Consumers generally are interested in foods and drinks that give them a sense of health and wellbeing, energy, relaxation, indulgence or exoticism, and increasingly they are looking for less sweet flavours, Rice told FoodNavigator. He suggests that these may be some of the overarching areas to explore in new product development, rather than seeking the most cutting-edge new flavours.
“There’s a lot of complexity out there. And there’s a lot of hype out there, which slightly misleads people,” he said.
He added that the flavours sector had become increasingly fragmented, requiring food makers and suppliers alike to be more flexible. For example, a flavour may be successful in one product category but not in others, or it may be popular one summer but not the next.
“If we think about a flavour trend that is successful, what I think is on the rise is the use of flavours that communicate the consumer trend of that product,” Rice said.
Flavours that communicate wellbeing may include blossom flavours, lavender or camomile, for example, while energy drinks might do well with more vibrant fruit flavours.
“It is the flavour that communicates to the consumer what the product is about.”
What’s a fad and what’s a trend?
“It’s important to distinguish between a fad and a trend,” he said. “Both are valuable and both are profitable. A lot of companies are successful by following fads and being the first one there.
“Trends tend to be more long term and develop over time.”
Coconut water, for example, has received a lot of media attention in recent years, but Rice says he would call it a fad rather than a trend.
“I think it’s shown us that consumers want something that’s natural and less sweet. But it wasn’t the final answer,” he said. “The overall trend is prevailing, and it’s going to evolve into different things. …A lot of people missed the big picture, that the coconut water sparked the beginning of a trend, but it was a lot bigger than that.”
A fool’s game
Meanwhile, food and drink makers are continuously looking for the ingredient that will give their product a point of difference to make it stand out from the competition. Flavour may do that, but it could depend on the application or the occasion, Rice said, suggesting that some consumers may want an exotic-flavoured alcoholic drink on a night out, but prefer plain water during the day.
“You can pluck these flavours out of thin air. It is a bit of a fool’s game,” he said. “…The consumer trend comes first and the flavour comes in hand with that to enhance the whole product.”
From specialty ingredient to regional ingredient
One such trend is demand for information on provenance for ingredients, Rice says – and this could apply to the way companies position their use of flavours as well. While companies used to communicate about a certain spice or chilli variety, now they might talk about ingredients associated with particular regions of India or South America.
“In savoury snacks and confectionery, a little bit of added flavour from a particular cuisine could help lift a product off the shelf,” he said.