Every food and beverage product developer has an ear to the ground in the hunt for the next big flavour trend. Using data, insights and indeed intuition, NPD specialists form a picture of where they think the consumer is going and what they think will deliver category excitement.
The link people are making between health and diet is stronger than ever and consumer understandings of what is - and isn't - healthy are evolving. As a result, flavours that can be found in nature are gaining steam and plant-based flavour blends are attracting attention.
The ongoing shift to clear label solutions continues to push consumers toward food-based flavour solutions: flavouring food with food.
Supported by the health and wellness mega-trend, the expectation that ingredients should be based on what consumers view as traditional foods has certainly mainstreamed.
This is resulting in a proliferation of botanic extracts used to flavour food and beverage products.
According to German flavour house Bell Flavors and Fragrances, plant-based extracts offer a natural flavour, together with “enhanced” organoleptic characteristics and “advantages” in depiction and clean labelling.
“Authentic eating has not only become a major food and drink trend – the growing focus on transparency and natural claims underlines the strong need for ingredients that continue to deliver higher value,” Agneta Hoffmann, a marketing specialist at Bell’s flavour division, observed.
Back to nature
As consumer understandings of health evolve, there is a growing focus on products that are perceived as ‘natural’.
“Understanding of health is changing… consumers are suspicious of chemicals,” IRI Shopper Insights analyst Martin Wood confirmed.
In some respects, this has resulted in something of a rejection of what consumers consider ‘flavoured’ products over ‘natural’ flavours.
This trend is evident in the UK yoghurt sector, for instance, Wood revealed during a presentation at the Ingredients Show Education Theatre at the NEC in Birmingham yesterday (17 April). “Natural [yoghurt] is not only 70% of the market but it is growing faster than anything else. People are moving away from flavoured yoghurts,” Wood noted.
According to IRI data, sales of natural yoghurt are growing at 5.6%. This far outstrips the flavoured varieties, where coconut yoghurt is gaining 1% and honey increased 0.4%. “Products flavoured with coconut, which have been feted everywhere, don’t really register,” Wood observed.
There is some evidence to support that consumer interest in flavours that are perceived as ‘indulgent’ or exotic are gaining interest, with skinny latte, salted caramel and peanut & caramel all registering in the top ten flavour performers.
“Flavoured yoghurt is struggling for all sorts of reasons. Partly because of promotions in store. There has been a big decrease in the number of multibuys. The number of lines on average [on shelf] has gone down a lot. Having the right flavour is more important than ever,” Wood stressed.
Fruit flavours might sound passé but in a consumer environment where health concerns are front and centre and natural ingredients are in high demand, fruit flavours are proving a sales driver.
Tesco recently said sales of products containing pineapples have made it the 'fruit of the moment'. According to the UK retailer, sales of pineapple juice up by more than 20%; Hawaiian pizzas (which Tesco described as “the most divisive of pizzas”) are up by more than 15%; snacking pineapple fingers are up by 30%; and even tinned pineapple chunk sales have risen up by 5%.
“Demand for pineapples is growing because of the fruit’s great versatility in main dishes and desserts as well as a healthy snacking food,” Tesco buyer Morgan Jaquemet told FoodNavigator.
Elsewhere, Austrian ingredients supplier Esarom predicted mango flavours are poised for further growth in Europe.
Global product launches incorporating mango flavours have increased by 240% over the last ten years, according to Innova Market Insights. Esarom believes there is still room to grow, predicting that 2018 will be “the year of the mango”.
According to Susanne Winter, marketing manager at Esarom, this is because mango is able to straddle the line between familiar and exotic, mainstream and mysterious.
“Globally seen, people like exotic tastes, but not too exotic ones. Mango is well known, it is not necessary to explain. This makes it easier for the [food and beverage] producers,” Winter said.
According to IRI’s Wood, the success of fruity flavours can be seen in data on fizzy drink sales in the UK. While traditional cola flavours have the largest market share in this category, their sales dropped 30% year-on-year according to IRI data.
“What is the fastest growing flavour in fizzy drinks?” Wood asked. “Tonic water. There has been an absolute explosion. But generally speaking, it’s the fruits that are doing best.”