The answer seems to lie in the changing palette of the consumer. Not satisfied with products that keep tastes around fruit flavours, the demand for “smart blending” of vegetable ingredients was noticeable among suppliers at FiE in Frankfurt.
Dutch-based SVZ showcased a portfolio of green vegetable ingredients that includes spinach, kale, cucumber, courgette, pepper and broccoli, as well as its carrot and red beet range.
Their offerings very much tap into the rise of juice-based cleansing and detoxing regimes with heavyweight green vegetables as well as the search for nutrient dense, minimally processed snacks and drinks.
“Fusions of fruit and veg are really giving exciting tastes,” said Johan Cerstiaens, sales director for Dutch-based SVZ International.
“Kale is of course popular but now you see the inclusion of spinach as well as cucumber, which had previously been a difficult vegetable to blend due to its particular taste.
“Our most popular vegetable though is red beet, in which we tripled its sales volumes within the last year. People like its earthy tastes and it adds a beautiful colour to the product.”
“The savoury flavour note that is typical on vegetables is much more accepted. In the past this flavour was masked with apple, grape and red beet.
Changing populations, changing tastes
Cerstiaens points to the changing demographic of Europe in which a multinational population, particularly amongst the millennials, is more open to vegetable flavours that once were considered undesirable.
“If you look back a few years ago, vegetables were included in a product as a “stealth” ingredient meaning that they were in the product but you were not allowed to taste it,” he said.
“Now you see consumers really wanting to have that taste and is much more widely accepted.”
Market leader Innocent was amongst the first to introduce smoothies that blend fruit, veg and botanicals to their product line-up.
In using unusual ingredients such as crushed flax seeds, spirulina, safflower extract, beetroot and baobab, the UK-based firm has introduced the exotic to the mainstream.
Firmly entrenched in satisfying this demand is US-based brand Naked Juice, a wholly owned subsidiary of PepsiCo, with its 20 or so variants of straight and blended 100% fruit and vegetable juices.
Recent comments made by vegetable smoothie maker Love Taste Co are perhaps more telling. Speaking to FoodNavigator, founder Richard Canterbury spoke of the “vegetable smoothie segment explosion in the last two-to-three years”, becoming their largest selling range of smoothies. “It is out-performing expectations,” he noted.
“From a taste perspective, Asia is much more into the savoury notes. The flavours of green vegetables are more widely accepted there,” added Cerstiaens.
“This is a trend that is becoming more noticeable in the US and here in Europe we are starting to accept it.”
The squeeze on fruit
However, the focus on vegetable inspired drinks doesn’t mean demand for fruity tones are not wanted.
Fruit-focused products will always have a place in the consumer palette due to their health benefits, natural sugar content and of course their pleasant taste and appearance.
“Tropical fruit is becoming more popular,” said Cerstiaens. “People in Europe are increasingly asking for more exotic fruits like guava, pink guava, and different varieties of mango.
“I also find people are looking to blend the flavours of basil, mint and other botanicals as a way of extending the range of tastes.
“We see this indeed as a trend,” added Peter Forceville, head of sales and marketing EMEA and LATAM at Taura Natural Ingredients. “But at the end of the day, the vast majority of consumers prefer traditional flavours.”
“That’s not to say exotic flavours are not popular. It has become more common today but I would say blends a hint of exotic flavours is preferable. For example, we would not present an acai fruit piece but we would make a blend of blueberry and acai. The exotic flavour is more subtle.”
Taura, a Belgium-based firm that is part of the Frutarom stable, was amongst a handful of ingredients suppliers offering flavour combinations that blend the Eastern spices with Western tastes.
“Our ingredients will inspire a world of new concepts,” said Gwynnie Hagen, sales manager – EMEA at Taura Natural Ingredients.
“Imagine trail mix that contains pineapple curry pieces as well as nuts, or chocolate with yuzu, basil and lime.”