Modern consumers’ interest in health and wellness continues to shape their choices across food and beverage – and that’s also reflected in the flavors they’re drawn to.
“Today’s consumers are increasingly drawn to products that provide wellness support, with 64% of global consumers describing their approach to health as proactive,” notes Micah Greenhill, marketing director of beverages at nutrition company ADM. “Given that, we’re seeing intriguing flavor profiles in various beverage applications that consumers connect with different wellness attributes.
“For example, botanical flavors are progressively prevalent, and research shows that nearly 70% of consumers indicate the presence of botanicals in a beverage product made them perceive it as healthier for them – whether a health claim was being made or not,” continued Greenhill, citing FMCG Gurus’ data. “Enticing combinations of floral and herbal flavors, such as lavender hibiscus, juniper mint, strawberry basil and cardamom rose, are making their way into a variety of beverages. Lavender in particular is trending, as consumers associate it with feelings of relaxation.”
And this interest in wellness is also fueling flavor innovations with associations to functionality, adds Francois Camelio, Technical Sales Manager, Foodology by Univar Solutions.
“Building on the “halo” effect of certain natural ingredients, where there is the perception of functionality in terms of mental or physical health, there is growing interest in functional flavours. Drawing from fruits, roots, botanicals, and adaptogens, some examples of popular functional flavours include ginseng root (immune support/energy boost), and ginger (anti-inflammatory/cognitive focus), turmeric (anti-inflammatory/antioxidant), and reishi mushrooms (immune support/stress reduction).
“In botanicals, we’re seeing black tea, florals (hop flowers, cherry blossom, butterfly pea flower, jasmine, etc.) and spice varieties.”
Firm favorites: citrus and tropical
Perennial favorite citrus is going strong: in fact, Mintel’s Global New Product Database 2022 tracked citrus in nearly 30% of new product launches in 2022.
ADM’s own research, meanwhile, found that all US consumers surveyed said they were looking for ‘bold and/or/ vibrant citrus experiences’, gesturing to the longevity of the flavor profile.
“Traditional orange, lemon and lime, as well as more adventurous emerging varieties such as finger lime, calamansi and blood orange, are frequently featured in a variety of beverages like seltzers, energy drinks and ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails,” says Greenhill of ADM.
“Interestingly, our research finds that 39% of U.S. survey respondents who frequently consume energy drinks are most excited by aromatic, juicy and acidic characteristics, lending well to emerging citrus varietals like bitter orange and tangelo. Hard seltzer and RTD cocktail drinkers are even more open for exploration and delighted by complex notes, enabling new possibilities with profiles from pomelo or pink grapefruit.”
Getting creative: LTOs
"Consumers are becoming increasingly curious and adventurous with flavor," says Greenhill of ADM. "Limited-time offerings (LTOs) can help meet these desires, with 73% of global consumers stating they like limited-edition flavors because it is exciting to try new things [FMCG Gurus 2022].
"LTOs featuring fierce flavors, like a spicy yet sweet canned cocktail combining tajin, lime and dragon fruit, or a tea drink with earthy matcha and decadent vanilla, or a new cola with a hint of marshmallow and spices, can provide consumers with the taste exploration they’re seeking."
Like citrus, tropical remains a firm favorite – and even more so than ever.
“Markedly, we’re currently seeing a huge surge in authentic tropical flavor varieties," continues Greenhill.
"From pineapple to coconut, passionfruit and mango, these flavor profiles are at the forefront in beverage product development. More emergent tropical flavors include dragon fruit, calamansi and guava.”
In fact, in looking at the top UK beverage flavors so far in 2023, Innova Market Insights finds flavors such a passion fruit and mango have featured much higher in beverage launches than traditional flavors such as lemon and lime. And these are trending strongly in both soft drinks and alcoholic drinks – and the emerging low/no space inbetween.
“There’s a move by drinks manufacturers towards cocktail flavours and tropical flavours particularly in the RTD premium adult drinks categories and the low and no alcohol space,” notes Briony Rideout, Beverage Innovations Specialist at I.T.S.
In alcoholic beverages, fruit and tropical flavors are joined by sweet dessert flavors and sour candy concoctions.
Camelio of Foodology highlights that flavor trends are flowing between soft drinks and alcoholic drinks.
"There’s a definite crossover or overlap of flavours across the soft drink space, the alcoholic beverage space, and the low/no alcohol space. For example, there are many recent beverage launches of IPAs (both alcoholic and the low/no alcohol) boosted with citrus flavours. Also, the cold-brew coffee Guinness is new.
"There is an emergence of hard teas and hard seltzers that are exploring traditional soft drink/nostalgic flavours, as well as botanical and florals."
"In the beer category, tropical flavours have been dominating IPAs and pale ales too with the rise in popularity of fruity and hazy drinks with a high ABV," says Rideout of I.T.S.
"The sours craze in confectionery is now being targeted at ‘kidoults’ in the form of sours beer and so opening up beer consumption to a new younger market. Pretty much any fruit flavour, or fruit flavour combination can work in a sour beer.
"Darker beers such as porters and stout work well with sweet dessert flavours – this kind of hybrid can be seen across many different food and beverage types. Cask beers are starting to rise in popularity too, as consumer interest in nostalgia continues to grow, with more new craft brewers taking things old school and bringing on cask variants enhanced with rich traditional beer flavours.
"Flavoured lagers are now also on the rise as lager provides a very easy and straightforward base for flavouring. It’s a great way for manufacturers to create fruity and refreshing beverages that appeal to a wide range of drinkers."
Standout flavor picks in RTD cocktails at the moment are Espresso Martini, Negroni and Passionfruit Martini, continues Rideout. And these are prominent in the low and no category, helping give a sense of luxury and tackling any 'Fear of Missing out' from traditional alcoholic cocktails.