The real innovators are seeking to provide customers with a glimpse of tomorrow by getting beyond food and drink and moving into cultural anthropology in order to detect global trends that might not manifest themselves in the broader culture for three or four years, she tells FoodNavigator-USA.
“This is what our proprietary Trenz tool is all about. What are the street artists drawing? What’s happening in music videos?“
Lime, 2013 flavor of the year: It started with a color…
But how does this help Firmenich determine what the hot flavor trends will be in 2017?
When you look at all of these cultural inputs, you start to see patterns, says Lakind.
A few years ago, for example, “It started with a color”, she says. “We kept seeing all these different types of green in street art and other places. It didn’t instantly lead to one flavor, but it started to show us the direction that consumers might be going.”
Fast forward to 2013, and lime was selected as Firmenich’s flavor of the year, she says. “Then we saw that Pantone had chosen emerald as its color of the year and we knew we were onto something.”
We kept seeing all these different types of green in street art and other places
She adds: “Often it’s not about a ‘new’ flavor, the next baobab, but how an ingredient or flavor that’s been around forever is used.
In the case of lime, it’s a classic flavor that is also complex and sophisticated, which fits into several consumer trends and has resonance in multiple cultures and demographics, says Lakind.
It’s also highly versatile, working well in sweet and savory dishes and multiple applications from ready-to-drink tea, candy, gum, desserts, dressings, vodkas and margaritas
And it features heavily in a variety of cuisines gaining in popularity from Latin-themed dishes (Peruvian ceviche, Mexican chicken tortilla soup) to Thai and Indonesian foods as well as all American classics such as key lime pie.
What’s happening in truffles and chocolate can signal future flavor trends
While what’s happening in restaurants can provide useful pointers as to what might filter down into the mainstream of food culture, Firmenich’s TechnoChefs also closely monitor what’s happening in juice bars, craft breweries, cocktail bars, chocolate and personal care products, says Lakind.
“We’re seeing an explosion of innovation in vodka flavor profiles, while we’re also seeing whiskey being promoted to women. What’s happening in truffles and chocolate can also signal future flavor trends - look at salted caramel.”
But not everything begins in Michelin starred restaurants, swanky cocktail bars or gourmet chocolate stores, she observes.
Food trends can start anywhere, burn brightly and disappear faster than ever before as social media platforms have given consumers the power to share trends, recipes and opinions around the world in record time.
"We’re also seeing that companies in the private label market and mainstream foodservice chains - which used to be seen as followers of trends rather than drivers - are getting a lot more innovative.
“Look at Dunkin Donuts, they are doing a lot of innovative work on the flavor side as they don’t want to make me-too products.”
Consumers want ‘true to the fruit’ flavor profiles
So what’s happening at the more granular level?
Starting with fruits, while interest in lychees remains strong in North America as Asian cuisine gains momentum, enthusiasm for other ‘exotic’ fruits has started to wane recently as consumers have looked to homegrown blueberries and blackberries, she says.
“As for citrus fruits, tangerine, clementine and blood orange remain popular flavors, but consumers want ‘true to the fruit’ flavor profiles.”
On the spice front, cardamom is starting to emerge as a hot flavor trend in many categories, she says.