“Flavor trends do two things: They have an opportunity to take existing products and kind of renovate them a little bit … as oppose to brand new innovation, and some flavors also have real potential to take better-for-products and make them a more satisfying consumer experience,” Sarah Theodore, research manager, Mintel Food & Drink, Americas, told attendees last week at the Food Tech Summit & Expo in Mexico.
One key to success in both of these cases is using flavors that are both new and exciting, but also familiar and comforting, which can be tricky given how slowly flavor trends move, she noted.
“Flavor trends themselves actually move very slowly over time. We don’t see a giant shift from things like orange to grape or from chocolate to vanilla,” which are “favorites for a reason – because consumers really like them,” she said. But, she added, that are different ways use classics so they seem new to consumers.
Using orange as an example, Theodore said companies are adding distinguishing depth to the flavor by exploring different varietals, such as blood orange or mandarin, the latter of which she notes is gaining popularity in Latin American non-alcoholic beverages.
Orange peel is another “really interesting example because orange peel itself isn’t necessarily a flavor – it is just a different way to describe an orange flavor with maybe a slight different image to it, so it is a way of using a very familiar flavor for consumers, but making it a little bit new and different,” she said.
Adding spice to a flavor is another currently niche way of updating a product, but it is starting to gain momentum, said Theodore, pointing to the addition of cinnamon and allspice to orange as an example.
Floral flavors are starting to bloom
Another slow-moving but increasingly influential flavor trend Mintel is tracking is the emergence of floral and botanical flavors.
“It is still a very niche opportunity, but growing from a very, very small niche to a little bit larger one, and we can see that particularly in the ready-to-drink category, which is where we see the biggest growth in floral flavors,” Theodore said.
She attributed the growing interest in floral flavors to consumer desire for more natural products, including botanicals.
Earthier nut and seed flavors are emerging
A slight side-step from florals and botanicals is a rising interest in nut and seed flavor, which again is building on consumer interest in healthier, better-for-you and natural options, such as the larger plant-based trend.
At the same time consumers consider nuts and seeds healthy, they also view them as indulgent – allowing the flavors to cut across multiple categories and become a helpful tool when reformulating products to have less sugar, sodium or fat.
For example, Theodore pointed to the exploding nut-milk space which uses the flavors of their nut and seed bases to take advantage of the healthful perception that consumers have for these products.
Alcoholic flavors move into untraditional spaces
Another area where flavors are creating a sense of indulgence without adding calories, fat or other nutrients of concern is with the emergence of non-alcoholic flavors in unconventional categories.
For example, earlier this year in Mexico, the brewery Modelo teamed with an ice cream parlor to launch an ice cream inspired by its beers, and in Argentina alcoholic drink distributor Beney and baked goods brand Oki Oki joined forces to launch a Fernet-flavored baked sweet.
Spice and flavor supplier Kalsec is advancing the trend with the recent launch of it is beer flavors for food applications. The line draws on the companies knowledge of hop extracts and oils to create flavors such as IPA, Lemon Shandy, Porter, Pumpkin Spice and Wheat, Joseph Poulson, a principal scientist and team lead at Kalsec, said at the Food Tech Summit & Expo.
He added that demand for porter flavors in unexpected places, is an example of a larger “bold flavor” trend that Kalsec is watching emerge. In particular, this trend is finding traction in the protein arena, he said.
The emergence of alcohol flavors in unexpected places could cut two ways, however, warns Theodore. She explained that as younger generations take a more moderate approach to drinking alcohol they may turn to these products as a way to enjoy the flavor of spirits without the side effects of alcohol. Or, she cautions, younger consumers who eschew drinking may never develop a taste for these flavors, in which case these products could fall flat.
Sugar reduction is changing flavor profiles
The trend to consume less sugar is changing consumer palates so they prefer less sweet options than before – which in turn is opening the door in the food service space for more sour or savory ‘sweets,’ said Theodore.
She explained, some food service providers are creating a flavorful experience for consumers that isn’t all about sugar by relying on fat, such as in olive oil cakes, to still create an indulgent experience. Other products are calling out that ‘bitter is better’ or adding an element of sour.
Kokumi steps forward as an enhancer
While not a flavor per-se, Theodore said Mintel is watching Kokumi emerge as an effective flavor-booster, similar to is closely related “sister taste” umami.
“A food scientist who is an analyst on our team described kokumi to me once as being like if you walked into a room that was really comfortable and cozy and it felt great to be in there, and then you lit a fire in the fireplace and took that comfortable and cozy to the next level,” Theodore said.
This synergy is created through ingredients such as fermented soy or yeast ingredients, she added.
Demand for ethnic flavors and heat persist
Even as new flavor trends emerge, more mature ones persist, such as consumer desire for ethnic flavors and hot & spicy, Poulson said.
For support, he noted that nearly a quarter of consumers say traveling has encouraged them to try new foods and flavors – which they want to experience and recreate at home. However, when they return home, they don’t want a watered down version of what they had abroad, he warned, noting 55% of consumers say they want authenticity.
As for spicy flavors, Poulson acknowledged that this is a trend that many in the industry have watched for the past few years, but he says it isn’t going away – rather more and more consumers are coming to expect it.
In the US, he said, 90% of consumers now say they enjoy spicy foods and one in four say they ate more spicy foods in 2017 than in the prior year. Similarly, half of consumers say they think food tastes better with spice – all statistics that discount the image of Americans only eating bland food or being afraid of heat.