Ethnic flavors and other trends heat up in food and beverage launches, Innova says

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages / oleksajewicz
©GettyImages / oleksajewicz

Related tags Innova market insights Flavor

Ethnic flavors, plant-based formulations, and use of traditional processing methods (e.g. small batch, stone ground) in new food and beverage launches are all fast-growing product attributes winning over consumers, according to Innova Market Insights.

 The explosion of flavor varieties in new food and beverage launches continues to grow, registering a 20% CAGR between 2013 and 2017.

“There’s has never been so much variety and spread in the choice of authentic cuisines from around the world,”​ Sarah Browner, Innova market analyst in food trends & innovation, said during a recent webinar.

“Especially in the snack and ready meal sectors, we’re seeing a lot of ethnic flavors coming into these categories.”

US consumers have been moving away from traditional ‘American’ flavors and cuisines, and embracing foreign flavor innovation, according to Browner. In fact, products featuring ‘American flavors’ declined 7.2% in the 2013-2017 period, whereas the number of launches featuring Mediterranean flavors increased 13.8%.

Ethnic flavors are being presented in a street food/food truck format offering exciting new flavors – beef barbacoa tacos and Korean BBQ, for example – that consumer wouldn’t typically find in a retail store. 


“We’re seeing a lot of food truck flavors in product development and also the revival of the classics... cuisine classics are being reworked from comfort food to real restaurant quality standards,”​ Browner said.

“It’s definitely a niche market, but it’s fast growing. If we look at the index number of new F&B launches tracked with a street food/food truck claim, we see strong growth over the past three years with a peak in 2017.”

Browner added that the number of sauces and seasonings featuring sought-after international flavors has grown, accounting for one in three food and beverage launches tracked featuring an ethnic flavor.

According to Innova, four of the top fastest growing sauces and seasonings feature a form of an ethnic root (Mexican, Indian, Spanish, and sriracha chile).

The addition of exotic flavors is also taking shape in retailers' private label offering. In 2017, 23% of new product launches tracked with an ethnic flavor were private label brands compared to 19% in 2013. 

Flavor variety also plays a role in consumers’ purchasing behavior, Innova added.

When asked: “Why have you increased your consumption of salty snacks?”​, nearly one-third (31.8%) of US consumers said it was because of the expanded variety and novelty available.

Bright future for plant-based

Consumers are continuing to lean towards a plant-based diet with half surveyed by Innova (across in 22 countries) saying that they’ve increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables in 2017.

“It’s a food and beverage megatrend. A main driver of this is the ‘flexitarian’ effect,”​ Browner said. 


According to Innova, 44% of US consumers have increased their consumption of meat substitutes/alternatives over the last years and the firm expects that number to grow in the coming years.

“As a result of consumers increasing their plant-based diets, we see that plant-based flavors will continue to grow,”​ Browner added.

In terms of plant-based flavors, products featuring grains saw the most growth in new product launches in the 2013-2017 period, followed by spices & seeds, vegetables, and fruit.

Brands are also responding to this trend by ‘greening up’ their product portfolio with items that boast green hues as a green colored food or beverage product has an instant healthy cue to the consumer, Browner pointed out.

‘Positively processed’

Food brands are increasingly leveraging ‘traditional’ processing methods on pack to appeal to consumers. The number of product launches mentioning a ‘crafted/made in a small batch’ claim grew a 41% CAGR between 2013 and 2017, according to Innova.

“We see a reinvention of authentic and traditional processes,”​ Browner said.

Methods such as stone ground deployed in Taza Chocolate’s Mexican stone milling process signal to the consumer a sense of authenticity and crafted quality, Browner noted. 

According to the company, its traditional stone ground processing method gives the chocolate a 'gritty' texture.

Additionally, processing terms such as cold-pressed (or high pressure processed) and freeze-dried are gaining traction with consumers interested in knowing how the product is exactly made.

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