Allied Market Research, Portland, OR, predicted the global flavors market will reach $15.2 billion by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 4.3% from 2015 to 2020.
Demand for healthy, natural and organic processed food and beverages also significantly impacted the flavors market, according to the market research firm, leading the natural flavors segment to overtake the majority of market share in 2014. Allied Market Research predicted that natural flavors would continue to grow in prominence, while synthetic or artificial flavors may experience negative growth.
North America is the most dominant consumer of natural flavors, followed by Europe, and will continue to hold this majority looking toward 2020. Asia-Pacific, however, may surpass North America by 2020, accounting for 31% of market share.
Going Natural: Opportunities & Challenges
The 2014 Nielsen report “Snack Attack: What Consumers Are Reaching For Around The World,” confirmed that consumers globally are looking more closely at product ingredients, and are pushing toward natural, identifiable and simple ingredients.
Nielsen found 42% of survey respondents said that when selecting a snack, the absence of artificial flavors was very important; 33% said it was moderately important; and 16% said it was slightly important. Similarly, 45% said it was very important for snacks to contain all-natural ingredients, and 43% said it was very important for snacks to be GMO-free.
Reading the writing on the wall, many manufacturers are looking to formulate with natural flavors and ingredients to appeal to this “back-to-basics” mentality among shoppers. “Natural flavors are outselling artificially-flavored products in all categories and markets,” said Amy Zimmerman, food technologist/account executive, Sapphire Flavors & Fragrances, Fairfield, NJ. “The average consumer believes, and is told by food and beverage manufacturers, that natural is better for you in any shape and form—whether it be a baked good or a functional food.”
However, she argued there is no functional difference in the ingredients for natural or artificial flavors. “They taste and perform the same, but shoppers are made to believe that natural is better for you, even if you’re not looking for any added health benefit.” To illustrate the significant growth of the natural sector, she referenced the success of Kroger’s natural foods line, which tripled its number of products since its inception in 2013.
“Consumers and consumer product companies, not only in the nutritional area, but across all product categories, are trending very much toward developing products only with natural flavors,” commented Anton Angelich, group vice president of marketing, Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, NY. “Organic, organic compliant, GMO-free, vegan and gluten-free flavors are all taking on significantly more importance in nutritional product development. Today, there is much less demand for artificial flavors with most consumer product companies jumping on the consumer-driven natural bandwagon.”
Jim Hamernik, director of research and development at Flavorchem, Downers Grove, IL, believes the natural trend is here to stay. “Consumers are demanding more natural flavors and colors along with cleaner labels. We have seen more requests to clean up a label and remove certain components even if they are natural. More and more companies are listening to their consumers and declaring their intent to go more natural.” However, he suggested the undefined criteria for what makes an ingredient “natural” has led companies to define it based on public perception, rather than a clear cut set of terms.
Consumers are even looking to go natural with the foods they’re feeding to their companion animals, explained Debora Nelson, quality control/quality assurance manager with PF Inc., Melbourne, FL. “Pet owners are becoming healthier and want the same health benefits for their pets. In terms of sales, natural is leading the way. The word artificial signifies chemicals, which pet owners believe is detrimental to their pets.” Natural, she said, “signifies healthy and safe.”
However, formulating with natural flavors is not without its challenges, particularly when it comes to cost. “We know ‘natural’ products and ingredients continue to forge ahead. This appeals to many lifestyle choices but not necessarily to everyone’s pocketbook,” noted Donnie Moran, national sales manager, flavors, Prinova USA, Carol Stream, IL. Despite the growing dominance of natural flavors, Mr. Moran believes there will continue to be roles for both natural and artificial variants in the flavor landscape. “Price-points for ‘artificial’ and ‘natural and artificial’ flavor products are generally lower than ‘natural.’ There remains a cost and price dividing-line between these categories.”
Higher costs incurred during manufacturing are inevitably passed along to the end consumer, which poses another set of problems. “When going natural, a common challenge for product developers can be keeping the price desirable for consumers,” explained Megan Trent, marketing coordinator, Gold Coast Ingredients, Commerce, CA. “Natural flavor components and other raw materials are often higher in price, are difficult to purchase, or some flavor components may not be available in natural form. Flavor chemists often need to replicate flavor components using a blend of other natural ingredients to complete the flavor profile.”
Paulette Lanzoff, technical director of Synergy Flavors, Wauconda, IL, said the specialty foods channel supports natural flavor sales, however, she still sees this as a niche market “as most consumers are not willing to pay higher prices for natural foods.”
This price difference between natural and artificial could deter some shoppers, Ms. Trent agreed, however, consumers seeking natural or organic products are typically more accepting of the higher price points for what they perceive to be a superior product.
Natural flavors present other challenges, including obstacles with shelf life, as well as heat and seasonal differences resulting in variation of crop, Ms. Lanzoff noted. In addition, natural raw materials are subject to supply and demand issues and variation.
Consumers at various walks of life crave different flavors to fulfill different needs. One demographic leading the way for innovation in the flavor market is the Millennial generation (consumers aged 18 to 34, according to the Pew Research Center).
