Exotic Fruits Keep the Heat on Flavors
By ELIZABETH BREWSTER
From the amazing Amazon acai berry to the perky pomegranate, exotic and tropical fruits continued to flavor beverage taste trends this year.
“We saw an extreme interest in exotic fruit flavors [this year]: common ones like guava, passion fruit, mango, kiwi and even more exotic like acai, mangosteen and sea buckthorn,” says Debby Poskanzer, senior manager of consumer insights at Wild Flavors, Erlanger, Ky. “The exotic fruits are popular because of their perceived health benefits (and potential ability to aid metabolism and concentration and provide energy).”
Suzanne Niekrasz, director of marketing communications at Robertet Flavors, Piscataway, N.J., agrees that exotic and tropical fruit flavors are showing up in all kinds of beverages these days. “I did a study a short while ago looking at what flavors have been trending up in beverages over the past year,” she says. “Mango use has been growing for several years, and lime’s growth can be traced to its original and longstanding appeal in lemon-lime blends. And passion fruit has a lot of great things going for it, including its tropical taste, sexy name, and pleasing deep purple color.”
Of course, the tried-and-true beverage flavors like orange, lemon, apple and blends are still holding their own, says Steve Fowler, director of beverage applications for Mastertaste, Rosemont, Ill. “A lot of the berry [flavors] are still hot because of their health connotations,” he says. “And citrus continues to do well because of its refreshing taste.”
In fact, Niekrasz says, one trend that plays right into citrus flavor profiles is the increased use of named varietals in fruit flavors. “It’s an effective way to formulate with a perennially popular flavor profile while still differentiating a beverage from all the other citrus beverages in the market,” she says. “A walk down the beverage aisle turns up examples such as mandarin, clementine, blood orange, key lime and Meyer lemon. And the favorite citrus varietal this year, particularly as part of a flavor combination, is tangerine, a varietal mandarin type.”
Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Fuze Beverage, for example, has freshened up its Slenderize beverage products with a new Tangerine Grapefruit flavor; the low-carb line also includes Cranberry Raspberry, Tropical Punch and Strawberry Melon varieties. Meanwhile, New Leaf White Tea with Tangerine from Skae Beverage, Orangeburg, N.Y., joined six other tea blends this summer that include Strawberry, Plum, Ginseng, Honeydew Melon, Honey and Grapefruit flavors.
Pomegranate palate pleasers
Skyrocketing up the beverage flavor charts right now is pomegranate, a fruit dating back to Biblical times that marries a sweet-tart taste with a heaping helping of antioxidants.
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“One flavor ... that really stands out in terms of current use ... is pomegranate, particularly in combination with fruit flavors such as cranberry and blueberry,” Niekrasz says. “All three of these fruits have been getting great exposure in the media due to their good-for-you benefits, which has produced a halo effect that’s been driving increased flavor use.”
Among the newest pomegranate beverage offerings this year, in fact, is Old Orchard’s Blueberry Pomegranate 100 percent fruit juice, the first pomegranate juice product from one of the top five national juice manufacturers. Launched in May by the Sparta, Mich.-based beverage-maker, the new juice is priced at $2.99 for a 64-ounce bottle.
“By combining the blueberry and pomegranate, the end result is a sweet and exciting taste,” says Michael McDonald, vice president of sales and marketing for Old Orchard. “Many people enjoy the benefits of cranberry or grapefruit juice, but they don’t enjoy the taste; pomegranate blueberry will be a great way for these people, and others, to fill the body with valuable antioxidants.”
Azusa, Calif.-based Naked Juice is also introducing a Pomegranate Blueberry Naked Juice, and it rolled out a 100 percent pomegranate juice product this fall. “We’ve had great success with our pomegranate [beverages],” says president Tom Hicks.
Another pomegranate newcomer this year was Izze Beverage Co.’s Sparkling Pomegranate Juice, an all-natural blend of fruit juice and sparkling water that launched last spring.
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“We chose pomegranate as our seventh flavor [in the sparkling water line] based on its complex flavor profile, and on the quantity of customer suggestions we’ve gotten through our Web site,” says Todd Woloson, founder and chief executive officer of Boulder, Colo.-based Izze.
Pomegranate’s versatile flavor also lends itself to dairy beverages, such as Lifeway Foods’ new Pomegranate Kefir, which rolled out in August. “Pomegranate as a flavor is ... tremendously growing in the market, making us thrilled to add Pomegranate Kefir as a new flavor to our growing line of LowFat Kefirs,” says Julie Smolyansky, president of Morton Grove, Ill.-based Lifeway Foods.
