Tasting success through flavor innovation

Flavor is generally the single most important factor in consumers’ food and drink choices and three-quarters of consumers say that they “love to discover new flavors,” so it is no wonder that innovators continue to play around with taste profiles in order to deliver novelty and to satisfy increasingly discerning taste buds.

Ironically though, taste is not necessarily king in the land of flavor innovation and it must share its throne with flavor’s role as a marketing tool, i.e. as a means to accentuate a product’s image, mood or even health profile, so there is far more to flavor development than simply making things taste good.

Top 10 trends impact on flavor development

Taste is such an integral part of food and drink innovation that the top 10 food and drink trends highlighted by Innova for 2020 are also specifically driving flavor development. For example, there is growing emphasis on more detailed flavor descriptors and improved provenance (Storytelling: Winning with Words), while there is ongoing diversification of produce and botanical sources (The Plant Based Revolution).

More and more flavors familiar from one category are shifting across into other areas (Hello Hybrids), while a brand’s engagement with its customers is increasingly important and flavor’s role in limited edition and seasonal products is part of this (Brand Unlimited). In addition, flavor remains a critical component of health and wellness development. Specific health positionings (The Right Bite) can be reinforced through flavor, while at the same time, flavor can help to mitigate the taste impact of altered recipes with less fat or sugar (Macronutrient Makeover).

Different flavor directions in different categories

Although most of these trends are universally important in flavor development, individual categories can be more affected by certain themes than by others. For example, in soft drinks, botanical flavor development is significant, with ever greater attention being paid to herbs, spices, vegetable and even floral flavors, e.g. ginger jumped 19 places in the soft drinks flavor rankings between 2014 and 2019.

Flavor trends in salty snacks are strongly reflective of premiumization, with greater use of type-specific or source-specific flavors, while dairy categories such as yogurt and ice cream are seeing growth in indulgent and treat-oriented flavors, and in soups and sauces, authentic international tastes are delivering most novelty.

Going forward with authenticity, diversity and permissible indulgence

Authenticity in foreign flavors will remain a core part of future NPD, with untapped opportunities still to be found in the cuisines of Far East Asia, Latin America, Southeast Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, while further exploitation of the plant world will be another focus and the ocean could emerge as a new resource, with potential for seaweed flavors. The vegan and meat free revolution is also generating buzz around cauliflower and jackfruit.

“Permissible indulgence” has become a common part of the food industry lexicon in recent years and is expected to further impact on flavor development, with indulgent flavor profiles helping to mitigate any sense of sacrifice in healthy eating.

Meanwhile, sustainability is an issue whose impact is expected to intensify in the coming years. While major flavor suppliers continue to work hard to ensure the best sustainability practices in their own businesses, attention should also be paid to how this theme will impact at consumer level.

“Global Emerging Flavor” is a recent Trends Insider report from Innova Market Insights, which brings together consumer research, analysis of key drivers and a review of new flavor activity, both by key category and region, in order to identify current trends and identify where future opportunities can be found.

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