Making the Most of Flavors

May 9, 2007
Daniel Schatzman

  Sometimes, less is more-especially when it comes to food. So-called food-minus items, products that contain less fat, sugar, or calories than conventional foods, made a strong showing in 2006. So did foods with organic or fair trade ingredients that are less destructive to the environment. To meet surging demand, manufacturers have been getting creative with recipes, making the most of flavors and other related ingredients to add sensory magic to their products.

 

Sometimes, less is more-especially when it comes to food. So-called food-minus items, products that contain less fat, sugar, or calories than conventional foods, made a strong showing in 2006. So did foods with organic or fair trade ingredients that are less destructive to the environment. To meet surging demand, manufacturers have been getting creative with recipes, making the most of flavors and other related ingredients to add sensory magic to their products.

Food and drink manufacturers rolled out more than 100,000 new products in 2006, according to Mintel International (Chicago). While better-for-you foods continued their inexorable rise to the top, organic and fair trade ingredients also gained momentum. New launches in the food-minus category were up by almost 120%. Meanwhile, consumers continued their fascination with exotic foods based on Asian and Latin American cuisine, notes market research firm Packaged Facts (New York City).

“Today’s American eaters are better-educated about food and want sophisticated products and flavors that satisfy their palates as well as their need for health, convenience, and adventure,” says Tatjana Meerman, managing editor of Packaged Facts. Some of the most successful product introductions of 2006 touch on some or all of these areas.

TEA TIME

One new product that reflects the most recent flavor trends is White Tea Energy, an RTD beverage manufactured by Inko’s LLC (New York City) that contains two 80-calorie servings per bottle. Inko’s uses two popular flavors, lemon and ginger, along with a modest amount of crystalline fructose, to sweeten the beverage. The company also emphasizes that the beverage’s 92 mg of “jitter-free” caffeine per serving comes from a mixture of white and black tea, rather than other sources.

According to Andy Schamisso, Inko’s president and founder, the beverage represents an attempt to “add a little sophistication” to the energy drink category. “By creating an all-natural, non-carbonated lemon-ginger taste at 20–30% less calories than other sweetened energy drinks currently on the market, our intended target is the same as our core line of RTD teas-the healthy consumer,” Schamisso says, noting that white tea is a rich source of antioxidants.

Similarly, the Boulder-based beverage manufacturer Pixie Mate emphasizes that its Mate Latte is low in sugar and high in antioxidants. Like White Tea Energy, Mate Latte is flavored with spices like cardamom, vanilla, and clove. Pixie co-founder T.J. McIntyre notes that Mate Latte has just 15 g of sugar per serving, compared with 35 g in Tazo’s (Portland) Tea Latte. Mate Latte is based on the South American herbal beverage yerba mate, which is less bitter than many teas.

“Ultimately, the Mate Latte is the only beverage that offers health-conscious Americans the wellness, energy, and taste they’re looking for,” says McIntyre. “By introducing the Mate Latte to cafes and supermarkets across the United States, we’re offering people an everyday element of wellness that no other drink can match.”

Both White Tea Energy and Mate Latte refer to several of the most popular food and flavor trends, such as the use of food-minus claims, Asian and Hispanic flavors, and healthy ingredients. But other new food launches outside of the beverage category also have many of the same attributes. For instance, Nature’s Path Foods Inc. (Blaine, WA) recently introduced a new chocolate-flavored version of its organic Toaster Pastry line made with fair trade cocoa. Additionally, Wallaby Yogurt (Napa, CA) added several tropical flavors such as dulce de leche, strawberry-guava, and pineapple-coconut to its family of organic yogurts in March, just in time for Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA.

“The new flavors might seem at first blush to push the envelope because they are so different,” explains Wallaby Yogurt marketing manager Michelle Kuzma, “but we see a growing trend.” Many consumers no longer want to play it safe and are ready to buy foods with exotic flavors, Kuzma says, adding that sales of “more daring” flavors like mango-lime are surging past sales of traditional flavors like peach.