First imported from the Amazon rainforest to North America in 2000 by San Clemente, Calif.-based Sambazon, the increasingly popular acai (AH-sigh-EE) packs a flavor punch both alone and mixed with other fruit flavors.
“I think we’ll see more use of acai, which is a small, dark purple berry native to Brazil’s Amazon basin,” says Robertet’s Niekrasz. “Acai has a high antioxidant count — even higher than blueberry — and its sweet berry character carries a hint of chocolate.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the flavor profile launched in the marketplace with a friendlier fantasy name, such as Brazilian Berry,” she adds.
In fact, Sambazon has just introduced two types of industrial acai powder, along with the industrial bulk pulp it markets in agreement with another company, according to Chief Executive Officer and Founder Ryan Black. Sambazon, which started out marketing acai as a frozen pulp for juice shops to use in smoothies, is now the global leader in acai consumer products and wholesale acai pulp and powder.
“There’s not a lot of fluff in the message or the marketing [of acai],” Black says, who discovered the rainforest berry at Brazil’s juice bars during a South American surfing getaway in 1999. “It really does taste good, and it really is extremely good for you. It’s a unique combination of flavor and nutrition.”
Acai lends itself to fruity flavor combinations, Black says. Last year Sambazon launched fresh organic acai smoothies to the consumer market in four flavors: Strawberry-Banana, Mango, Soy Milk, and Amazon Cherry (acerola).
Naked Juice also rolled out a Mango Acai juice beverage earlier this year, which is doing “exceptionally well,” Hicks says, while Zola Acai in San Francisco offers a shelf-stable, ready-to-drink pure acai beverage called Acai Power Juice.
To a tea
Acai and other emerging exotic fruit flavors also are finding a natural niche with tea flavors, especially white and green tea varieties. “Green tea’s growth has been phenomenal ... [but] it must deliver on taste first, and flavors have been instrumental in mainstreaming this relatively new tea style,” Niekrasz says. “The specialty tea category offers many flavor ideas for future ready-to-drink offerings.”
In fact, new Mango White Tea with acai from Bethesda, Md.-based Honest Tea took top honors this year at the New Products Expo East’s Taste of Expo. And this summer, Revolution Tea, Phoenix, Ariz., unveiled its ready-to-drink bottled White-T in four flavors: Key Lime, Blackberry, Raspberry and Tangerine. Ferolito Vultaggio & Sons, the creator of Arizona Beverages, also added both Pomegranate Green Tea and Blueberry White Tea, the company’s first white tea, to its lineup this summer.
Niekrasz adds that two other tea flavors to keep an eye on this year are the South African herbal teas rooibos (roy-boss), which has a reddish-amber color and a clean, aromatic taste profile, and honeybush, which provides a honeylike, apricot, floral and sweet profile. Robertet has commercialized herbal tea extracts from both plants, in addition to developing other South African flavors including minneola and naartjie tangerines, wild apricot, guavadilla, kei apple and mobola plum.
Looking ahead, industry experts say to watch for growing demand for big, bold beverage flavors, especially as the Hispanic population continues to increase. “There are now 41 million Hispanics in this country, and their culinary traditions include hot and spicy flavors,” Niekrasz says.
Adds Wild Flavors’ Poskanzer: “Authentic Hispanic flavors are in demand [for beverages], like hibiscus, lime, citrus, carambola and dulce de leche.” She adds that herbal flavors also seem to be on the upswing, “and beverage manufacturers might [once again] start formulating with ginger, turmeric, lemon balm and mint.”
Mastertaste’s Fowler spotlighted chocolate as another flavor growth area, particularly in combination with nut flavors or fruit flavors such as raspberry or orange.
“We’re also seeing requests for dessert or indulgent type flavors — cheesecake, bold spicy blends, chocolate combinations,” Fowler says. “We’re seeing more sophisticated blends emerging in after-dinner drinks.”
Finally, some beverage-makers are turning to limited-edition or seasonal flavors to reinvigorate established brands, Niekrasz suggests.
“When using flavor itself to establish a seasonal feel, we’ve been working with profiles such as pumpkin, warm spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, rich chocolates, caramel types and peppermint,” she says. “This is an area where concepts that cross categories can be a great vehicle for a limited-edition beverage flavor — for instance, a festive dessert profile like caramel gingerbread in a dairy-based beverage, a peppermint stick-flavored alcohol, or a red candy apple fruit drink.” BI
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