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When a food goes from little-known in the U.S. to strewn across every label in the grocery store, it's no random act.
But how does a dish, an ingredient, or a flavor profile get its big break in the U.S. marketplace? Maybe it's picked up by a widely-traveled chef who then catches the eye of the media; maybe it's featured in a New York Times article read across the country; and maybe—actually, very likely—it exists for many, many years in immigrant communities before it takes off on social media.
One of the places where food trends are vetted and selected for entering the mainstream—usually in the form of widely-distributed packaged foods—is at trade meetings like the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition, which took place in Chicago earlier this week. At the IFT meeting, analysts from two market intelligence agencies, Mintel and Innova Market Insights, discussed the flavor trends they've been noticing—and those they expect to take off— with professionals in the food industry.
Here are their predictions for the next big flavor trends:
- Soursop (a.k.a. guanabana): described as “a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with notes of sour citrus and a creaminess similar to that of coconut or banana,” you may have already noticed the flavor of this fruit in Fage yogurt and Vitamin Water; Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insights at Mintel in Chicago called it the "next salted caramel," and part of the appeal is that the tree is native to Mexico and Cuba, countries that are on the minds of many American consumers.
- Harissa is expected to expand in the U.S., where North African food is "still relatively unique to the market"—not only will it appeal to consumers who want to experience new flavors, but there's a lot of room for growth (example: Harissa Hummus Rippled Potato Chips, sold in Canada).
- Spices are "surging in product development" and the leaders are cayenne pepper, caraway, saffron, horseradish, turmeric; spices are being added to products where you might not normally expect them—global soft drinks containing spices grew 20% between 2014 and 2015, flavored bottle water containing spice rose 84%.
- Coffee and tea flavorings: The flavors of coffee and tea aren't just for, well, coffee and tea, anymore. Global product launches of yogurt with tea flavors increased 100% between 2014 and 2015, and there were similar, if a bit less dramatic, in chocolate, cookies, savory snacks, desserts, and gums with tea flavors. And coffee flavors are being applied to peanuts, cookies, and breakfast shakes.
- More specific regional flavors: "It’s not just Indian food; it’s not just Southern Indian food; it’s Andhra Pradesh," said the director of innovation and insights at Mintel, Chicago, referring to a state in south-central India. (But don't expect that to be the end of generic "curries.")
And what do industry execs look for when deciding the next flavor of yogurt, or potato chip, or flavored spread?
What sorts of criteria must the flavors meet?
- Flavor profiles that are "exciting": 35% of millennials, in comparison to 21% of non-millennials, think food should be fun to eat, with flavor being the "leading product attribute."
- ... but not too exciting, as it's good to have some frame of reference; soursop, for example, is described in the article as "a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with notes of sour citrus and a creaminess similar to that of coconut or banana," and one caveat of harissa, according to the article, "is its hot and spicy flavor profile," which may turn off some consumers.
- Similarly, when the actual ingredient is unfamiliar in appearance (soursop looks like a huge green mace with spiked leathery skin), the industry looks for success in prepared products (mango-guanabana yogurt, for example).
- The potential to expand across different product categories, like into snacks, meals, spreads, beverages, bakery products (take Sriracha: It's in snack mixes, in spice rubs, in mustards, in ice cream!).
- And especially into the worlds of snacks and beverages: At cheaper price points, consumers are willing to take greater risks.
The conclusion? Some of us (but perhaps a surprisingly small percentage?) want food to be fun to eat; we want to try "new" things but nothing that's too new or surprising; and we can expect to be seeing a lot more soursop in the future (though my guess is that it'll be marketed as guanabana to eliminate the impression that it's actually sour—because that's still a bit unfamiliar).
Which of these flavor predictions surprise you? (We thought sesame and matcha would get more play!) Tell us in the comments!