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Robby Gardner is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles, specializing in fresh produce and health food ingredients.
Flavor houses are introducing old favorites in new formats.
Every calendar year, food and beverage manufacturers await the introduction of new flavors to differentiate their products from the competition. But the newest, most promising flavors might not be what you would expect.
“I think there’s been a bit of a backlash against the number of years where every exotic flavor came from the Amazon,” says Jim Shepherd, director of beverage solutions for Sensient Flavors (Indianapolis). “Everyone was wondering, ‘What the heck is it?’ Even the flavor industry didn’t know what half of these fruits were.”
According to Sensient and other leading flavor houses, successful new flavors will likely be rediscoveries above anything else.
Basic fruit flavors are agreeable to consumers, but matching them with unlikely partners can create new experiences. WILD Flavors (Erlanger, KY) is doing just that with its newly announced Flavor Fusion line, including spins on traditional flavors such as aloe berry, pear berry, grape limeade, and lime tea cola.
Adding herbs or spices can also redefine the taste experience. Shepherd explains how his company recently approached the plum:
Consumers want to go back to old-fashioned tastes, but have them rediscovered in a new way. Plums have been around ever since you were a child. But you ask, “When was the last time I ate a plum or ate something flavored with plum?” Now you can taste it, and taste it in a new way-say, with coriander-and you go, “Wow, that was exciting!”
Other candidates for herbs and spices include mint, jasmine, rosemary, and basil. With some of these herbs, says Shepherd, the fruit taste arrives first, followed by the herb, which cleanses the palette. “This makes for a repeating exercise consumers can enjoy over and over again.”
If you think a basic flavor, such as apple, can be outplayed you are certainly wrong. Because there are dozens upon dozens of commercial apples, each with their own flavor nuances.
To update classic flavors with a bit more sophistication, flavor houses are increasingly introducing varietals. Sensient Flavors and Virginia Dare (Brooklyn, NY) recently introduced apple flavor lines, with varietals including Macoun, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, and Fuji. Each variety brings a sweetness and sourness all its own.
As for which varietals consumers prefer most, Virginia Dare for one is tracking consumer apple purchasing habits, which could dictate a varietal’s readiness for flavored product launches.
Incorporating a varietal in a finished food or beverage does more than change its flavor. To the benefit of marketers, Shepherd says, these flavors can promote storytelling:
Where did this varietal come from? How old is it? Was it developed in Washington? Was it developed in Europe and brought to the United States? What’s the story behind this flavor?
Other available varietals include Thai vanilla, Meyer’s lemon, tart cherry, and wild blueberry.
When WILD Flavors looked at its market analysis, the company realized an increase in the number of seasonal product launches. Launching seasonal flavors, then, was a no-brainer. The company now promotes seasonal flavor concepts, such as Harvest Berry, Savannah Lemonade, Pumpkin Spice, and Winter Punch.
Then again, for instances in which consumers want to enjoy an out-of-season-even out-of-location-flavor, regional flavors offer further opportunities. Flavors drawn from the culture of Latin America and South America are especially performing well in the United States, according to flavor specialists.
Tapping into minority populations can be a valuable approach for manufacturers, as well. This is one of Virginia Dare’s latest targets, with recently launched horchata, dulce de leche, Mexican chocolate, and flan de nuez (vanilla, cinnamon, and pecan) flavors for smoothies and milk beverages.
Of course, chocolate has its own innovations. Virginia Dare is taking the lead here by launching chocolate flavors intended for specific food systems. These flavors can solubilize differently in water or oil systems, perform better in cold or heat systems, and vary in taste. After premiering chocolate flavors for wine and wine beverages last year, the company now offers chocolate flavors for ready-to-drink black tea. Your flavors options just got deeper.