Orange, lemon, grape, vanilla, berry, pomegranate, strawberry, citrus and raspberry are the leading flavors for new product introductions so far this year, according to Chicago-based Mintel International’s Global New Product Database. The fruit flavor mainstays at the top are not surprising because of one resounding chord that echoes through beverage flavors this year as with other beverage trends — health.

From superfruits to functional flavors to off-note flavor maskers, flavor houses are supplying products with themes ranging from exotic, organic, energetic, relaxing and traditional.

“Those brands that recognize that refreshing taste is the key component to creating customer retention will continue to win in the marketplace,” says Tim Bauer, director of business development for Robertet Flavors, Piscataway, N.J.

Super flavors

The popularity of superfruit flavors can be attributed to the ingredients’ exotic natures in addition to their associated health properties. More than any other trend, superfruits are dominating the beverage category. For example, “within the past year, pomegranate actually appeared in more beverage launches (non-alcohol) than apple,” says Erin O’Donnell, marketing manager for David Michael and Co., Philadelphia.

“The flavors that are popular seem to be guided more by function than flavor,” adds Donna Mascaro, David Michael’s project leader for beverage applications. For example, green tea continues to grow, as well as superfruit berry flavors, such as blueberry, wildberry, acai and goji berry. David Michael’s library of superfruit flavors added yumberry, umbu and aronia (chokeberry) this year, O’Donnell says.

Strong superfruit flavors also are benefiting from being paired with recognizable fruit profiles, says Robertet Flavors’ Bauer.

“Profiles such as mangosteen, acai, goji and yumberry are helping product developers create new profiles that are reaching the consumer’s demand for refreshment,” he says. “These compelling flavor combinations have been key in driving the phenomenal growth of the categories.” 

Superfruits’ perceived health attributes make their flavors well suited to be incorporated into healthier beverages.

“With the trends in functional beverages, opportunities continue to arise to incorporate exotic, healthier and non-traditional types of components,” says Michael Crain, manager of flavor research and senior flavor chemist for Ottens Flavors, Philadelphia.“

Everyone is looking for the next pomegranate, which continues to be strong,” adds Peter Mazeiko, vice president of R&D for Ottens Flavors. Acai, goji berry, yumberry and noni flavors are all benefiting from the health and wellness trend and the push for exotic.

Santa Ana, Calif.-based Sovereign Flavors Inc.’s President David Ames also hears numerous requests for superfruit flavors, which almost has made exotic flavors such as acai, lulo and yumberry mainstream, he says. While these flavors are important to round out a lineup, the big sellers in the line remain citrus flavors, Ames adds.

Even blueberry, cranberry and grape flavors are starting to be used more for their association with antioxidants, says Chuck Dodson, director of consumer insights and marketing for A.M. Todd Co., Kalamazoo, Mich.

In addition to superfruit flavors, other superfood flavors are growing because of their link to real superfoods. For example, rooibos has been very popular due to its high antioxidant content while lacking caffeine, says Dan Wampler, president of Sensus LLC, Hamilton, Ohio.

“Rooibos concentrates and flavors are utilized in tea product lines playing on the name ‘red tea,’” he says. “In combination with superfruits, rooibos is a great vehicle for attracting consumers looking for antioxidant consumption.”

Responding to an increased demand for rooibos flavors, Sensus developed a technology to provide rooibos’ aromatic fraction in the form of an essence or the entire flavor profile in a concentrated extract. “Our process technology is unique in that we utilize state-of-the-art steam extraction so that our products are inherently all-natural and provide a very authentic flavor,” Wampler says.

In addition to rooibos, the tea category with its  healthy halo, has been pushing new superfruit flavor combinations and other combinations, he says. “White tea lends itself to numerous flavor combinations due to its milder flavor profile and clean finish,” Wampler adds.

Guarana, another superfood ingredient more commonly used for its energy properties, now is being used as a flavor as well, Dodson says.

Tropical appeal

While exotic fruit flavors are benefiting from the popularity of superfruits, a return to the old classics also has developed, such as a resurgence in orange flavors, Ottens Flavors’ Mazeiko says.

Tropical flavors, such as mango, guava and Mandarin, also are seeing increased usage in new products, David Michael’s Mascaro says. 

But it’s not the same old tropical and berry flavors that are growing.

“In general, new flavors are a twist on more familiar flavors — such as from grapefruit to pomelo, from orange to tangerine, from peach to nectarine and from coffee to espresso,” explains Paulette Kerner, Virginia Dare’s director of marketing.

Playing off the popularity of superfruits, Frutarom, North Bergen, N.J., has developed flavors with the basic notes and characteristics of superfruits like acai and pomegranate, and given the flavors non-descript names, like citrus berry. The simple combinations are easier to market to consumers, says Bill Graham, Frutarom’s vice president and general manager – flavors division.

“People are always looking for something unique and different, but when it really comes down to it, the bottom line is we still go back to the things that we know best,” he says.

Frutarom also offers a line of more true-to-fruit, natural flavors, including strawberry, raspberry and pear.

True fruit Asian flavors also are popular, Ottens Flavors’ Mazeiko says. Ottens has developed a line of nine such flavors to meet this demand, which includes lychee, starfruit, soursop, jackfruit, mangosteen, cocopandan, salak fruit, yumberry and yuzu as water-soluble, natural liquids.

