What trends will shape flavour innovation in 2021?

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

What trends will shape flavour development in 2021? / Pic: GettyImages-oleksajewicz
What trends will shape flavour development in 2021? / Pic: GettyImages-oleksajewicz

Related tags Flavour Innovation

The seismic events of 2020 have shaped consumer behaviours and expectations. The COVID-19 pandemic has reached every part of our lives – and the flavours we crave are no exception. Here’s our round-up of the flavour trends we can expect to tickle out taste buds in 2021.

Sweet and heat

One taste trend expected to gain steam in 2021 is sweet and heat, according to the UK’s largest dining membership organisation, Tastecard.

Tastecard polls both the public and professional chefs to predict up-and-coming flavour trends. And this year, the top pick was hot honey.

Hot honey has gained popularity in the US over the last decade where it has been pioneered by brands like Mike’s Hot Honey. The start-up’s founder, Mike Kurtz, reflected: “I first started making Mike’s Hot Honey commercially in 2010 at a pizzeria in NYC where I used to work… Ten years later we’re sold in stores nationwide and work with some of best pizzerias in the US and abroad.”

Tastecard expects a sharp growth trajectory in the UK. In fact, hot honey is such a growing trend that during 2020 only 8% of British consumers had tried it, but by December 2020 over a third of the nation (35%) had it on their food-to-try list for 2021.

The rise in hot honey coincides with the rise in desire for chilli and hot sauces. 27% said they had seen spicy foods popularity rise during 2020 and almost a quarter (24%) said they’d want to try spicy foods for the first time in 2021.

“The sweet & heat trend has been around for a while and is definitely here to stay,”​ Jane Treasure, PizzaExpress F&B Director, which leveraged the flavour combo in its Christmas menu. “We first began to play with this combination in our development kitchen about 2-3 years ago. Then in 2019, along with lots of other new flavour combinations we researched hot honey and it was a clear winner with pizza consumers. We know that customers are drawn towards more bold flavours on pizza and this one certainly delivers on that.”

The rise of hot honey reflects growing appetite for spicy foods. Of the more than 2,000 people polled by Tastecard, 27% said they had seen spicy foods popularity rise during 2020 and almost a quarter (24%) said they’d want to try spicy foods for the first time in 2021.

A taste for adventure

There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns that followed – and, indeed, are still in place – have had an impact on how we eat.

Tastecard’s survey found 39% of Brits say they have become more adventurous in their cooking over the past year, while only 17% reported sticking to ‘traditional home comforts’ in these uncertain times.

Tastecard found that people, confined to their homes, are looking to international cuisine for excitement. The researchers said multiple cuisines are on the rise, including Ethiopian and Vietnamese. However, Japan was found to be one of the biggest influences on people’s dishes (24%) closely followed by South East Asia (20%) and Mexico (18%).

This desire for adventure and international experiences is borne out in Kerry Taste & Nutrition’s annual Taste Charts for 2021.

In Europe, restrictions on movement in 2020 have led to consumers travelling the world with their taste buds. This is reflected in the Taste Charts, with a rise in Korean, Indian, Thai, Greek and Spanish cuisine, as well as exotic notes like Calamansi and Acerola, Kerry said.

“2020 has been a year like no other. During the lockdown period, consumers stayed connected online and continued to share the food that excited them, augmenting the need for playful textures and exciting flavours,”​ observed Christina Matrozou, Marketing Manager for Taste in Europe and Russia.

“Fermentation emerged across several product categories, with vinegar and pickled becoming a top trend and flavour note. The traditional citrus, vanilla, chocolate and BBQ flavours will remain relevant in 2021, but consumers expect these tastes through flavours that are more sustainable or have provenance claims. Meanwhile, botanicals such as lavender, turmeric and basil can meet consumer needs across food and beverage products that support the quest for holistic wellbeing.”

The prominence of provenance 

Proagrica’s business development and enterprise solutions manager Thomas Slaugh agreed that the pandemic has elevated consumer expectations around provenance and health – trends that he too expects to play out in the flavour arena.

“The pandemic has driven consumers to do their due diligence when it comes to the weekly food shop. They’ve wised up to the health implications and broader environmental impacts of the food they eat, and are starting to ask questions.

“In fact, our research recently revealed that 19% of consumers now say they’re paying more attention to the provenance of their food due to ethical reasons. And a corollary is that tastes are changing in tandem with ethics, which is giving rise to greater experimentation with produce and the rising popularity of alt protein and vegan/vegetarian diets,”​ he told FoodNavigator. 

“Agribusinesses serving the food market are going to find themselves under growing pressure from grocers, restaurants and other end users to prove provenance of the products that pass through the supply chain. For example, plant-based meat substitutes use lots of flavourings to mimic the taste of meat consumers are unfamiliar with. Are these naturally sourced? Are they safe to consume? What are their health benefits beyond providing flavouring?”

EHL Ingredients agrees that this shift will have a big influence on flavour and ingredient development throughout 2021.

Tasneem Alonzo, joint managing director at EHL Ingredients, predicts that vegan and plant-based will continue to expand their mainstream appeal.

“Herbs, spices, seasonings and blends can help create new plant-based and meat-free products and open up new opportunities for brands and manufacturers. Foods such as vegan paté or ‘faux-gras’, veggie black pudding, meat-free pies, pasties, sausages and plant-based burgers will be in demand during 2021.”

Alonzo added that a ‘humble’ ingredient is also expected to shine over the coming 12 months, dubbing 2021 ‘the year of the chick pea’.

“The humble chickpea is finding favour thanks to its versatility and nutritional value and we expect this popularity to grow further in 2021. Chickpeas are the main ingredient in hummus and falafel, so are popular with vegans and vegetarians, but they are also being widely consumed dried, puffed or roasted as a snack, or coated in flavour. We’re even starting to see high-protein chickpea-based versions of classic foods such as pasta, rice and ice cream hitting store shelves.”

What does green taste like?

A big trend impacting the entire food value chain - and at least in part supporting the rise of plant-based - is the seismic rise of green consumerism. But in flavours, what does green taste like?

Linking to trends like provenance and the rise of plant-based, eco-consumerism will influence the flavours in fashion, according to Sensient Flavours. In its Trends to Taste report, Sentient suggests successful flavour development requires an understanding of the shifts taking place in society.

James Street, EMEA marketing director, noted: “The intention of Trends to Taste is not only to inspire innovation, but also provide actionable insights to narrow the gap between a brand and its consumers. At Sensient, we believe that understanding consumers in the broader context of socio-cultural trends is vital in order to drive stronger product performance in the marketplace.”

Bell Flavors agrees that environmentalism is making its mark in the flavours space.

According to its annual Spark Trends report: “Sustainability is not just a trend, it's a way of life. It's a series of social, economic, and environmental factors that promote a self-sustaining, well-balanced lifestyle. Daily choices have a major impact on the world and a consumers' role is to pay it forward to Mother Earth protecting her from harmful practices, while preserving cultures, traditions and what makes humans, human.”

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