This first in a series of three trend articles surveys flavorists, chefs, trend-spotters, futurologists, and entrepreneurs to find out what flavors consumers will be looking for in the year ahead.
Consumers’ desire to feel good is steering the direction flavors are heading, but not in the “eat-drink-and-be-merry” way. Health—of the body, mind, spirit, and planet—rather than hedonism (well, okay, maybe a splash of hedonism), informs what flavors consumers are expected to flock to in 2024.
“We’ll continue to see heightened consumer demand for new food and beverage experiences that express [their] true desires, with unapologetic abandon for the flavors they deem tasty—in any format,” while they simultaneously embrace health and wellness goals, declares Marie Wright, president, creation, design, and development, and chief global flavorist for ADM.
Flavor trends are deeply rooted in changing consumer priorities, adds Soumya Nair, global consumer research and insights director for Kerry Group. “People want to be heard and feel seen in the food and beverages made available to them. Whether low- to no-alcohol, or vegan, or plant-based, consumers want to feel empowered to decide their personal priorities and have solutions that support their decisions.”
We’re seeing a big trend toward nature, floral motifs, (and) edible flowers in food.
- Morgaine Gaye, Food Futurologist
Florals are, pardon the pun, blooming. Flavor Insights expects steady growth for botanicals like jasmine, rose, lavender, hibiscus, and eucalyptus in 2024, reports Jaime Lynn Lawrence, R&D application scientist for the flavor company.
“The key driver for these flavors is the booming presence of health and wellness. Our consumers want to be transported through flavors and feel good about what they are eating and drinking,” Lawrence explains. With a heightened awareness of what they are consuming, they crave exotic and earthy flavors containing functional properties that promote gut health, mental acuity, and overall holistic health, she adds.
“Flavorful wellness” is how Chef Rob Corliss, founder of culinary consultancy ATE (All Things Epicurean) describes what’s pulling consumers toward “feel-good foods” that he says include floral, citrus, tropical, and “complex spicy” flavors.
“The momentum hibiscus has been gaining these past years, with its colorful crimson, tart-vibrant flavor and versatility ... should continue to increase in 2024,” Corliss says, advising its use in products such as beverages, granola, jams, jellies, candy, and more.
Antioxidant-rich hibiscus makes its appearance in several new product introductions. FrutaPOP’s Hibiscus Rosé Wine frozen pop, or “poptail,” pairs Leaves of Leisure herbal hibiscus tea and rosé wine. A limited edition for 2023, the warm-weather adult treats contain under 5% alcohol by volume (ABV).
Ruby Wellness, producer of fruit-sweetened, sparkling, organic, no-sugar-added, hibiscus flavored waters that are free from artificial additives or sweeteners, introduced its Fuji Apple Hibiscus and Berry Cherry Hibiscus sodas this spring. The company also makes hibiscus-flavored still waters.
Along with herbal and superfood flavors, as well as spices, florals are part of a larger plant-based trend that is associated with healthier choices that can offer health functionality, says Lu Ann Williams, global insights director at Innova Market Insights.
Florals have been increasing in popularity for a few years now, with cherry blossom, lavender, and rose popping up in applications, mainly beverages, says Erin O’Donnell, marketing manager for Florida Food Products. “We expect to see botanicals branch out of the health and wellness space into other areas—think orange blossom with salted caramel, rose with an indulgent coffee latte,” or blends like yuzu honeysuckle, says O’Donnell.
Flavor Insights, which partners with companies to produce energy and hydration products, expects to see upcoming new product launches featuring hibiscus, dragon fruit, and guava.
Lavender and hibiscus are among the up-and-coming flavors associated with mood enhancement and relaxation; and cherry blossom is rising in popularity, with a distinct floral, sweet, refreshing, and botanical profile that works well in baked goods, teas, ice creams, cocktails, and nonalcoholic beverages, adds ADM’s Wright.
Other emerging calming flavors associated with sleep and relaxation include elderflower (which pairs well with Meyer lemon), honey blossom (with green tea), and lavender (with blackberry), says Philip Caputo, marketing and consumer insights manager for Virginia Dare.
While consumers may be drawn to florals for their fragrance and association with health and wellness attributes, they eventually find they enjoy their flavors, and those flavors often provide a differentiating factor to products, O’Donnell explains.
