Kerry Taste charts navigate conflicting demands for comfort & adventure, indulgence & function

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/monticelllo
Source: Getty/monticelllo

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While consumers will continue to seek comfort from familiar, nostalgic and often indulgent flavors as the pandemic drags on in the new year, they also will seek balance from functional ingredients offering health benefits and more adventurous flavors that push back against the monotony of living under health-related restrictions, predict experts with Kerry Taste & Nutrition.

Balancing the demands of these sometimes conflicting trends will be a challenge for companies, but Kerry's recently released 2021 Global Taste Charts will help brands identify ingredients and flavors that check multiple of these boxes so that consumers can have their cake and eat it too.

Much of the incongruity of trends that Kerry predicts will dominate food and beverage selection this year stems from consumers' different approaches to managing the impact of the pandemic, and a recognition that as the pandemic nears the one year mark they may need to temper indulgence with healthier options.

“I’ve often referred to 2020 as the year of comfort or perhaps, in search of comfort. Too many of us overindulged in 2020, so as we ring in 2021, it will be a time of taking better care of our bodies”​ by embracing ingredients that can deliver simultaneously on delicious taste and health benefits, Joey Torkelson, a beverage mixologist and applications manager at Kerry notes in the company’s recently released 2021 Global Taste Charts.

For example, she said lemongrass and cardamom are on her radar for the coming year because they are flavors that have medicinal and anti-inflammatory properties, but which also are versatile, “delicious”​ and can be applied equally to familiar formats like lemonade as well as cutting-edge products like hard kombucha.

Sian Cunningham, a senior marketing insights specialist at Kerry, agreed that food and beverage companies will need to strike a delicate balance between consumers’ lingering desire for comforting classics and their heightened focus on health and well-being.

He suggested one way to introduce healthier ingredients is to incorporate them into familiar formats.

“Comfort flavors and products aren’t new demands by consumers, and we can to a degree see consumers reaching for these types of tastes post-pandemic. Moving forward, we can expect to see comfort tastes take on different aspects to entire consumers – think international twists, classic comfort flavors in new categories/products – but remaining approachable,”​ he said.

Another way to balance consumer desire for comfort and health is to rely on ingredients that enhance umami and the sixth sense of kokumi to add layers of richness and mouthfeel without also adding sugar, salt or fat that often are associated with classic comfort foods.

“In our Taste Charts, you’ll see ingredients like mushrooms and miso and emerging tastes like nori and soy sauce, which all provide the umami taste that consumers want. You’ll also find ingredients and flavors like black garlic, nutritional yeast and butter, which all enhance sweet, salty and umami tastes, providing a kokumi sensation. These tastes help build a savory profile and impact richness and depth of flavor in applications like stocks and bone broths, prepared meals and even savory beverages,”​ said Melissa Muldowney, the global strategic marketing director of savory taste at Kerry.

She also noted that while a focus on comfort foods will dominate in 2021, there is still plenty of interest in ingredients and dishes that provide a sense of adventure or unexpected flare – especially after many people have cooked at home day in and out for months during the pandemic.

“One interesting finding outside the realm of comforting and familiar is chili peppers rising to ‘Mainstream’ status in our US savory chart. We continue to see heat, international cuisine influence and provenance driving flavor and ingredient selection, and chili peppers connects to those trends,”​ she said.

Sour, fermented flavors rise

Other sharp flavors that will help bridge consumers’ dueling desire for comfort and adventure are vinegar and fermented flavors, predicts John Kaufmann, RD&A director, meat systems and flavor coatings at Kerry.

“With people staying at home for COVID, they are going to start shifting to maybe more adventurous eating or just more adventurous cooking at home,”​ he said, noting that vinegar and fermented flavors can help them do that because they pair well with many spices and herbs and the idea of fermenting is rooted in hundreds of years of history.

Kalyee Ryker, a RD&A senior food scientist at Kerry agreed in the Global Taste Charts report that the sour notes of fermented beverages like kombucha and quick pickles will emerge in 2021 as a way to balance dishes and make them more healthful without compromising taste.

“Balancing dishes with acidity, potentially from unique fruit sources – like calamansi, kumquat or cranberry – or from naturally acidic components such as balsamic, apple cider or white wine vinegar,”​ will play out more prominently in savory dishes, she predicted.

Likewise, she noted, fruit will gain prominence as a sugar-reduction tool since it will bring sweetness but not increase amounts of labeled added sugar.

“Utilizing things such as sweet citrus, berries and tropical fruits like mango and pineapple, can add both health benefits and rounded sweetness to otherwise savory dishes,”​ she notes.

While some of these trends may sound contradictory, they are based on Kerry’s Tendspotter proprietary artificial intelligence that pulls data from global social media content and combines it with consumer purchase patterns, retail product performance, foodservice influences and the insights of Kerry experts. Those interested in learning more, can access the report HERE​.

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