Before the COVID-19 crisis struck, food occasions and dining out were among the most popular ways to connect with friends and family. However, with gatherings and restaurants temporarily closed in some regions, flavors and dishes created at home are playing a key role in bringing enjoyment and pleasure to consumers.
Moreover, experimentation with functional ingredients geared toward health continues to gain traction. FoodIngredientsFirst takes a deep dive into the flavors sector, speaking to industry players who share their insights for the F&B landscape.
“Familiar, comforting flavors and adventurous global tastes are inspiring consumers in an increasingly interconnected world,” says Lindsey Clements, food applications scientist at Kalsec.
According to Andrew Bingham, food applications scientist at Kalsec, today’s consumers seek food and beverages which provide the “best of both worlds,” meaning they provide both taste and functionality.
During this prolonged recovery period from COVID-19, flavor innovation needs to “bridge the gap between comfort and adventure,” says Jessica Morton, sensory and consumer insights manager at Blue Pacific Flavors.
“Consumers are looking for the familiar flavors they love, but reimagined through different varietal stories or creative blends. 2021 is really about transition. Flavor can be a source of inspiration and comfort, both now and in the future,” she forecasts.
Tapping into holistic health
A more comprehensive approach to personal well-being, including mental, emotional and spiritual wellness will be essential in 2021, says Agneta Hoffmann, marketing manager for flavors at Bell Flavors and Fragrances.
“Thus, the flavor industry increasingly needs to build a bridge between delivering authentic taste and helping to maintain the key sensory characteristics of consumer products. Flavors will therefore further evolve in terms of functional attributes as well as taste profiles, providing taste solutions for sugar reduction, masking off-notes, salt reduction and much more – all while simultaneously focusing on clean labeling.”
Moreover, taste varieties that address emotional well-being, mindfulness and relaxation are also expected to trend, such as ginger and citrus, chamomile or lavender, hemp or green tea, Hoffmann notes.
This year, several flavor trends are maturing and evolving, adds Hélène Moeller, director of global product management at ADM.
“The global focus on holistic health is driving demand for functional flavor ingredients and flavors that symbolize well-being, such as orange, lemon, lime and other citrus fruits that naturally contain high levels of vitamin C and other antioxidants.”
Additionally, consumers seek ingredients for immune function and other wellness goals, such as increased energy and enhanced mood.
“Nature provides a kaleidoscope of health-signaling flavors, ranging from everyday orange to up-and-coming elderflower to exotic yuzu,” Moeller explains.
Adventurous eaters are exploring global flavors, including kumquat, cardamom, turmeric, garam masala and amba.
“We’ve also seen a rise in popularity of colorful berry ingredients like cranberry, blackcurrant, elderberry and maqui berry,” states Moeller.
Morton at Blue Pacific Flavors also highlights a continued interest in exotic fruit profiles, especially in citrus.
“Consumers are looking for exploration in their flavors, and we’ve seen F&B processors responding to this need in innovative ways. For example, taking a traditional margarita formulation and substituting calamansi or key lime for Mexican lime is one way that an established product can be reformulated to meet evolving flavor needs,” she details.
Meanwhile, Bingham at Kalsec notes the growing interest for authentic, regional culinary inspiration.
Middle Eastern, Mexican and Asian cuisines are all popular, such as regional Korean and Thai flavors, he says.
“Alongside global cuisines, there is continued interest in provenance ingredients, such as named ingredients to deliver heat, as well as inspiration for BBQ trends and fusion concepts to combine all these trends.”
Even with the postponed Tokyo Olympics outcome looking uncertain, Clements says there has been a spiked interest in Asian flavors, dishes and meal formats.
“COVID-19 has facilitated new eating experiences for consumers stuck at home. The vibrant colors, fermentation dishes and sweet-sour flavor combinations of the region are inspiring NPD in Western Europe,” she explains.
The Kalsec culinary team expects further interest in fermentation and pickled flavors, stemming from the popularity of regional Asian cuisine such as Korean kimchi.
Moreover, personal travel and media coverage of global diet and cuisine have created greater awareness of international tastes. “With this, the continually developing ready meal sector has provided easy entry products that provide consumers in-house opportunities to experience new flavors,” Clements reveals.
“We see consumer interest in different regional global cuisines including West Africa, South America and the Caucuses, as well as innovation from chefs who are creating new fusion dishes by incorporating meal components from multiple cultures.”
Twists on tradition
Alongside adventurous global flavors, there is also piqued interest in new flavor combinations.
“Classic smoked flavors and sweet and sour combinations continue to be popular,” says Bingham.
“In a changing world, consumers have been looking for familiarity and comfort, which these trends deliver on. With summer innovation approaching, these trends are ideal for bringing life in BBQ meat, plant-based protein, sauces and side dishes.”
Moeller at ADM reveals that consumers are hungry for new flavors and combinations that will delight their taste buds, specifically in the beverage sectors.
“Botanical and fruit blends are already popular in brewed teas, hard seltzers, mixed drinks and mocktails. We see infusions such as strawberry hibiscus, lemon elderflower and peach basil. Additionally, lavender, coffee and chocolate make a tasty café mocha, and a chai latte gains complexity with the addition of apple cider,” she continues.
Another ADM innovation is activating multiple taste receptors in one sip or bite, such as bittersweet dark chocolate and spicy ginger or heat-inducing cayenne pepper or a tropical smoothie featuring turmeric, coconut milk, pineapple and mango.
Meanwhile, Morton agrees that the non-alcoholic beverage trend has been exploding, leading to significant interest in flavor systems that can deliver authentic wine, beer and spirits cues.
“Hard seltzers have taken the flavor industry by storm, driving huge growth not only in high-intensity fruit flavors but organic flavors too,” she claims.
Desserts and indulgence
Comfort flavors are also proving popular – especially when they combine the refreshing notes of fruit with familiar creamy and sweet qualities, such as vanilla.
Blue Pacific has a selection of indulgent natural fruit dessert flavors, like lemon cake, orange creamsicle, limoncello, caramel apple and strawberry cheesecake.
“Brown indulgent flavors are trending too, like tiramisu, dulce de leche and chocolate hazelnut,” adds Morton.
In line with indulgent flavors, Kevin Bangratz, marketing researcher at Prova, says one trend he expects to be unavoidable in 2021 will be pairing vanilla with other ingredients.
“Flavor pairings can imply original tastes, but also more classic ones. The top five brown flavors for vanilla pairings are cocoa, almond, cookies & cream, caramel and white chocolate.”
Bangratz also suggests “out of the box” ideas based on vanilla’s versatility work well, such as vanilla & whiskey, vanilla & black sesame, vanilla caramel fudge, vanilla chai and vanilla cupcake.
“All these concepts can make great flavors for various applications, including bakery, confectionery, or even dairy products,” Bangratz notes.
He further flags two well-known categories for their creativity in flavor innovation: chocolate confectionery and ice cream.
“These are two segments whose main purpose is to satisfy consumers’ need for indulgence. We carefully follow NPD occurring in the chocolate category, and we have noticed many original flavoring concepts, such as caramel hazelnut brittle, salted cashew and marzipan, hazelnut and campsite coffee and caramel sea salt honeycomb.”
The ice cream category is also extremely innovative, from a flavoring point of view, with tastes like caramel cold-brew and cookies, salted maple or brown sugar cinnamon gaining traction among consumers,” he concludes.