The rise of florals is actually a reemergence, albeit one that is a very long time coming, observes Morgaine Gaye, a London-based food futurologist. “Violet, lavender, rose—they’re really old-fashioned flavors—but we’re seeing a big trend toward nature, floral motifs, (and) edible flowers in food.” The nature vibe, the outdoors, has been prominent since 2020, “when nature was all we had to soothe us,” Gaye observes.
“Consumers say they want lower sweetness in favor of other flavors, and we see that in the marketplace with a shift from sweet to bold flavors,” says Julie Johnson, president of Health Focus, a market research firm and consultancy.
This trend goes beyond experimenting with flavor, crossing into medicinal plants and herbs that consumers identify as providing functionality and health benefits. The broader trend, Johnson explains, is that “consumers simply want products that make them feel good, however they define that.”
Mango Chili Tepache from De La Calle! is one example, says Johnson. Tepache is a nutrient-rich, bubbly, ancient Mexican fermented beverage made from pineapple scraps. Another is Aura Bora sparkling waters in Lemongrass Coconut, Lavender Cucumber, Basil Berry, Peppermint Watermelon, and Cactus Rose (made with prickly pear and rose flower extracts).
Savory flavors will show up in category-blurring ways in 2024, says Jen Lyons, marketing manager at Sensient Technologies. She expects chefs to push the envelope with menu items like vegetable-forward cocktails, and desserts incorporating tastes typically associated with savory dishes such as herbs, spices, and even mild cheeses, to create unique and unexpected flavor profiles. “Imagine a balsamic vinegar swirled throughout a fig ice cream with small pieces of blue cheese, offering a delightful balance of sweet and savory in every bite,” Lyons describes.
Last year’s sweet and spicy, or “swicy” flavor profiles will go a step further in 2024, with more out-of-the-box combinations like sweet and bitter, sour and umami, and spicy and sour, says Shannon Cushen, director of marketing for Fuchs North America.
“The bolder, the better when it comes to innovating with unusual and unexpected flavor pairings,” Cushen continues, “so brands should look to the ingredients that are gaining in popularity for their complex and distinct flavor profiles.”
Fuchs recently introduced its Back-to-Basics Collection, a limited-edition line of three seasoning blends created by the company’s sensory scientist, corporate executive chef, and R&D team. Billed as “intensified” takes on the five basic tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami), it includes Peppered Cocoa Spice (dark chocolate, cardamom, and black pepper, providing a bitter profile with a dash of sweetness), Ultimate Umami Blend (dehydrated onion, champignon mushroom, garlic, tomato, green onion, red bell pepper, paprika, yeast extract, and soy sauce), and Tropical Sour Seasoning (sugar, citric acid, and malic acid).
Consumers’ pursuit of products with health and wellness attributes could drive demand for the earthy flavors and functional properties of spices such as garam masala, cardamom, turmeric, and ginger in 2024, says Flavor Insights’ Lawrence.
Chef Corliss picks Pickapeppa Sauce, also known as “Jamaican ketchup” to potentially be the next sweet-sour-savory-spiced condiment to emerge as a flavoring for soup, as a marinade, and in barbecue sauce. Produced since 1921 by the Pickapeppa Company of Manchester, Jamaica, the sweet, sour, mildly spicy sauce is made from cane vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, onions, raisins, sea salt, ginger, peppers, garlic, cloves, black pepper, thyme, mangos, and orange peel, and is aged in oak barrels for a year.
Bitter flavors are becoming more prominent for a few reasons, including government-led public health initiatives, says futurologist Gaye. For instance, the U.S. National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative, supported by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was finalized in February 2021. It provides sugar-reduction targets for manufacturers and foodservice providers to use as part of a public health partnership to benefit Americans.
“Whichever way you slice it, we know sugar is not good for you,” Gaye adds. The younger generations—more educated, exposed to the world’s cuisines, knowledgeable about nutrition, sophisticated in their tastes, and protective of their health—tend (or at least strive) to balance healthy eating styles with careful, limited indulgences in sweet treats, she observes.
Apart from health considerations, bitter flavors are considered elevated and worldly. “When we choose bitter, we are saying ‘I’ve got a sophisticated palate; I’ve been around,’” says Gaye.
And lastly, as we age, our taste buds die off and we can tolerate more complex and bitter flavors, she adds. With 10% of the global population now over the age of 65 and that number growing annually, bitter foods such as arugula and high-cocoa content dark chocolate continue to gain traction in the marketplace.
