Which flavors will be hot in 2020? Leading flavor houses gave Nutritional Outlook their predictions for which flavors consumers will be looking for in food, drinks, and dietary supplements. (Nutritional Outlook’s previous yearly forecasts can be found here: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014.)
Leading flavor themes for 2020 include a growing focus on nostalgic sweet flavors, sour and fermented flavors, and fruity flavors with a healthy halo. Regional influences also continue to entice the adventurous consumer.
The key is to remember that today’s consumers are embracing a broader range of flavors than ever before. “The everyday consumer now is very different and unpredictable,” says Keera Perumbala, marketing manager at Sensient Flavors (Hoffman Estates, IL). “They are athletes, wellness enthusiasts, vegans, connoisseurs, well-traveled, and aware. Food and beverage brands are constantly reinventing themselves in order to meet the needs of the future consumer. Unique flavor profiles combined with distinctive experiences are essential to a product’s success.”
Here are the flavors formulators should keep on their radar.
Sweet flavors will always have a home with consumers. Food, drink, and supplement shoppers continue to find comfort not only in classic dessert themes but also confectionery flavors that bring back memories of childhood.
Gummy candy is one example of a nostalgic flavor now experiencing a revival, including in the ever-popular gummy dietary supplement. “One category of flavors to watch in 2020 is gummy candy flavors,” Megan Byrnes, marketing manager for flavor supplier Gold Coast Ingredients (Commerce, CA), tells Nutritional Outlook. “The nutraceutical industry has experienced an ongoing trend with sour, rainbow, peach, and fish-shaped gummy candy flavors. We predict more companies will add gummy candy flavors to their product range, as well as replicate the taste of alternative branded candies as well.”
Philip Caputo, marketing and consumer insights manager for flavors firm Virginia Dare (Brooklyn, NY), also points to a return of flavors reminiscent of “childhood bliss.”
“In the indulgent flavor space, childhood-inspired adult flavor hybrids are trending, as these profiles are associated with happiness, positive taste memories, and childhood bliss,” says Caputo. He notes that what Virginia Dare calls its Forever Young flavors include options such as Candy Classics, Lemonade, Mocktail, Cereal Milk, Carnival, and Upscale Desserts. “The positive emotions associated with these flavors can positively affect mood, therefore increasing motivation, energy, and confidence—which makes them particularly intriguing opportunities for performance nutrition products,” he adds.
Cotton candy is another childhood favorite, says Byrnes. “In addition to gummy candy flavors, cotton candy has been reintroduced to the nutraceutical market through various beverage products,” she says. “Cotton candy has also been a trending ingredient in the dairy, bakery, and restaurant industries. We foresee an increasing number of cotton candy–flavored products hitting the market in 2020 with slight variations in flavor profiles. For example, watch out for flavors such as grape cotton candy, blue raspberry cotton candy, strawberry cotton candy, rainbow cotton candy, and unicorn cotton candy.”
Popsicles are another throwback whose flavors consumers recently began embracing again, Byrnes adds. “Red, white, and blue popsicle flavor landed on the trend list in 2019. We predict rainbow popsicle and other fruit popsicle flavors will start to appear on product labels in 2020.”
Candy flavors aside, other youthful desserts also continue inspiring food, beverage, and supplement choices. Birthday cake, for instance, appeals as a flavor to those “with a sweet tooth looking for unique flavors that are youthful, fun, and celebratory,” says flavor supplier Synergy Flavors (Wauconda, IL). This flavor is making its way into categories like sports nutrition, such as in protein bars.
Cookie dough remains popular, and 2020 will be no different, according to Comax Flavors (Melville, NY) in its 2020 flavor trend predictions. “Eating raw cookie dough is a nostalgic act, and thanks to pasteurization and heat treatment, 2017 was the breakout year for safe, edible raw cookie dough,” the company said in a press release.
Cookie dough as a flavor continues to be popular with both adults and children, the company notes, with market research firm Technomic’s MenuMonitor reporting that cookie dough is experiencing 9% year-over-year growth on restaurant menus. With this in mind, Comax offers its So Doughlicious flavor range, which includes Birthday Cake Cookie Dough, Cold-Brew Coffee Cookie Dough, and S’mores Cookie Dough, all of which can be used in everything from dairy and ice cream to baked goods, nutrition and performance products, confections, nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverages, and beverage syrups.
