Europeans tend to be quite conservative when it comes to flavour, but there are ways to create innovative tastes even around well-established popular flavours, says Euromonitor ingredients analyst Lauren Bandy.
The Western European flavours market accounts for a fifth of the global total, but five key markets are forecast to decline over the next five years – Austria, Italy, Greece, France and the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Turkey has been by far the fastest growing market for food and drink flavours in the region over the past five years.
But that’s not to say that product developers should give up on flavour innovation in Western Europe.
“For new product development, innovation is really quite key,” said Bandy. “Using flavours is a good way to catch consumers’ attention. It is becoming increasingly important, especially in Europe, because the packaged food market has slowed down.”
Soft drinks lead flavour innovation
Some product categories are more open to innovation than others, with soft drinks leading the way; the category accounted for 65% of all flavours sold globally last year. Bandy said the high level of flavour innovation in beverages was mainly due to how easy it is to formulate and produce new soft drinks compared to other products.
“It really depends on the format, or the product. With a savoury snack it might be harder to manufacture that kind of product, so a manufacturer needs to know that they are going to get the results at the end,” she said.
Top European flavour preferences for soft drinks rarely change, with most Europeans choosing lemon, lime and orange flavours – but innovative twists on these have potential, she said.
“If there is innovation it seems to be around those three flavours, for example lemon and green tea. I think natural is the way forward – green tea and things like hibiscus. More plant-based flavours are most popular.
“Even if it is around three flavours, I think you can still innovate.”
Plain vanilla still reigns…
Ice cream is a similar story. The top ice cream flavour preferences haven’t changed for years – and are international, Bandy said – with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry coming in as the top consumer choices in Europe, the United States, Australia, and even China and India.
“It is nostalgia,” she said. “It’s what people had growing up…People go back to them because they are trusted.”
Again, companies are innovating around the three most popular flavours, with Ben and Jerry’s launching chocolate-based ‘Core’ ice creams last year, featuring a soft chocolate fudge centre. Other brands followed suit.
“In ice cream in particular, people know what they want, and it tends to be indulgence. In chocolate, there has been a lot of development in using chocolate as a focus for innovation,” she said.
“Of course, ice cream is indulgent in itself, even in vanilla.”
Other categories that are particularly open to new flavours include confectionery, and sweet and savoury snacks, but there is a limited number of consumers willing to try something really new and different.
“Using a different flavour is perhaps a good way to get the consumer in the short term. They might try a more unusual flavour but there is risk in whether they would go back to buy it again,” she said.
“Fairly obviously, I think it is young people who are most likely to try new flavours – and emerging markets.
“…A typical American potato chip is likely to do well in India,” she said, adding that traditional American flavours like salted and ketchup are appearing alongside traditional Indian flavours.
In addition, social media is playing an increasing role in driving food companies’ decisions around new flavours, allowing consumers themselves to pick their favourite from several candidates.
“It is becoming a good way to gauge what consumers want. You are probably getting the young consumers who might be the most adventurous anyway.”