Wixon: Flavors reminiscent of healthy foods can magnify immunity-boosting products’ health halo

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty / Tbralnina
Source: Getty / Tbralnina

Related tags: Flavors, IFT 2020, coronavirus, Immunity

As consumers concerned by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continue to seek immunity-boosting foods and beverages, manufacturers can magnify the appeal of their fortified and naturally nutritious products with the addition of flavors long-associated with health benefits, according to an expert with the flavor and seasoning company Wixon.

“If you have a product and you want to add an immunity claim, you’re going to want to focus on well-documented vitamins and minerals that have research backing up the claim,”​ but “there are ways that you can further increase consumer perception of a product’s health, provide a health-halo, by flavoring it,”​ said Wixon marketing manager Becca Henrickson.

She said at the upcoming Virtual IFT conference July 13-15 (SHIFT20​)​ Wixon will focus on flavors that have are associated with health benefits, and communicating to manufacturers why immunity-boosting products should be a top priority.

Connect with Wixon​ at the virtual IFT show July 13-15.

She explained that consumer’s heightened awareness of immunity-boosting products is best illustrated by the spike in frozen orange juice sales in March immediately following the declaration of the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic.

“Frozen orange juice sales absolutely soared. Grocery stores couldn’t keep it on the shelf. And prior to that, those sales were actually falling. And the reason behind that [uptick] is because it has been well known for awhile that vitamin C consumption can help boost your immune system. And we know that oranges are a great source of vitamin C. So, it’s the consumer perception of buying this product because it will be good for the and boost their immunity,”​ Henrickson said.

But, she added, while the addition of blood orange or other citrus and berry flavors can enhance a product’s health-halo, those flavors also can “get kind of boring after a while.”

Which is why Wixon will be promoting floral, herbaceous and even nutty flavors – all of which are also associated with health benefits – and can provide much needed excitement and variation.

“We are always looking for ways that we can mix it up and find flavors that complement well. And floral flavors are ones that complement some of these fruits – tropical fruits especially,”​ she said.

Similarly, fresh herbs can offer a savory note to support naturally immune-boosting ingredients, she said. For example, “one that we do is a blueberry thyme combination that is actually quite delicious. And again, the thyme is not necessarily providing an antioxidant benefit, that is coming from the blueberry, but it still has a perception of health with it.”

Comfort flavors reign supreme

In addition to seeking immunity-boosting products, consumers emotionally and physically drained by the ongoing pandemic are seeking comfort flavors, which Wixon also will showcase virtually at IFT, Henrickson said.

“In some ways, I see a little bit of a juxtaposition because you have the comfort food indulgence and then you have this heightened awareness of how the food you consumer affects your health,”​ she said.

Flavoring can help manufacturers balance both demands by creating the perception of decadence or comfort through taste without adding large amounts of fat, sodium and sugar that are typically associated with comfort food.

Henrickson said the most popular comfort flavors are “the ones you typically think of, like cheddar cheese and bacon.”

But Wixon is helping manufacturers elevate those flavors to meet consumers’ more sophisticated palates. So, for example, Henrickson said, Wixon is adding a bit of heat or selecting more nuanced and premium versions of in-demand flavors, such as gouda and bacon, that can deliver a little more elevation but still provide the “nice, savory umami that customers are looking for.”

Other examples of comfort flavors that consumers are seeking are added heat, like in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, or flavors that complement comforting food trends, like sourdough bread, like a little spice or garlic.

Traveling from home

Even as some states start to reopen their economies, many Americans are unlikely to travel far or to exotic locations any time soon. But internationally-inspired cuisine and flavors can help scratch the travel itch.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Wixon predicted 2020 would bring an increased interest in Indian street food, which combines heat and sweet.

“We innovated around ways to appease the American palate, but still incorporate Indian spices,”​ including cardamom, chilies, cilantro, mango, mint, nutmeg, tamarind, turmeric, masales, chutneys and riatas, she said.

“This is something a lot of people were talking about at the beginning of the year, but which is still tracking for those who are focusing their attention on how their diet affects their health and so they want to boost the perception of sweetness without adding sugar,”​ she added.

While Wixon is constantly innovating to meet consumers changing whims, Henrickson said the company’s main focus during the pandemic is to “just help our customers right now”​ who are having to quickly pivot to meet changing flavor preferences while also respecting social distancing and other restrictions that can hinder innovation.

With this in mind, Wixon has staggered lab schedules so that its scientists can safely help meet customer needs, and is developing protocols to invite customers on site safely to develop new products during an "innovation day." ​ 

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