Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: Emerging flavor trends cater to comfort, nostalgia & whimsy

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/natalie-claude
Source: Getty/natalie-claude

Related tags Soup-To-Nuts Podcast Flavor trendspotting

The stressful one-two punch of pandemic lockdowns followed by runaway inflation has many consumers looking for comfort and escapism from their food and beverages, which industry leaders say is driving demand for new flavor combinations that are nostalgic, whimsical and so hyper-saturated that they overwhelm their concerns.

At the same time, many people are unable to fully shake their fear of getting sick and so they also continue to look for foods and beverages that will bolster their health with flavors associated with immunity or clarity and calm for mental well-being.

In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast​, experts from Flavorchem, ADM and Yelp share which flavor combinations are checking these boxes and more. They also place bets on unexpected spice blends, flavor and color combos, limited-edition runs and multi-sensory experiences that could be potential dark horses in 2023 and beyond.

[Editor’s Note: Never miss an episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast – subscribe​ today.]

Familiar flavors offer comforting escape to a time perceived as simpler

During peak-pandemic when many Americans dared to venture out only for essentials – many turned to global cuisine as a way to travel and explore new destinations without leaving the safety of the homes. But now that it is safer to mix, mingle and visit new destinations, for those who can afford it, Flavorchem marketing analyst Rebecca Shurhay says consumers are looking for a type of escapism – one that takes them back to a time they perceive as simpler and more comforting.

“Consumers' quest for comfort is still at an all time high, and I think that’s kind of the basis for a lot of trends we’re seeing now, especially as the holidays are approaching and consumers are gravitating towards the more familiar flavors,”​ she says.

She adds that one way that Flavorchem sees this playing out is through innovative twists and unexpected applications for breakfast flavors, which shine in the company’s latest flavor collection​.

“The reason why we came up with breakfast flavors for our last collection of the year, was largely in part due to the breakfast surge. During the pandemic, consumers really sought comfort and their favorite meal. I think data taken from Mintel showed that 95% of consumers reported eating breakfast regularly. And we felt like consumers didn't want to just limit these flavors to the morning meal occasion.

"So by taking comforting breakfast flavors like your fruity cereal, milk gear, cinnamon bun, maple, French toast, and putting these flavors into snack bars, shakes, it gives consumers kind of their favorite meal on the go, so to speak,”​ she says.  

Shurhay also notes that mash-ups like those that Flavorchem is tracking through breakfast flavors also are opening the door for cross-category hybrid concepts and brand partnerships, like coffee creamer or ice creams the flavor of iconic cereals.

Global cuisine becomes more sophisticated with regional focus

Just because consumers are looking to escape through comforting and nostalgic flavors doesn’t mean they are stepping away from global flavors that allow them to travel without the expense of airfare and hotels. But Shurhay notes this trend is becoming more sophisticated with consumers looking for more regional flavor options.

According to Innova market insights, roughly 75% of global consumers want to discover new flavors. So, more brands are experimenting with culturally inspired flavors to create these authentic taste experiences. Initially, that was inspired, kind of during COVID, as people were traveling through taste as many couldn't go anywhere.

"And now as more things are opening up, I think that's kind of what's having a focus on regional diversity now, because you can go out you can go out to restaurants, you can travel again and try different cuisines. But for many, that's not always the easiest to do. So having like a dish from West Africa, or instead of focusing on South America, you can focus on more specific countries. So regional variations are also being spotlighted​."

'Distant familiarity' shines spotlight on often overlooked, but beloved flavors

At the intersection of consumer desire to try new foods and flavors from around the world and their growing demand for comfort food is a trend that Yelp trend expert Tara Lewis calls “distant familiarity,” which is the idea that foods and flavors slightly adjacent to or which traditionally accompany favorite standbys are coming into their own as emerging trends.

Reflecting on Yelp’s recently released 2023 Food Trend Forecast​, Lewis explains how this trend is playing out in the food and beverages space.

"When I was looking back through all of the different food and beverages that we featured in our trends report. I think that there might be that people are seeking out comfort foods and flavors that they might have a distant familiarity with, such as oxtail, pickles, fast food classics. They're still very approachable, while still offering a level of comfort,”​ Lewis says.

She noted that between 2021 and 2022, searches on Yelp were up 46% for oxtails, 40% for dirty sodas, 38% for hojicha tea and a whopping 90% for fast food staples from decades earlier, including the McRib, Happy Meals for adults and Halloween pails.

‘Bold,’ ‘fierce’ flavors rise

Increased exposure to global flavors, which may be more intense than the typical American fare, is pushing some consumers to seek out increasingly ‘bold’ and ‘fierce’ flavors, which ADM’s president of creation, design & development and chief global flavorist Marie Wright described as potentially bit over-the-top.

“Everything is kind of amped up. So, not just hot, but very hot. Not just sweet, but very sweet. Not just fruity, but very fruity,”​ Wright says, noting demand for intense flavors matches the demand for vibrant, bold and loud colors.

She adds that this trend, which is part of ADM’s flavor forecast for 2023​, at times, overides the well-established trend for authentic flavors.

“It can be cherry with a twist. It can be a really bright grape with a twist, a melon with a twist. It’s interesting that authenticity and fierce both don’t necessarily go together,”​ she says.

An example of how demand for bold and fierce flavors could play out in the new year comes from the Yelp flavor forecast, which predicts the bright, mouth-puckering flavor or pickles will begin appearing across categories. Lewis explains that searches for pickled-flavored foods were up 55% between 2021 and 2022 and are primed to take center stage in 2023.

Color, texture work in concert with flavor to meet desire for experiential products

Consumer demand for increasingly ‘bold’ and ‘fierce’ flavors also is paving the way for the addition of color and texture to enhance the experience.

ADM’s Wright explains how pairing colors with flavors can further help consumers escape through foods and beverages by taking products to the next level – making them even louder so that they drown out – at least temporarily – some of the concerns that may be weighing down consumers.

Flavorchem’s Shurhay adds that 2023 will bring more layering of textures with colors and flavors and playing with formats to further enhance flavors, creating multi-sensory experiences that further transport consumers.

Wright says this blurring of flavors, colors, textures and formats is fueling a rise of “dream-like fantasy flavors like mermaid and yeti” that create another avenue for escapism and leave room for consumers to explore their own interpretations of what different concepts could taste like.

Health remains front-of-mind

As eager as consumers may be to escape reality, for many the fear of catching COVID – or the flu or RSV or anything – has been so thoroughly engrained from the pandemic that it always plays in consumers’ minds – influencing their choices, including for flavors.

ADM’s Wright explains this desire plays out for both physical and mental wellbeing. For example, she says botanical flavors are associated with boosting immunity and other health benefits, while florals might be associated with mental-wellbeing.

While many of these trends may conflict, they can play together to address multiple consumer needs at once, but they must offer an end result that tastes good and keeps consumers coming back.

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