Synergy Flavors likewise points to the success of “nostalgic” cookie dough flavors in the sports nutrition market, in products such as protein shakes and smoothies.
In fact, cookie flavors of all kinds continue to be popular. Comax notes that IRI data show that the cookie category increased 2.6% to reach $8.8 billion in the 52 weeks ending March 24, 2019.
Speculoos is one of those trending cookie flavors gaining mainstream prominence. The food industry has taken inspiration from this European spiced shortcrust biscuit for everything from cookie butters and truffles to ice cream. Synergy Flavors says speculoos is also promising in sports nutrition.
Another throwback, S’mores, continues to hold court as well. Synergy Flavors, for instance, points to its growth in categories like granola bars and even cereal.
Virginia Dare’s Caputo says marshmallow flavors in general continue to trend. “Following its upscaling in years past, we expect the marshmallow flavor to further expand,” he predicts.
Gold Coast’s Byrnes agrees. “Nutraceutical consumers have also responded well to marshmallow flavors: toasted marshmallow, chocolate marshmallow, hot cocoa marshmallow, and even peanut butter marshmallow. We foresee a new marshmallow pairing in the near future—possibly caramel marshmallow?”
When it comes to sweet flavors, Caputo said, finding ways to update many of these classics is key. “Elevated classics—merging vanilla, cocoa, caramel, maple, banana, and other favorites with sophisticated flavor pairing—like vanilla tarragon blueberry, maple curry spice, vanilla anise and mint, and cocoa cardamom” will be an ongoing movement, he says. He adds: “Bet on banana as a star flavor: upscale banana breads, supplement powders, protein bars, and the fire treatments—caramelized, burnt, grilled, brown-buttered, and flambéd.”
“Sweet spices” are also finding usage occasions outside of traditional holidays, says Caputo. For instance, he points to spices that can be paired with other flavors like chocolate, vanilla, maple, and fruit. These can yield combinations such as Chai Apple Cider, Clementine Cardamom, Spiced Cranberry, Vanilla Anise, and Maple Cinnamon.
Cinnamon is also firmly in demand, says Byrnes. She describes cinnamon as “here to stay.” Cinnamon-based flavors include snickerdoodle, churro, cinnamon bun, horchata, cinnamon children’s cereal, and cinnamon French toast.
Fruity notes continue to play well with all consumers, including those who associate these flavors with health and wellness.
Firmenich Flavors (Geneva, Switzerland) has named “classic blueberry” its 2020 Flavor of the Year, noting that “traditional is now trendy.” In a press release, Firmenich Flavors’ president Emmanuel Butstraen commented: “What’s classic is new again. With blueberry, we celebrate a flavor that is timeless and enduring, but also increasingly relevant. Blueberry has been a beloved flavor for centuries in many markets, and today, with our increasing focus on health and wellness, blueberries are being rediscovered and growing to be one of the most relevant flavors in many categories.”
Based on social media observations, the company says, blueberries are often seen as a leading nutrient in terms of healthfulness, and formulators are paying attention. Firmenich reports that blueberry’s use in food and beverages has grown consecutively since 2008, with USDA data showing that U.S. blueberry production has increased fivefold since 2007. As a flavor used in new product development, blueberry has grown 101% over the past 10 years globally, including in markets such as Middle East, Latin America, and Asia, per Mintel data. Firmenich also points to Mintel data showing blueberry’s growth in a wide range of food and drink categories, including baby food, snacks, special drinks, breakfast cereal, sports and energy drinks, and alcoholic drinks. Blueberries are now found in everything from products you’d expect to more surprising places like savory pizzas, grain bowls, meat dishes, and even noodles, Firmenich reports.
One of the reasons for blueberry’s success is that it not only works well alone but also pairs well with many other flavors, the company adds. “Classic blueberry is a fantastic flavor to work with because it’s robust and multifaceted,” said Eric Tang, flavorist, Firmenich, in the press release. “Blueberry has standout floral notes and distinct tanginess, with fresh green and sweet elements woven in. Besides the classic pairings you find with blueberry, I’m also drawn to pairing it with less obvious matches, such as black tea or habanero,” he added.