Flavors play an important role in influencing what consumers perceive as healthy, according to Innova, whose research found that consumers associated berries, summer fruits, nuts, and tropical fruits with health and wellness.
As one nut-based example, Innova points to the refrigerated CORE Keto Peanut Butter Chocolate plant-based keto bar with probiotics, prebiotic fiber, vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, and 0 grams added sugar. CORE Foods describes the bar, with 3 grams net carbs, as “salty-sweet.”
Authentic and genuine fruit flavors are hot now, says Jasmin Masri, technical sales and marketing coordinator for Custom Flavors. “Juicy and sweet berry combinations are stealing the spotlight,” especially flavor profiles such as black raspberry, goji–strawberry combinations, and açai–cherry blends.
Showcasing açai in combination with dark cherries, blueberries, bananas, blackberries, and flax, Dole’s Boosted Blends Berry Spark features frozen cubes that when blended with two cups of milk make a smoothie designed to “support brain and cognitive health.”
Flavors with perceived wellness attributes are in high demand and will continue to be a driver in the new year, says ADM’s Wright. Consumers are pursuing their personalized health and wellness needs, with many managing their holistic well-being through foods and beverages, she adds. According to FMCG Gurus Top Trends for 2023, 64% of global consumers describe their approach to health as proactive.
Ginger, lemongrass, and turmeric are perceived by consumers to support anti-inflammatory and digestive function, says Wright, who also believes emerging varietals like finger lime (also known as caviar lime), kumquat, and calamansi (a citrus hybrid between a kumquat and a mandarin orange native to the Philippines), will ramp up their appearances in new product development.
“The enduring demand for healthy choices will continue to impact flavor development,” says Innova’s Williams. This will be particularly relevant in categories where consumers shop with health as a key priority, for example, plant-based foods or low/no alcohol beverages, but also where flavor can be used to highlight “healthier” alternatives such as botanicals, she adds.
In that vein, zero-proof cocktail-inspired flavors from Virginia Dare’s flavor collection include Apricot Rosemary Bellini, Jasmine Mojito, Yuzu Lime Mule, Cardamom Spiced Lemon Drop, and Marionberry Plum Spritzer.
Sustainability is another area to watch in flavor innovation, Williams adds. As it becomes increasingly important to new foods and beverages, innovators will be challenged to develop products that appeal to consumers on flavor but also meet important ethical values.
Florida Food Products is currently experimenting with an upcycled ingredient that is typically disposed of (making it a sustainable choice)—cascara extract, from the fruit that surrounds the coffee bean. Its unique fruity and brown flavor profile works in a number of applications, says O’Donnell. “You can blend it with bright citrus fruits, or warm flavors like whiskey. We’ve even tried it in an apple cinnamon beverage that can be served warm or cold, like cider.”
Our consumers want to be transported through flavors and feel good about what they are eating and drinking.
- Jaime Lynn Lawrence, R&D Application Scientist , Flavor Insights
Consumers breaking free of pandemic restrictions are reclaiming their “thirst for adventure” via new takes on international flavors, says Kerry’s Nair. “Third culture cuisine [the creation of new dishes and flavor combinations inspired by more than one culture] is unabashed, bold, tells a story, and creates an intercultural collaboration.” Flavors and ingredients coming to the fore in unique creations, says Nair, include tikka sauce wings, za’atar wings, birria ramen, sashimi tostadas, tandoori masala pasta, wasabi/kimchi mashed potatoes, cheeseburger ravioli, and Vietnamese po’boys.
Another example of “authentic flavors reimagined,” according to Innova, is Casa Verde Salsa De Elote Salsa Casera homemade corn salsa from Ponder Foods. Made in small batches with fresh produce, the salsa has “authentic flavor and texture,” and boasts a “Mexican street food vibe,” according to the company. Its ingredients include corn, coconut cream, water, lime juice, white onion, sea salt, avocado oil, garlic, chile de arbol pepper, red chili pepper, and green onion.
“We continue to see consumers using food to explore different cultures and cuisines,” observes Sensient’s Lyons, who expects continued growth in the communion of culinary worlds. “We are seeing things like green curry risotto, tandoori chicken burger, Korean potato salad, and Japanese guacamole popping up on menus, exposing consumers to new cuisines and flavors in familiar dishes.”
Chef Corliss predicts the regional cuisines of Mexico’s Oaxaca, Yucatán, and Mexico City, along with Southeast Asia’s Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia will “provide a robust pipeline for flavor innovation and development,” in 2024.
