In an increasingly connected and adventurous world, flavors can be a bridge to different cultures that requires little translation. Driven by a demand for new experiences, consumers are seeking out novel flavors and flavor combinations to excite their palates – and they’re constantly looking for the next big thing. Sensory explorers are uncovering a plethora of exotic food options and global cuisines are migrating to different parts of the world. However, the need for natural ingredients and clean label remains strong, say industry experts.
“Everyone is seeking experiences of other global cuisines. This is evident by the growth of Italian dishes in China or the onward march of Indian-inspired cuisine in Europe. In every case, the consumer preference is for natural flavors and the definition of natural is evolving to meet that expectation,” Vince Martin, Market Development Manager, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
Martin says that in the present market, global consumers are looking for authenticity in recipes and to be offered a “new experience” when tasting new and unfamiliar foods for the first time. “Although we use the term ‘ethnic’ in the Western world, we must look at the perspective of the emerging markets,” he notes.
Innova Market Insights reports that “Discovery: The Adventurous Consumer” is this year’s number one food and beverage trend. We are entering an “age of the explorer,” where an adventurous consumer is coming to the fore and demanding new flavorful experiences backed up by an authentic story.
“Millennials are an important consumer group but ‘The Adventurous Consumer’ trend is larger and broader than just that,” Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights, says. “If you take Japanese restaurants, for example, they are often full of children. In the past, people made fun of eating raw fish, but now there are so many foods and flavors that have gone much more mainstream than we had ever expected,” she adds.
For Carolyn Chen, Marketing Manager, Flavor, US consumers – particularly the younger generations – are exposing themselves to authentic ethnic cuisines as there is a growing interest in new and exotic eating experiences and flavors. “Global cuisines introduce consumers to regional spices, herbs, fruits or vegetables. They range from savory dishes and exotic beverages to decadent desserts. Flavor inspirations are predicted to be drawn from authentic Japanese, Korean, Filipino, African and Middle Eastern cuisines,” she notes.
Heightened sensory delivery, storytelling and novelty are providing ways for brands to engage with more adventurous and enjoyment-seeking consumers. Innova Market Insights conducted a 2018 survey which found that seven in ten US consumers “love to discover new flavors,” with similar numbers of respondents reported in China and the UK.
“In the West, we see a rise in interest for Peruvian, Filipino, North African and Middle Eastern dishes. The combinations of herbs and spices specific to regional cuisines give unique tastes and experiences to our palate,” Martin notes.
In addition, 28 percent of US, UK and Chinese consumers have experienced a shift in their tastes toward more exotic or adventurous flavors in snacks. A look at the average annual growth of selected flavors in new snack launches (Global, CAGR 2013-2017) found exotic flavors (31 percent), beef flavors (15 percent) and chili flavors (14 percent) to be among the most trending options.
“Authenticity is not the only trend we see in flavors; a continued interest in hot and spicy profiles is ever-present,” says Martin. “The heat comes from a variety of sources, such as various cultivars of chili, ginger, mustard, peppers and other spices and herbs. We craft heat expression in a manner that allows the timing, intensity and duration to be tailored to specific product needs. This modulated heat delivery, in combination with other extracts, can create unique flavor and taste experiences in food.”
Umami for meat alternatives applications
A popular Eastern flavor that has crossed over to the West and is gaining traction is umami. Western perceptions of umami – coined the “fifth flavor” – are expanding and the industry is boosting the trend with innovative NPD. In the East, where the flavor is a staple, consumers show a growing demand for clean label products, and claims such as “natural source of umami” thrive.
Martin identifies the flavor’s potential in applications in meat alternatives and how it can boost their taste. “Umami is one aspect that is essential to the success of meat alternatives and the improvement of traditional food dishes. Historically sourced from tomatoes, mushrooms and celery, this taste phenomenon is making its way to dishes as a way to increase the savory taste,” Martin explains.
“While umami as a basic taste like sour, salty, sweet or bitter is relatively new to the American palate, it has been recognized as a major component of Asian cuisines for decades. Interest in Asian cuisines and their use in fusion dishes is rising. Beyond improving the taste of traditional food dishes, umami is one characteristic that can affect the success of meat alternatives and its importance in increasing savory taste will continue,” he adds.
As the number of flexitarians increase, consumers are reducing their meat consumption and incorporating plant-based proteins into their diets. As a result manufacturers need to develop plant-based protein meal components that are substantial enough to replace meat in the center of the plate, while providing an appealing taste, Martin says.
Responding to the demand for global flavors, industry is “thinking outside the box” and even enlisting experts to create flavors that will appeal to the global consumer. The rise of culinary television shows that employ the expertise of international chefs is influencing consumers’ craving for more global and fusion cuisines. A lot of NPD is targeting these consumers with flavorful releases such as Marks & Spencer’s Chicken Katsu Curry chips, Kettle’s limited edition Olive and Feta chips and Asda’s Halloumi & Chilli Jam Tortilla Rolls.
“Culinology, often described as the fusion of culinary arts and food science, is an area in which Kalsec continues to invest by employing creative chefs who craft innovative ingredient solutions for our customers. Our research and culinary development is fueled by ideas from our global locations, resulting in innovative flavors that provide ingredients that meet consumer expectations but are ideal for use in a commercial manufacturing setting,” Martin says.
Global cuisine has long been characterized by the creative use of aromatic ingredients in a simple portfolio of recipes and cooking processes, he explains. Where global cuisines used to be limited by the spices and herbs available locally, today, the food industry has become so global that the availability of raw materials is widespread and authenticity is demanded by an increasingly well-traveled consumer.
“The development of standardized extracts has allowed us to retain greater regional authenticity, the further you get away from that local market. Similarly, herbs used in different parts of the world are much more accessible to all, regardless of factors such as climate, when used in extract form,” Martin notes.
Acceptability to the palate is a challenge and the modern consumer needs to be immersed in an experience and explanation of the cuisine that provides context and understanding of new tastes and combinations, he adds.
Looking to the future trends in global food flavors, Martin also notes that modern consumers do not like to be pigeon-holed or restricted, and their eating preferences may fluctuate daily. The consumers’ flexibility to seek a more balanced approach to food will be driven by new experiences and how food manufacturers can deliver on what is trending in the marketplace. Chefs are no longer constrained by geographical classification of dishes and can really innovate to deliver, not only on taste, but also on experience, he concludes.
As globalization and connectivity increase, the “flavor melting pot” is expected to continue to influence NPD. The need for new and exciting tastes is driving consumer demands, while natural ingredients and flavors are a constant trend. The industry is responding with surprising flavor combinations and limited edition releases that target the adventurous consumer.
By Kristiana Lalou