“Millennials crave flavor,” stated Catherine Armstrong, vice president, corporate communications, Comax Flavors, Melville, NY. “They are willing to try most foods and seem to be adventurous when trying new foods. Millennials don’t mind bold, spicier flavors whereas other older demographics prefer more mild flavors.”
Jean Shieh, marketing manager of savory flavors at Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, IL, attributed Millennials’ adventurous palates to an interest in global cuisines, flavor pairing and broader access to information about food trends thanks to social media.
The rise in multiculturalism is also influencing Millennials’ palettes, according to Joanna Wozniak, sales & marketing manager, Lallemand Bio-Ingredients (a division of Lallemand, Montreal, Canada). For example, she said 52% of 18-34 year olds regularly eat Asian foods. “The new/future demographic lives in a more multicultural society, does more long-haul global travel and ‘cultural tourism,’ and develops a desire for new and intense experiences,” said Ms. Wozniak, citing Mintel’s forecast of food trends for 2015.
While Millennials are seeking challenging and adventurous flavor options, Baby Boomers are demanding entirely different taste experiences. “Millennials have a much different palate than Baby Boomers, seeking fresh, authentic ingredients derived from regionally harvested ingredients, as authenticity is important to them,” said Nina Hughes-Likins, senior marketing manager, Synergy Flavors. Boomers, she added, are more focused on the functionality of foods and their overall nutritional profile, placing significance on how these foods will help them attain long-term health.
Comfort food flavor profiles are always in style for every demographic said Ms. Zimmerman of Sapphire, “whether it means a macaroni and cheese flavored snack for an older generation or an updated version to appeal to younger shoppers, including ingredients like chia and quinoa, and/or a flavor profile like Sriracha.”
Pleasure vs. Function
The flavor profile desired of an indulgent snack may differ dramatically from what consumers want to taste when taking a dietary supplement. Mr. Moran of Prinova stressed the difference between flavors used for pleasure, and those used for function. “Consumer preference drives over 95% of flavor choice and use in food, beverage and specialty consumer products,” he said.
“These companies utilize large assets to seek out consumer’s next choice in the flavor area. We see two areas affecting trends in flavors: exotic and functional palatability. With the economic turnaround and global access to food and supplement products, consumers are back in the game of diversifying choices. New fruit flavors, spice flavors and versions of traditional flavors are in demand. On the functional palatability side, we see increased use of nutritional and holistic ingredients requiring flavor addition for good taste.”
With nutraceutical products, in most cases the healthy nutrient is the star ingredient, and flavor is secondary. However, an unsatisfying taste could deter consumers from consistent use. “Flavors are also especially important in the nutraceutical industry because they are a great tool to mask any natural, bitter or unwanted tastes,” noted Ms. Trent of Gold Coast Ingredients. She said popular flavors within the nutraceutical category include chocolate, vanilla, strawberries & cream, peanut butter, peanut butter chocolate, cookies & cream, coffee type flavors, and chocolate mint. “Trending fruit flavors range from various berries to banana, watermelon, fruit punch, green apple, lemonade profiles and tropical mixes.”
Mr. Angelich of Virginia Dare suggested that natural flavors could enhance the experience of some supplements, and even tie into the concept behind an active ingredient. For example, he said “natural flavors could be added to make a new product that contains a beneficial fruit extract with a high ORAC value taste more like the fresh fruit.”
Flavors can also be an important tool in masking undesirable tastes associated with certain active nutraceutical ingredients. “Ingredients, such as proteins, minerals, vitamins, omega-3s and botanicals, when added for deliverable health benefits, may need masking to make the end product more hedonically pleasing and consumer-acceptable,” Mr. Angelich explained. To address such concerns, Virginia Dare developed the masking flavor systems Prosweet and Vidapro. “Masking flavors reduce the bitterness, or other undesirable off notes contributed by the health-added ingredients. Complementary flavors used in conjunction with flavor maskers work synergistically and optimally together.”
For instance, nut flavors may be used in conjunction with soy protein formulations. “Soy can deliver a beany taste character to a product that is undesirable to most American consumers,” he said. “Incorporation of a nut flavor such as pecan to soy builds synergistically upon the beany note, eliminating it identifiably, and then delivering a pleasant and familiar nut taste.”
Current Flavor Trends
As the U.S. Census Bureau projects the Millennial generation will surpass Baby Boomers in 2015, many of the flavor trends taking center stage this year appeal to the demands of this younger demographic. With Millennials craving adventurous and multicultural taste experiences, many companies are showcasing flavors from around the globe.
“Ethnic flavors is a trend consumers support with great excitement; Greek, South American and Asian flavors are reaching more and more dining tables and store fronts, with flavors like Argentina Chimichurri and Korean Kimchi now well known by the general public,” said Ms. Shieh of Sensient Flavors.
