From classic citrus to unicorn kisses: Beverage flavor trends
Starting simply and logically, health and wellness trends are feeding into flavor trends, notes Jennifer Zhou, Senior Director of Product Marketing, North America, ADM. That could mean fruit, veg, floral flavors or botanicals.
“Consumers increasingly link what they eat and how they feel, and many of them are drawn to flavors that offer perceptions of a “health halo,” she explains.
"For example, botanicals are viewed as natural by 66% of global consumers, “better-for-me” by 63% of consumers, and both premium and tasty by 43% of consumers. Florals and herbs are frequently used in cocktails and mocktails, such as mint, juniper, elderflower, hibiscus and rose.
“We believe that consumers’ movement towards fresh foods will manifest in very real ways through the fresh profiles of beverages in the coming months. While sweet, sour, salty and even spicy have each taken the spotlight on consumer palates, the often-overlooked sensory camp of green and fresh vegetal notes is ripe to emerge in all types of beverage formats.
"Though consumers may not have time to make their own green juice concoctions in their morning blender, there is opportunity to bring the fresh leafy notes to retail beverages and bring authenticity to ready-to-drink products. Whether through carrot and purple yam (ube) lattes with an earthy sweetness, the celery notes in a freshly made Bloody Mary mocktail or the green pepper notes in a fruity margarita twisted with jalapeño, fresh green profiles will make their way to consumers’ favorite new beverage experiences.”
The weird and the wonderful
But beverage flavors are also taking on some more curious turns. Coca-Cola, for example, this year launched its Coca-Cola Creations series, intending to ‘bring a sense of intrigue and newness to a 136-year-old brand’. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar Byte ‘brings the flavor of pixels to life in a limited-edition beverage that transcends the digital and physical worlds’; while Coca-Cola Starlight is described as an ‘intergalactic flavor’.
The US’ Polar Beverages limited editions have included a ‘mystical’ set of seltzers: Dragon Whispers, Yeti Mischief, Unicorn Kisses and Mermaid Songs.
“While some trending flavors are very down to earth, we’re also seeing a trend toward abstract or conceptual flavors," notes Zhou.
"New colas are evoking the experience of stargazing at a campfire with ethereal fruity notes paired with earthy, smoky and comforting brown notes. Likewise, sparkling and seltzer waters appeal to the young at heart with fantasy flavor profiles, such as bubble gum combined with fruity notes to emulate unicorns or tangy yet refreshing punch-like profiles to represent yetis."
But you should keep your classics…
With flavors taking on these abstract and fantasy tones, are classic flavors a thing of the past? Not at all, says Zhou.
Citrus, for example, remains the most classic flavor profile, accounting for nearly 30% of new product launches, according to Mintel’s Global New Product Database 2022.
“Traditional orange, lemon and lime continue to hold consumer attention, while mandarin, pink grapefruit and blood orange are becoming mainstream worldwide,” said Zhou.
“Now product developers are reinventing the classics with varietals for a zesty twist. These varietals may be seen as exotic or a local favorite depending on the region of the product launch. For instance, Italian consumers are familiar with Sicilian lemon, which may be lesser known to shoppers in South America or Asia.
"We’re excited to elevate flavored waters, seltzers, iced teas and more with offerings like finger lime, a flavor native to Australia that is not typically used in beverages. Plus, with advanced technology we can bring flavors that are fresher and more stable to all varietals of citrus-inspired drinks.
“Berry is another flavor category with staying power. With a similar fruity balance of sweetness and acidity to citrus, berries are delicious mixers often found in teas, juices and flavored waters.
"While strawberry is always a crowd pleaser, we see diversity in new launches featuring blackberry, black raspberry, and even elderberry for its association by consumers to immunity.
"Blueberry has not yet been a mainstream standalone flavor, and we foresee this coming forward as a natural source for blue-colored beverages, enabling flavor and color congruency in product concepts.”
Moving away from the fresh and fruity palette, Whitney Johnson, Beverage Applications Manager – Retail/QSR Group, Sensient Flavors & Extracts, Business Development Technical Manager, highlights that nostalgia – which emerged as a key trend during the pandemic – remains important in 2022.
“We are seeing trends in nostalgic flavors like blue raspberry, cotton candy, snow cones, etc. Flavors that bring you back to a simpler time or your childhood and create that fuzzy nostalgia feeling.
“Citrus is still very relevant. In a flavor line up there is usually a citrus product. We have seen them standalone like a Lemon or a Lime but then also pair with other citrus, berry flavors, and tropical flavors.”
Despite all the weird and wonderful flavors out there, don't get too carried away, warns Zhou: "We’re also seeing a practical desire for neutral flavors, such as protein powders with flavors that don’t overpower and instead complement the flavors of fruits, spices and non-dairy milks blended into an active nutrition shake."
But like Zhou of ADM, she also sees botanical, herbal and spicy cues taking a more important role in beverage flavors: particularly when carefully chosen to create the right appeal between comfort and familiarity and a taste of the exotic.
“We are also seeing trends with fruit flavors with a spice, herbal or floral note: Something that is familiar but then adds a little more adventure to the product."