Showcasing some traditional flavors of Mexican cuisine, Jordan’s Skinny Mixes debuted its Mexico-Inspired Syrups Collection, featuring Churro, Horchata, and Dulce De Leche flavors, in May 2023. They are targeted to consumers “who appreciate the flavors of the culture and want to add its historically sweet inspirations to their favorite beverages without all the unwanted calories and sugar,” according to the company’s press release.
“My 2024 gaze is also cast on the Caribbean—Puerto Rico, Curaçao, and Trinidad and Tobago,” Corliss adds. “The essence of Caribbean cuisine is perfectly poised to impact food and beverage development, as it pulls from indigenous culture and influences from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.” The Caribbean amalgamation of culture, flavors, ingredients, and vibrancy provides a natural pathway to morphing with a broad spectrum of larger 2024 trend areas, he adds—new experience discovery, flavorful wellness, feel-good foods, freshness, citrus/tropical flavors, florals, and complex spicy tastes.
Corliss forecasts increasing popularity for Scotch bonnet, a fiery chili pepper that is sweeter than but closely related to habanero, and both dry and wet jerk seasoning for meats, vegetables, eggs, rice, and stews.
“Right now, consumers are showing interest in some of the more exotic global cuisines, like Ethiopian, Serbian, Moroccan, and Korean,” says Fuchs’ Cushen. “Brands really can’t go wrong when it comes to global flavors.”
International flavors take consumers on a “culinary journey across the globe, infusing products with the essence of various cultures and regions,” says Custom Flavors’ Masri. Italy, Spain, Asia, and South America are the main inspirations behind this trend, she says, contributing an array of sweet, fruit, and dessert flavors such as tiramisu, Sicilian lemon, churros dipped in chocolate, aromatic saffron-infused treats, matcha green tea, lychee, creamy dulce de leche, coffee, and passion fruit. According to FMCG Gurus’ 2023 report, Flavor, Color & Texture in North America, 81% of North American consumers expressed a desire to try new flavors from around the world.
“Newstalgia,” classic nostalgic flavors with an updated twist, continues to influence flavor trends, says Sensient’s Lyons. “Consumers are finding comfort in food mashups and are sentimental while yearning for a return to ... some past period.” These could manifest as updated versions of comfort foods from childhood elevated with a unique, exciting niche flavor, such as mac and cheese spiced with kimchi or pink lemonade with smoky chipotle, Lyons notes.
“We will continue to see more comfort nostalgic flavors and blurring of these flavors, such as alcoholic flavors inspiring sweet and savory foods, [and] dessert-inspired flavors in beverages and meals,” adds Kerry’s Nair.
Nostalgic flavors poised for 2024 prominence include Rocket Pop, rainbow sherbet, s’mores, and dipped waffle cone, says Flavor Insights’ Lawrence. Thirty-eight percent of U.S. consumers like flavors that remind them of their childhood, according to a Mintel presentation titled “Unguilty Pleasures: A Data-Driven Forecast for the Next Big Indulgent Flavors,” given at IFT FIRST in July 2023. Those percentages rise to 44% for males aged 35–54 and 41% for males 55 and older.
Consumers simply want products that make them feel good, however they define that.
- Julie Johnson, President , Health Focus
Among “Americana childhood flavors” with potential, Mintel named s’mores (Quaker DC Gotham City S’mores Instant Oatmeal), peanut butter and jelly (Target’s Favorite Day Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Cookies), and doughnuts (Jeni’s Powdered Jelly Donut Ice Cream).
Mintel advises being inclusive of the nostalgia of different races and ethnicities, with examples like General Mills’ Tres Leches Toast Crunch cereal and Brach’s Desserts of the World jelly beans. In addition, Mintel urges “up-aging” and diversifying nostalgic flavors, pointing to lactose-free Boba x Ice Cream’s Salted Ube S’mores Ice Cream, Hook Coffee’s Give Me S’mores Coffee Drip Bags made with Indian coffee, hot chocolate, marshmallow, and spice flavors from Singapore, and Lavery Brewing Co.’s Grampa Apollo’s S’mores Stout, brewed in small batches with graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows.
So, whether looking back wistfully for the comforts of the past or looking forward with hope for the future, consumers’ priorities remain centered around physical health, mental health, and well-being, says Gaye. “And flavors and fragrances can provide comfort,” in this quest, she adds.
Source: Food Technology Magazine
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