The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted most F&B industries, and the flavors sector is no different. During challenging times, consumers seek security through food experiences and opt for comforting and nostalgic tastes. In line with this, “emotional discoveries” are pegged by flavor suppliers as a central theme in the realm of taste.
Leif Jago, junior marketer, global marketing, flavor and nutrition segment at Symrise, says consumer behaviors affecting the flavor sector are reflected in movements in society such as climate protection, sustainability and health considerations.
“Those societal topics translate to the F&B industry and therefore impact the flavors industry,” Jago explains.
“Societal attitudes are changing faster due to the developments caused by COVID-19,” he continues. “The main food and beverage trends go beyond the pandemic. Already before the crisis, these trends had started to rise, and COVID-19 has accelerated change and boosted existing consumer needs, wants and fears.”
“The pandemic is impacting ‘emotional discoveries,’” observes Jago. “Staying in is the new going out and has become a reality with consumers searching for new ways to elevate the at-home experience and celebrating a kind of ‘neo hygge.’”
In this spirit, consumers embrace comforting flavors that provide a feeling of security and stability and come in healthier and plant-based options. “In gloomy times, consumers long for hopeful messaging that instills confidence,” he notes.
Leigh-Anne Vaughan, global strategic marketing director for taste at Kerry, says the pandemic accelerated consumer trends as it created a sense of urgency; “an urgency to look after holistic wellness and the environment.”
“At the same time, in an attempt to cope with the stress of the pandemic, consumers continue to seek ways to comfort and indulge themselves while they cope. Comforting, nostalgic tastes look different across the world – from peanut butter in Canada to Chicha Morada in Central America and lychee in the Asia Pacific/Middle East/Africa (APMEA) region,” she explains.
According to Lamia Gaman, applications manager at Treatt, the most considerable demands have been for flavors with a “health halo over the past year.”
“As a result of COVID-19, consumers are looking more in-depth into the functional benefits contained within the food and drink they consume,” she tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
Meanwhile, naturality and clean label both remain key trends when it comes to flavors.
“Consumers are hyper-aware of the ingredients in the food and drink that they consume. Meaning the more natural and understandable your back of pack label, the better from a consumer perspective,” says Gaman.
According to Ralf van Ackeren, global head of application at Silesia, lifestyle and eating habits are changing drastically. “People consume more healthy foods and expect a great taste. More and more ingredients are known for their positive health aspects.”
Attention is paid to healthy eating, but traditional, regional flavors that evoke childhood memories and are reminiscent of a secure past are in demand during the pandemic time, he explains.
Classic flavors star
According to Marcela Serrano, global marketing manager for sweet and natural, Givaudan Taste & Wellbeing, some companies are putting a stronger focus on their main products due to the crisis.
“This has often meant prioritizing more classic flavors, such as vanilla for bakery and confectionery, or citrus for beverages,” she recalls.
With the growing importance of the “home as a hub,” Jago at Symrise believes this “adds a new facet and influences food and beverage innovation.”
To turn eating at home into a taste experience, premium and comfort flavors are increasing in popularity.
“Classic mood-boosting flavors like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, dessert and bakery-inspired flavors are in demand. And indulgent food like carbohydrate-heavy foods can evoke childhood memories like pizza, pasta, fries, warming foods with a meaty taste, cheese or plant-based comfort foods,” he further explains.
According to Vaughan at Kerry, when it comes to taste exploration, Europe’s well-traveled consumers seek out flavors such as wasabi and sriracha. At the same time, in the US, consumers want to explore flavors like Irish cream and Korean BBQ.
“Meanwhile, consumers craving nostalgia in Mexico will reach for Al Pastor and tamarind, while in the Asia Pacific region flavors such as lychee and green mango also provide comfort.”
Kerry’s research is showing an expanded consumer appetite to travel the world with the senses.
“Flavors from different cuisines around the world are becoming popular in Europe,” Vaughan continues.
“Masala and miso are of strong interest in the savory category, while in Europe, especially Texas BBQ is popular for snacks. Exotic citrus tastes, such as yuzu and calamansi, have an excellent chance to create an absolute hit in the sweet and beverage categories,” she explains.
Jago at Symrise also flags how influences of other countries play a more prominent role in flavors, as the idea to travel with the senses has become the new reality.
“Apart from the pandemic, a new facet of this sub trend relates to the focus on a single country when it comes to food and beverages, for example, Japan as well as modern approach on traditional flavors and hybrid cuisines such as Napolitana pizza by using Japanese ingredients and local preparation techniques,” he continues.
Moreover, regional flavors are rising in popularity like hot Asian-inspired tastes, using herbs and leaves, flavor mash-ups, plant-based versions of Mexican dishes, Asian noodle and soup flavors, and fresh herbs linked to specific regions, according to Jago.
“And also fruit flavors from all over the world are gaining traction, adding a hint of spice or West and South African flavors.”
According to Gaman at Treatt, as people cannot travel and experience different cuisines, they are looking to recreate these experiences from home.
“Flavors can be very nostalgic as they can remind the consumer of certain times or places and essentially transport them back to a pre-covid era. For example, a Sicilian lemon flavor in a lemonade may remind someone of sitting on a beach while on holiday in Sicily,” she enthuses.
Other trending tastes
As the health and wellness trend continues to reach new heights, Messina Truttman, vice president of sales and marketing at Beck Flavors sees an influx in fruit and botanical flavors that mask or complement various functional ingredients.
“We’ve seen a more prominent focus on the inclusion of more natural flavors and ingredients as consumers become more aware of what ingredients go into the products they consume,” she comments.
Meanwhile, Berge at Beck Flavors says blood orange-yuzu, blackberry-sage, black pepper-vanilla and calamansi-grapefruit are some of the latest innovations the company has been working on.
Fun flavor combinations for summer include cucumber-hibiscus, citrus-rosemary and lemonade-lavender, he adds.
“Some are much more unique than others, but you won’t know how the flavors will pair together unless you try it.”
Furthermore, Gaman says there has been an increased demand for citrus flavors, driven by associations around immunity, botanicals such as ginger and black pepper, which can boost gut health and tea extracts commonly recognized for their antioxidant powers.
Spotlight on flavored waters
According to Adam Berge, applications technologist at Beck Flavors, the company sees more significant demand for better-for-you beverages and sparkling waters than “ever before.”
“Our flavors play an important part in these beverages since there is a need to mask the off-notes from added vitamins and minerals to ensure the finished product is as tasty and enjoyable as possible,” he explains.
Gaman at Treatt says flavors are a good vehicle to break the monotony of having the same beverage while at the same time being very accessible to the consumer.
“The flavored waters market has boomed in recent years, and we believe this is due to the variety of flavors available now. It offers healthy hydration with a twist,” she highlights.
Gaman also flags the opportunities for applications that have the potential for flavor development and SKU extensions.
“Specifically, these would be flavored still or carbonated waters and hard seltzers,” she notes.
“The market for these applications is growing rapidly, which means there is a lot of potential for innovation and adventurous flavor combinations to ensure that products stand out.”