In response to a growing interest in Indian flavors emerging in the U.S., Sensient created a Maple Mirch flavor that combines flavor profiles of the familiar maple sweetness with exotic Indian spices. Ms. Shieh added that Thai Basil is very popular as well, particularly in soups and salad dressing, and predicted that African Blue Basil is the next international flavor to watch.
Comax Flavors’ flavor trends for 2015 include exotic tastes such as Butterscotch Curry, Cherry Yuzu, Sriracha Maple and Za’tar.
Ms. Hughes-Likins from Synergy Flavors also pointed to the popularity of Thai and Asian flavors. Latin American food, she said, is also influencing the market. “Exposure to Latin cuisine has created a penchant for bold flavors, such as Sriracha, Jalepeno, Horchata and Chipotle, which are being used in beverages, sodas, confectionery, ice cream and more.”
Bell Flavors, Northbrook, IL, noted a trend it referred to as the “Well Traveled Kitchen,” citing the prominent influence of Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Flavors highlighted included Red Curry Coconut, Thai Kumquat Lemongrass and Kimchi. In addition, the number of Middle Easterners living in the U.S. increased 51% since 2000, leading to the rise in flavors such as Moroccan Spice and Ethiopian Spice.
The significance of health and wellness is not only influencing the drive for natural ingredients, but many see healthy lifestyle choices driving actual flavor trends. For example, Comax correlates the surge in health conscious consumers to the popularity of nut flavors. In response, the company developed new flavor offerings including Almond Rose Shortbread, Vanilla Walnut Fig, Pumpkin Praline Fudge and Pecan Chipotle.
Health focused flavors from Flavorchem are designed to appeal to consumers who are looking for natural, clean label ingredients, and the storylines behind the products. For instance, Mr. Hamernik said, “instead of just having an orange or lemon flavored product, consumers are liking to see a named product such as Cara Cara Orange or Meyer Lemon. Also, any details behind the origins or source of a product are appealing to customers.”
Virginia Dare’s list of top flavor trends included health focused tastes such as Sour Cherry, which is well known in Europe and has “very positive health associations,” and Tea, including green tea, black tea and herbal teas for use in health focused beverages. The company also pointed to the popularity of Ginger, which ties into Asian flavors, and possesses a positive health profile.
While many consumers are trying to cultivate healthy eating habits, they still want to treat themselves from time to time. “Some established flavor trends that we’ve been seeing in the marketplace lately are indulgent flavors like baked goods, such as Sea Salt Caramel and Birthday Cake, especially in the supplement and wellness categories,” said Ms. Zimmerman of Sapphire. “At my previous position with a retail sports nutrition brand, we worked very closely with hardcore athletes and weekend warriors. The most common thread when purchasing these products was to have these indulgent types of flavors, whether it be in a bar or a powdered beverage because there was simply no room in their diets for ‘empty calories’ like desserts. However, when incorporated into something already utilized—and some feel is crucial for their diet and exercise regimen—they want to get the most out of it nutritionally of course, but also from a flavor and sensory experience, too.”
Future Flavor Forecast
Looking ahead, what exciting taste experiences will consumers be clamoring for? Ms. Zimmerman predicted flavors combining savory and sweet will be the next big taste trend. “As far as emerging flavor trends, I definitely see a lot more blurring of the categories of sweet and savory with flavors, in all categories, not just in the health and wellness arena. A lot of what becomes trendy in the supermarket, grocery and health food store categories comes from chefs and what was formerly known as haute cuisine, or fine dining, because they can experiment with different cuisines and ingredients. In this regard, I see a lot of Middle Eastern flavors, such as Za’atar and tahini, being used in familiar ways, such as seasoning blends for snacks and protein. I also see an increase in beet-based products and honey-flavored products.”
She added that large food manufacturers such as McCormick’s and General Mills are developing sweet and savory snacks and sauces. “Some examples that are more limited to a specialty audience are the cleansing and detox type beverages with ingredients like lemon, cayenne and ginger. Although these ingredients are functional, the taste and flavor is also getting publicity. Another example would be from the company Foods Should Taste Good that sells sweet potato chips with various flavor profiles ranging from spicy, salty, acidic and sweet.” She anticipated the trend of sweet, astringent and spicy flavor profiles may catch on in the mainstream confectionery segment as well.
Ms. Zimmerman also believes the concept of “local” and “regional” food trends will become more prominent in the flavor category. “In addition to supporting community farmers, this also allows for each region to demonstrate individuality and whatever makes their part of the country unique,” she suggested.
Lallemand’s Ms. Wozniak believes the next big hurdle for flavor companies will be providing organic flavors. “Organic seasonings account for 10% of the global seasonings market and have maintained steady growth in recent years, despite recessionary spending worldwide. Many organic seasoning products further emphasized their authenticity by including information regarding the provenance of the products, as well as the method of preparation on the packaging label (Mintel, 2009).”
While traditionally, companies developing nutraceutical offerings may have been more conservative with flavor choices, Ms. Trent of Gold Coast has observed a shift. “Nutraceutical companies are also experimenting with more tropical fruits such as guava and passion fruit. We foresee more exotic, international fruit flavors coming into the market,” she predicted.