Responding to the popularity of tropical flavors, Sovereign Flavors is fine-tuning its next generation of citrus extracts. With its new extraction technology, the company will implement in a certified organic flavors program. Hispanic flavors, such as horchata, tamarindo and jamaica (hibiscus), is another platform Sovereign Flavors is building upon.

Sensus’s Wampler sees flavor combinations and flavors that offer function or feeling growing in popularity. “Fusions of flavors like hibiscus and cucumber-flavored green tea are on trend,” he says. “Flavor combinations that are inherently functional, but also provide a very enjoyable profile cross the majority of demographic groups. The consumer is seeking affordable luxuries, and beverages featuring unique and interesting combinations of flavors with connotations to a spa or fine dining are popular.”

Botanical lightness

Interest in herbal flavors, such as basil, oregano, sage, rosemary and lemongrass, as a complement to many ready-to-drink beverages’ flavors also is on the rise. “The herbs are typically used in combination with a more traditional flavor,” Wampler says. “Herb flavors add a twist to more commonplace flavors and attract attention to established beverage brands.”

Floral flavors also increasingly are being used in health and wellness beverages. Botanicals with healthful attributes, such as ginger, eucalyptus, rose hips and chamomile, are growing says Michele Trent, corporate sales manager for Gold Coast Ingredients, Commerce, Calif.

Fruit and herb flavor blends and fruit and floral flavor combinations are a new trend for the bottled beverage business, but aren’t completely out of the blue. “Many of these flavors are very new to the ready-to-drink market, but have been popular in bars and restaurants for some time,” says Jessica Jones-Dille, industry trend manager for Wild Flavors Inc., Erlanger, Ky.

Wild Flavors recently added a line of fruit plus floral flavors that include pear lavender, vanilla orchid, mimosa watermelon, jasmine berry, apple honey blossom and orange marigold.

“These flavors offer a great way to impart signature profiles to a beverage with fresh, unique notes,” Jones-Dille says. “They pair wonderfully with many types of enhancements to meet the growing demand for healthy products.”

Lightly flavored refreshing drinks that may offer a health benefit or energy boost is a trend Gold Coast Ingredients sees continuing. “A kinder, gentler stimulating drink, a type of spa beverage such as ginger tea or minted infusions, and lightly flavored waters or juices with energizing or cleansing properties” are all beverages Trent expects to see on the shelf in the near future.

Mint is another flavor benefiting from the health and wellness trend. Expanding from hot tea products, mint flavorings are appearing in waters, ready-to-drink teas, fruit drinks, drink mixes and cocoa powders.

“Herbal and health waters are using mint for taste or to maybe help with an upset stomach or digestive aid or as an energy boost in a product,” Dodson says.

Organic flavors are another growth area for A.M. Todd, which also owns Moore Organics, Hamilton, Ohio. “Just about every beverage category is looking for some certified organic flavors,” Dodson says.

The move toward cleaner, shorter ingredient statements is benefiting organic flavors. “Everybody seems to be struggling to get to that position,” Dodson says.

Enhancing and masking

With the drive to create healthier and functional beverages, beverage-makers are also adding vitamins, minerals, proteins, sweeteners and other ingredients. The use of superfruit flavors also isn’t without its challenges.

“Materials used in better-for-you [beverages] can negatively impact the overall flavor profile, so flavors need to be bolder, stronger and more intense,” Ottens Flavors’ Crain says.

To combat this issue, Ottens Flavors created Flavorsperse technology, a liquid encapsulation technology that protects flavors during processes such as mixing and pasteurization. Flavorsperse technology allows the nuances built into the flavor to be delivered in the finished product, Ottens says. Available in dry and liquid versions, Flavorsperse also helps deliver oil-soluble flavors in beverages and prevents flavor masking.

A.M. Todd supplies a line of sweetener enhancers, whey maskers, flavor extenders, bitterness blockers for potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, and what it calls “functional flavors.” A.M. Todd’s Botanical Therapeutics division provides functional ingredients mixed with flavors. In addition to flavor, the concentrates can contribute other features such as color and antioxidants, Dodson says.

Robertet answered the challenge of using superfruit flavors by developing application-specific enhancers. “With the demand for lower calories and a refreshing taste experience in the forefront of consumers’ minds, these new tools are helping product developers overcome challenges posed by the use of new high-intensity sweeteners, functional and herbal ingredients,” Bauer says.

As new health and wellness ingredients are formulated into beverages, Robertet has been active in designing beverages with these ingredients.

“Each offers a unique challenge to the flavor profile due to bitter, astringent or aftertaste notes,” Bauer says. “Our development teams have created fruit-based flavor systems that work well in keeping the goal of refreshment in the forefront.” 

With the introduction of the no-calorie sweetener stevia in beverages, beverage companies also will have to mask stevia’s slight licorice note, says Sam Wright IV, chief executive officer of The Wright Group, Crowley, La. The Wright Group is not a flavor house, but it is engaged in helping beverage companies formulate stable, good-tasting products that deliver micronutrients. Many of today’s lighter tasting products require precise formulations, he says.

“It is very difficult to formulate a product with a very light taste profile that also delivers appropriate levels of nutrients, many of which are problematic from a taste, color, odor and stability profile,” Wright says.

Another area of innovation has been powdered drinks, drinkable yogurts and drinks containing prebiotic, omega-3 fatty acids and plant sterols. The Wright Group is researching using its microencapsulation technologies to produce flavors useful in dry mix beverages, controlled release and other value-added applications such as layered flavors.BI