Over the last few years, Firmenich has invested into building its Human Insights team to develop its unique trend predictions.
The backbone of the Human Insights research process is gathering data from its global online consumer surveys (which include insights from nearly 20,000 respondents) and first-hand feedback from its conversation program where Firmenich virtually meets with families around the globe for 1.5 hours to learn about their day-to-day food and beverage habits, explained Firmenich global head of human insights, Taste & Beyond, Jeff Schmoyer.
"We’re trying to capture a trend view and also a view looking into the future in terms of what is going to drive innovation," Schmoyer told FoodNavigator-USA.
"It’s more than just what's trending, it’s something we feel should embody the spirit of the times," he added.
For the first time in its nine years of selecting a flavor of the year, Firmenich has selected two flavors for 2021 - "a known and unknown," said Schmoyer - to represent the consumer signals the company has observed and analyzed over the past year.
"We’ve done a lot of consumer conversation around COVID-19, and it is absolutely from a food and beverage perspective, been an incredibly potent agent of change – for everyone," said Schmoyer.
"People are eating for strength. They’re literally changing their diets to boost their immune systems and to feel stronger, and they’re really treating food like care and medicine."
Food as medicine has been an underlying trend in the industry for some time and way of consumer thinking Firmenich identified several years ago, noted Schmoyer.
"But," he said, " This is the year that it really gelled for people."
Ginger and yuzu
"People think about flavors and ingredients from an emotional standpoint as well," added said Mikel Cirkus, global creative director, Foresight & Trenz, Firmenich, noting how ginger and yuzu symbolize optimism and emotional strength for many consumers.
"When you ask consumers around the world what is the one flavor that gives them the most optimism, citrus flavors are globally the flavor that people associate with happiness," said Schmoyer.
And yuzu, a more niche member of the citrus family, is set to burst onto the scene where it can be differentiated by its 'super-fruit' reputation and more delicate, floral, sweet flavor notes, said Cirkus and Schmoyer.
"Yuzu fruit is simultaneously sweet, floral and tart. Yuzu’s fragrant peel is dominated by floral, green, balsamic and thyme notes, while its juice is delicate, with more prominent floral characteristics which are offset by slightly earthier coconut and woody green notes," said Firmenich.
"Beyond its super flavor and aroma, yuzu’s global popularity is growing thanks to its reputation as a powerhouse of vitamin C and antioxidants."
"It's not your average citrus," said Schmoyer.
According to Firmenich's Flavor Knowledge Portal (built in partnership with Mintel GNPD), yuzu has more than doubled in its use in innovations over the past five years mainly in the beverage and confectionery categories. However, lately it is showing up across categories, particularly in savory meal roles, where it can add excitement and differentiation, said the company.
While Yuzu has its origins in Japan, Firmenich is working with suppliers from around the world including France and North America who are growing the fruit, which can lead to some exciting flavor innovation due to the company's diverse range of suppliers, noted Cirkus.
Ginger, a more common and widely-used ingredient, has had years of steady and consistent growth - so much so, that it is set to break into Firmenich's top 30 flavors worldwide out of the 800 tonalities the company tracks.
"The other fascinating thing from a data perspective is that there’s a very clear seasonal pattern," said Schmoyer. "If you look at the seasonality of ginger on Google search trends, there’s a predominant spike in winter [for ginger] as well as for Yuzu."
While hot drinks is clearly its strongest category, ginger has recently taken center stage in categories as diverse as soups, ice creams, and sweeteners.
“Ginger, with its mottled grey peel and rhizome, is indicative of ‘root toughness’. People and societies have powered through the greyest of times, and just like a root being pulled from the earth, what emerges is considerable strength," said Schmoyer.
Global, cross-category appeal
Firmenich is currently gearing up for customer meetings where the company will leverage its robust consumer insights and technical know-how to create flavor profiles based on these two "hero ingredients," noted Schmoyer.
“Both ginger and yuzu have really gained global, cross-category momentum over the last two years and each of them, in their own right, is symbolic of the consumer’s desire for a sense of normalcy and healing,” added Cirkus.