Tahini. Seaweed. Turmeric. These aren’t your grandparents’ flavor preferences, are they? But, increasingly, they may be yours.
The recent Frito-Lay U.S. Snack Index survey1 revealed the majority of U.S. consumers are demanding more variety – in flavors, especially – from their snacks and other food items. Indeed, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of respondents say they indulge on globally inspired foods and flavors at least once a month; and more than three-fourths (76 percent) agree that they like to try flavors from places and cultures that are not their own.
More than any single seasonal flavor trend, it’s really the overarching globalization of flavor that is turning the food industry upside down, ushering in a whole new approach to meeting consumer demand.
“What Americans choose to eat has become a complex mishmash of cultures and spices well beyond ethnic or traditional silos,” said Dr. Christine Cioffe, senior vice president, research and development, PepsiCo. “That’s why we maintain a proprietary database of more than 1,000 global flavor variants and employ hundreds of culinary experts and scientists dedicated to exploring new tastes and flavors.”
The Index also found:
- Seventy-four (74) percent of Americans say they are willing to try new types and flavors rather than only purchase snacks they have tried previously.
- Further, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of respondents prefer a lot of flavor options, 30 percent prefer a few and just two percent desire only one option.
While food and flavor choices are becoming more diverse, Americans rely on some conventional sources to inspire them – with nearly half (48 percent) saying they usually discover new foods, cuisines, flavors or ingredients from their friends and family.
However, 44 percent are curiosity seekers, whose current flavor preferences are driven by where in the world they have traveled. Plus, 38 percent first sampled new culinary options because they saw them in a local store or restaurant.
Flavor Precision Through Technology
To address these evolving flavor trends, many of which can be confined to small enclaves within a larger community, food companies are turning to high-tech advancements to ensure products that have been created with curated flavors are matched with the preferences of a particular group or geography.
“It’s given us a ‘tasty’ challenge – to predict, respond and adapt to rapidly expanding consumer preferences with speed and agility by leveraging technology to ensure we can get consumers exactly the snacks they want exactly where they want to buy them,” said Michael Lindsey, chief transformation & strategy officer, Frito-Lay North America. “We believe it’s our job to develop and deliver snacks that equally delight a niche community as well as a mass crowd.”
Frito-Lay is using AI technology to continually analyze millions of data points that identify micro-markets for a flavor or product that might otherwise be missed. Recently, AI unveiled small market segments in the eastern U.S. that sought hot and spicy flavors, although most in the macro market surrounding it had a more classic flavor palate. They then used AI to reshape their distribution to ensure that precisely the right products were available in each local point of sale based on local shopper demographics.
Demographic Differences, Adventurous Areas
Some of the nation’s more adventurous cities, culinary-wise, are in the South or Southwest.
Over one-third (36 percent) of adults nationwide say they are more adventurous with the foods they eat compared to five years ago – with more than half of the residents of Atlanta (53 percent) and Houston (51 percent) showing they are much more adventurous than the national average.
Not surprisingly, so, too, is the cultural melting pot of New York City. More than three-fourths of Big Apple respondents (78 percent) often or sometimes have globally inspired foods, cuisines, flavors or ingredients, compared to the national average of 68 percent.
Similarly, three in five (63 percent) of Americans feel their current flavor preferences are driven by where they have lived. But the influence is especially pronounced in younger respondents: 84 percent of Generation Z respondents are influenced, flavor-wise, by where they have lived; versus just 57 percent of Baby Boomers.