PLANNING AHEAD

Food and beverage manufacturers need to stay on top of the latest flavor trends to keep afloat. But other important considerations, such as planning for ingredient shortages, selecting the correct flavor ingredients, and coordinating efforts with flavor suppliers are equally important. Just as one missing ingredient can throw off a recipe, one overlooked detail can throw off a product development strategy.

According to Anton Angelich, group vice president of marketing at Virginia Dare (Brooklyn, NY), the laws of supply and demand, when applied to obtaining flavor raw materials, can affect the final cost of a flavor. For example, organic flavor raw materials are currently in limited supply and prices are high, and organic flavor raw materials are generally more expensive to produce to begin with.

“Adverse conditions in crop-growing regions, such as weather conditions, crop failures, political conflicts, etc., can exacerbate the high cost and supply of natural raw materials,” Angelich says. “Flavor companies are challenged today to obtain guaranteed supplies of organic raw materials at predictable prices for products in a burgeoning organic consumer marketplace. A flavor company’s knowledge and experience in raw material supply-chain management in this segment and long-range contracts can offset some of these marketplace fluctuations.”

Angelich adds that when developing natural and organic products, consumer product companies can have more flexibility in supply and cost containment if they use organic-compliant flavors.

FAIR TRADE

Fair trade is a set of practices intended to prevent the exploitation of disadvantaged agricultural workers. In February, Virginia Dare announced that it has begun offering fair trade vanilla that is certified by Transfair USA (Oakland, CA). According to Virginia Dare, the price of fair trade goods reflects the true costs of sustainable production and a standard of living that meets social and ethical norms.

“Fair trade and organic flavors are more expensive than their conventional counterparts,” agrees Karen Manheimer, vice president of the natural products division at Mastertaste Inc. (Teterboro, NJ), who also notes that prices have dropped as ingredient volume has increased. “The consumers who are buying fair trade and organic-certified products expect to pay a premium over conventional products.”

KEEPING COSTS LOW

Fortunately, manufacturers can do a number of things to keep flavor costs low. Meticulous research and planning, for instance, can help ensure that a company is prepared for sudden shortages. George Ennis, vice president and chief flavor chemist at David Michael & Co. (Philadelphia) advises using accurate forecasts along with contracted purchase price agreements to buy flavors. Following flavor trends and monitoring the world’s essential oil and commodities markets are also useful strategies, he adds.

Consolidating orders or restructuring operations to improve efficiency are other ways to cut costs. “Costs can be controlled by developing within a cost parameter,” says Frank Rocco, director of marketing at Robertet Flavors (Piscataway, NJ), adding that examining order patterns and maximizing batch sizes also can be helpful.

Using ingredients that can substitute or augment a particular taste can also help manufacturers make the most of their flavors. For instance, in the 1960s, David Michael developed an artificial flavor that can be used as a one-to-one replacement for vanillin. SuperVan has a more rounded flavor than vanilla and is available as a white, free-flowing powder or as a clear, water-soluble liquid. Similarly, in 2002, the company developed a line of cocoa extenders called Cocoa-Mate that can replace up to 30% of the cocoa powder used in a finished product. David Michael developed both ingredients to offer protection against price fluctuations caused by ingredient shortages.

Perhaps the most useful approach, however, is to work with a flavor supplier that can ensure a steady stream of reliable and appropriate materials. Flavor houses can custom-develop flavors for particular applications and may sometimes offer discounts for high-volume orders. In addition, experienced flavor houses can share their expertise and knowledge of flavors, advising when to select a particular form of a flavor, flavor modulator, flavor system, or flavor substitute.

A recent example of a successful collaboration between a manufacturer and flavor house is last year’s agreement between Cognis Nutrition & Health (La Grange, IL) and Wild Flavors (Erlanger, KY). “The agreement between Cognis and Wild will enable the manufacturers and marketers to procure ingredients in the most cost-effective form they need,” says Greg Horn, senior director of health and wellness at Wild Flavors.

Whether a manufacturer is developing a better-for-you, fair trade, organic, or exotic item, working with a flavor house can provide them with the widest array of available options. “The most effective way to control costs is by partnering with flavor houses that will offer a basket of products,” says Manheimer. “Using high-impact flavors will also help manufacturers cut costs in the long term.”