Entrepreneurs weigh in: As the US flavor trend landscape responds to globalization, just saying 'Asian' is not enough

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: rez-art/iStock
Photo: rez-art/iStock

Related tags Food Us

Matcha, kimchi, and adobo are just a few among the popular flavors from Asia that one can easily stumble upon in US grocery stores and restaurants.

Just 10 years ago, these culinary flavors would’ve been familiar to only a small subset of people in the US. It’s no news in the food industry that, as noted in food trend reports from Whole Foods Market​ or Campbell Soup​, a large sample of American consumers today enjoy foods and beverages with flavors that may have been standard in different countries, but are relatively new to hit US shores.

As important to today’s consumer as great-tasting flavor is ‘authenticity,’ a term that various market research reports have found to be on top of the list​ when consumers are shopping for brands. When it comes to marketing global flavors, how can brands be authentic?

Be specific: Not just ‘Asian’ noodles

Along with a savvier taste palate comes a savvier understanding of geography, this means marketing language has to be more specific when describing regional cuisines.

“Just saying ‘Asian’ is no longer enough,”​ Nona Lim, who founded an eponymous CPG brand​ in 2006 that offers noodles, sauces, and broths, told FoodNavigator-USA (read about the brand's $3m funding round HERE​).

Products by Nona Lim.

“That trend is taking hold at varying pace across cities in America. As consumers are becoming more well-traveled, and with the exposure to lots of food travel programs on TV, on social media, the more savvy consumers certainly are looking for specificity,” ​she added.

Though Lim’s brand uses ‘Asian’ when talking about the overall line, “because there are connections between these cuisines that there aren’t with other regions around the world”​, her individual products are more specific, such as ‘Tokyo Ramen’ and ‘Hakata Ramen,’ or ‘laksa,’ ‘pad see ew,’ and ‘pad thai’ noodles.

“There is a balance of being specific without being inaccessible,”​ she added.

Putting a new spin on things

Riding on the momentum of the US consumers’ growing familiarity with global flavors are numerous young companies that tweak the old and create something new altogether.

Adzuki is a red bean quite ubiquitous in Japanese cuisine. Yumami is using it as the base ingredient in one of it's chip and dip snack packs.

New York-based Yumami ​, for example, is tapping into the healthy snacking trend with a line of nori chip plus dip combos with flavors that nod to Japan, including roasted onion shiitake and green pea wasabi.

“Culinary histories, like any cultural histories, are often centuries-long stories of inter-cultural collision and innovation,” ​said co-founder Karsten Ch’ien.

“As long as you’re not misleading consumers by pretending a novel idea is ’traditional,’ or denigrating the value or quality of the original, I’m all for discovering new applications for older ideas.

“At Yumami we use the word ‘Asian’ to describe our flavors because we intend to draw from a diversity of cuisines in the future...and there is nothing fundamentally Asian about our snacking formats,”​ he added.

Blending the new with the familiar

In fact, 35% of US consumers are more likely to order a menu item with flavors from a different region in the world that they’ve never tried before if it were adapted to a dish familiar to them, according to a recent Mintel report​.

It is a similar approach that Bandar Foods​ used when pitching their products to retailers and consumers in the brand’s early stages. The company’s first products were chutneys based off the recipes of co-founder Lalit Kalani’s mother, who grew up in Mumbai, but put in a squeeze bottle like many American condiments.

According to co-founder Dan Garblik, these sauces were paired with French fries during initial taste tests. “We want the flavors to feel very real and authentic, we just want the use cases for when people can think of how to use these flavors as being much more universal,” ​Garblik added.

Bandar Foods started as a brand of chutneys srved in squeezable bottles. The company now has naan chips and popadoms in its portfolio.

“One of the common ​[reactions] we received from retailers was ‘wow, that’s strong,’ and the earlier retailers asked if maybe we should tone it down and we said no, that’s why we like this.”

Bandar Foods’ Dan Garblik will be on the panel of our upcoming, free Flavor Trends webinar on June 14

We’ve put together a panel of food and beverage industry experts to talk about the current flavor landscape in packaged food and beverage, what flavors have made it out of the trend report to store shelves to grocery carts, and guide brands on how to authentically execute on-trend flavors. Click HERE to Register!

Date:​ Weds June 14, 2017

Time:​ 11.30am EST

Duration:​ 60 minutes

In the first 45 minutes of the live, free-to-attend​, online 60-minute Flavor Trends Forum​  ​sponsored by Synergy, FlavorHealth and Sweegen, we’ll address the following agenda points.

  • Understanding the trend report:​ How data is collected, and how to translate this into what works for your brand
  • This year’s forecasts:​ A deep dive into which flavor trends our panelists think have legs in 2017 
  • The global palate:​ Trendwatchers say US consumers are broadening their tastes. But how can manufacturers tap into these trends (and develop branding/messaging) in an authentic way?

Click HERE to Register!

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