, Lanzoff said.
New “sweet brown” flavors dominate
To meet this demand, Synergy worked with researchers at North Carolina State University to identify potential new flavors for different types of protein sources, Lanzoff said.
As a result, “for the first time,” Synergy says it is able “to develop innovative, optimized flavors for a variety of protein-based formulations.”
These include highly-demanded and emerging flavors such as caramel, dulce de leche and vanilla macchiato, Lanzoff said.
Synergy also is trying to make a high protein coffee product, which is a trending flavor that has increased in demand with the growth of Starbucks and other premium coffee shops, Lanzoff added.
Other emerging flavor combinations that already are available include chocolate and peanut butter, which flavored of the vast majority of protein bar products launches in 2014, according to data from Mintel. Products flavored with chocolate alone accounted for 15.8% of the launches, while peanut butter alone accounted for 10.5% of the launches and the flavors together made up an additional 5.3% of launches. Cookies and cream was another popular flavor in 2014, accounting for 7.9% of new protein bar launches, according to Mintel.
Flavors that may have fallen out of favor or reached saturation in the market and, therefore, were not in any launches in 2014 include mint, coconut and cashew, strawberry, and peanut butter and pretzel combined, according to the data.
New protein sources raise new challenges
The study Synergy and North Carolina State University researchers conducted also will help Synergy overcome unique flavor-masking challenges posed by soy proteins and milk proteins, which previous research showed interacted with flavors to retain less of the desirable flavor in foods.
Specifically, the study looked at whey and soy protein isolates and hydrolysate, which provide higher doses of protein, but can be extremely bitter or have off notes, such as savory flavors, that do not taste good in protein drinks, Lanzoff said. She added these proteins also can affect the flavor of beverages overtime, reducing their shelf life, and react differently to processing and temperature, which further complicates flavor-masking efforts.
The research found that milk proteins had the lowest degree of flavor-protein interactions with fruity flavors, including hexanal, ethyl butyrate and 2-methylbutyric acid, and with buttery tasting diacetyl and the peanut butter-chocolate taste of ethylpyrazine. Soy proteins, on the other hand, had the highest interaction with these flavors. Both protein sources reacted the same to floral tasting phenylethyl alcohol, caramel tasting ethyl maltol and vanillin.
While not included in the study, chia protein is increasingly popular, but can create a fishy taste in finished products if not masked properly, Lanzoff said.
She also noted that more companies want to use protein blends to create a more complete nutritional profile, but each type of protein brings different flavors and interaction challenges that must be addressed with new flavor-masking techniques.
A faster turn around
The research Synergy conducted with North Carolina State University also could help speed up production of high-protein products with these new flavors and protein sources, which will help capture and retain more consumers beyond hardcore athletes.
The study results will give Synergy “a leg up on how a flavor will perform” in a new protein product and hopefully reduce the rounds of trail-and-error during formulation from six or seven rounds to one or two, Lanzoff said.