Consumer tastes are polarised along two trends: exotic flavours, and retro flavours that conjure up memories of the good old days, according to a new report from Datamonitor.
The rise and rise of exotic flavours has been well documented by market analysts in the last few years, especially since some of the most unusual new tastes come from 'superfruits' that are high in antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients.
But at the same time, there is a surge in demand for retro food, as consumers seek comfort in flavours from the past - particularly those they remember from their childhoods.
Although desiring the new and hankering after the old seem to be complete opposites, Datamonitor says that both are hedonistic, and both have fierce emotions behind them. Product marketers can use these emotional associations to their advantage, by using 'scent story' branding to engage with consumers on a sensory level, and encourage emotional buying.
It is a similar idea to sonic branding, which involves the use of voices, music or functional sounds to trigger a happy memory.
Michael Hughes, a consumer analyst with Datamonitor and author of the report, said: "Sensory branding, if executed the right way, should result in deeper producer-consumer relationships because the senses are so closely connected with emotions."
He believes that such methods will become increasingly important as consumers wish to experience more pleasure and sensation from products.
The emotional pull that underlies exotic flavours, according to Datamonitor, can be the memory of a pleasant holiday. Modern consumers have more frequent and more diverse holiday experiences that previous generations, and as they are exposed to more regions and cultures they seek to incorporate aspects into their daily lives.
Hedonism, says Datamonitor, is increasingly important "as post materialist consumers look for more excitement and sensation in life".
What is more, changing migration patterns mean that ethnic foods are no longer just sold in specialty stores in Europe, but they also take prominent position on supermarket shelves
"Retail stores are recognising, and responding to, the potential spending power of migrant groups by stocking more varied ethnic dishes," said Hughes. "However the growing desire for new and exotic flavours has resulted in certain ethnic foods being incorporated into a country's staple diet."
An obvious example of this is curry in the UK, which is now said to be the most popular dish in the country across the general population, but has only really hit the mainstream in the last 20 years.
As for the nostalgic urge, according to Datamonitor this is most prevalent amongst senior consumers, "who are seeking to recreate 'the good old days' as a result of the rise of me-centric individualism".
Datamonitor had not responded to a request for examples of popular nostalgic flavours prior to publication.
Even so, a 2006 consumer survey conducted by Datamonitor found that the quest for novelty is more prevalent than the desire to recapture tastes of yore.
In all countries surveyed (France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, UK and US), more than 30 per cent of consumers questioned said they had tried more food with new or exotic flavours in the last 12 months.
The most likely consumers to experiment were in Sweden, where 52 per cent said they had tried new flavours, followed by 50 per cent in Spain and 45 per cent in the UK.
By contrast, the research found that 20 per cent of consumers overall had bought nostalgic grocery items in the last year either slightly or much more than in the previous year.
The new Datamonitor report is called Creating Sensory Appeal: Sensory and Flavor trends in Food and Drinks: Maximising sensory appeal to emotionally engage food and beverage shoppers.