As consumers become more aware of the environmental and health implications of their eating habits, consumption of plant-based foods is moving to new heights. This onward trend allows the creative juices of food manufacturers to flow, in a bustling sector ripe for further growth and innovation. New taste sensations are also fuelling interest in the fruit and vegetable sector. Meanwhile, natural ingredients with antioxidant and immunity-boosting credentials are gaining further traction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Maren Döbl, Product Manager at Austria Juice, active nutrition, taste experiences, mindful consumption and premium by nature, are the top driving forces behind fruit and vegetable applications.
Health and well-being are high on the global value hierarchy of consumers. People are looking for holistic solutions that support them in changing their lifestyle,” she explains. Health is one of the most important topics for consumers. Berries with antioxidant properties and immune system supporting ingredients will play a key role over the coming months, Döbl stresses, noting prevalence in elderberry, blueberry and also haskap berries.
Meanwhile, Bastian Hörmann, Director Product Management Food at ADM Nutrition, says that fruit and vegetables associated with comfort are expected to take the lead as consumers justify indulgent treats as part of their self-care.
“Today’s wellness ideals are characterized by thoughtful, measured pleasure, not by self-restraint. Ashwagandha is an example of an ingredient that is currently meeting consumer demand for relaxation and will arguably drive innovation in the F&B sector,” he explains. “Maca and moringa are also trending as consumers look for more variety in energy-boosting snacks and beverages.”
With the trend for more mindful consumption growing, consumers are paying closer attention to how food and beverages contribute to their health, well-being and mood. Because of this, snacking has seen a real shift, says Hörmann. “The concept of elevated snacking has emerged thanks to the availability of premium options and the prevalence of these products in consumers’ lives.”
Healthy snacking is seen as an essential part of our lives, which can meet the need for nourishment and pleasure. Fruit and vegetable ingredients will play a crucial role in fulfilling this demand, according to Hörmann.
“When it comes to flavors, colors, proteins and other specialty ingredients derived from nature, it is important to keep food science and supply chains in mind, along with an understanding of formulation challenges and consumer needs,” he asserts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has recently increased demand for both vitamin-fortified juice products and for products targeted at strengthening the immune system, says Julian Bopp, Product Manager Fruit and Vegetables at Doehler. “Society as a whole is moving towards greater awareness for sustainability in day-to-day life. Consumers demand that raw materials are grown, processed and packaged sustainably, and that social standards are adhered to.”
Fun with flavor
Innovation and trends in fruit and vegetable applications are driven by consumers’ desire for their beverages to come with associated health benefits. “For example, watermelon is very refreshing and hydrating, so when people see a watermelon-flavored beverage on the shelf, they immediately make that association. Similarly, blueberries are full of antioxidants, so anything which contains a blueberry flavor also has those ‘healthier’ connotations,” Julie Barnes, Product Development Specialist at global ingredients manufacturer, Treatt, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“We’ve seen lots of demand for the classic summer flavors – think watermelon and pineapple. Blueberry is also becoming more popular as a standalone flavor, such as in sparkling water,” she adds.
“No matter what types of innovation we’re looking at, or the types of beverages that we’re applying them to – whether it’s a juice, hard seltzer, flavored water or smoothie – our focus is always on making sure we preserve the natural flavor profile.”
Treatt has also noted more requests for tropical flavors such as passionfruit and guava; “Flavors that used to hide in the background are now a standalone or forefront flavor,” Barnes highlights. In the COVID-19 era, the company is also seeing more of a return to flavors like pineapple, cucumber and watermelon, which offer familiarity, comfort and a true-to-fruit profile, she maintains.
The company’s fruit and vegetable products are made using only water and extracts from the named fruit. “This ensures that our ingredients can be described on labels as being 100 percent natural or containing real fruit extract or essence, rather than describing it as an artificial flavor. This is key with beverage products at the moment, as the demand for clean label products from health-conscious consumers continues to soar,” Barnes notes.
In previous years, consumers have often consumed a diet of synthetic flavors and ingredients, and Barnes says that sometimes “the real flavor can come as a surprise.” Take cherry, for example. “Many people associate cherry with the artificial taste of benzaldehyde. In reality, although cherries do have some of that flavor profile in them, it’s not as potent when it comes directly from the fruit,”
“Furthermore, consumers want adventure triggered by sensory, visual and haptic experiences. Fancy, spicy or exotic flavor combinations, special ingredients and textures provide taste sensations,” Döbl states.
Meanwhile, Doehler offers a broad range of natural and plant-based ingredients such as botanical extracts, fruit and vegetable ingredients, vitamins and fibers that enable healthy product positionings.
“As part of the trend towards a healthier diet, fruits that are naturally rich in vitamins and nutrients such as acerola, white guava, dark berries or root juices such as ginger are particularly in demand,” Bopp explains.
He also notes that the company’s portfolio of natural and plant-based ingredients brings this added value to products in a targeted way and “unlocks healthy growth potential.”
Modern consumption evolves
Today’s consumers are used to on-demand services in their daily lives more than ever before, and this trend is set to continue, Bopp further details. “Consequently, consumers are looking for products that are consumable at any time. These should be as natural as possible and contribute to a healthy diet such as functional smoothies or juice ranges in all colors that appeal to all senses. This is often appreciated as quick energy for the whole day and as a timely boost of nutrients. The connection of easy and intuitive nutrition in to-go formats make especially the chilled shelves bigger and bigger in some European countries,” he outlines.
Doehler offers natural vegetable ingredients with functional added value that can be used in snacks such as smoothies, cereals or bars for on-the-go and let snacking become much healthier.
Finally, the need for clean label has become increasingly important for manufacturers aiming to gain the trust of the consumers and to create transparency. “These products have a very reduced list of ingredients, which are processed as little as possible, while the natural origin of the products is clearly evident. This means moving away from ingredient lists with ten to 15 fruits to a simple two, three or five fruit mixes.
To meet consumer demands for transparency, Germany recently introduced the Nutri-Score – a voluntary assessment system for food and beverages, which has already been established in countries like France, Belgium and Spain. Doehler says it is “working closely with its customers in the development and reformulation of recipes to achieve an improved Nutri-Score value,” Bopp concludes.
By Elizabeth Green