In Good Taste
By JENNIFER ZEGLER
Newest flavors appeal to exotic curiosities and health consciousness
This tastes healthy.
It may sound like an odd phrase, but consumers are demanding more from their beverages, which has led flavor companies to innovate — with health in mind. If antioxidants are all the rage, a beverage must not only contain them, but also the flavor of an antioxidant rich-fruit, such as pomegranate, acai, or newly trendy goji berry.
Often, consumers latch onto a fruit flavor when its healthful benefits are well known, such as the cranberry, pomegranate and blueberry crazes. The newest in exotic flavors are no exception. David Michael’s Donna Mascaro, project leader in beverage applications, suggests, “There has been a push for antioxidants through vitamin and mineral supplements, but consumers also associate antioxidants with a certain fruit flavor.”
Thus, when consumers hear about the latest high-antioxidant fruit, they not only want the proof of content, but they want that flavor. In addition, new flavor varieties also cater to consumers who are exotically curious, ethnocentric and ecologically conscious. Yet health and wellness concerns precede moral standards.
Adventurous consumers are on the lookout for the next healthy product. This has companies creating new formulations in hopes that consumers want to get used to guava or learn to love lychee. This cycle in what is considered exotic constantly redraws the boundaries for flavors.
“If you look at what’s happened in the marketplace, three years ago mango was hardly an issue in new product introductions,” says Scott Mortensen, senior marketing manager for International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), New York City. “Now you look at North America and in the past three years, mango has become No. 7 in new product introductions. Tropical flavors are now more ubiquitous and they’re being married with traditional fruits.”
Along with mango, pineapple and passion fruit flavors have seen an increase in new beverage introductions since the beginning of 2006, according to data from Mintel’s Global New Product Database. Yet, just as American consumers are learning to pronounce acai, a new slew of exotic beverage flavors have arrived.
When flavor companies list the newest in exotic, it may sound like a foreign language lesson. The list includes guava, lychee, mangosteen, tamarind and guanabana, also known as sour sop.
With so many new flavors to choose from, each company has its own view of what the next craze will be. David Michael’s Mascaro and Laura Ennis, beverage innovation specialist and technologist, enthusiastically say, “Guava is the new mango! It mixes so well with berry blends and other flavors.”
Also from Philadelphia-based David Michael, Marketing Manager Erin Kate O’Donnell says lychee was a widespread option at the Fancy Food Show. She reported seeing many lychee-flavored beverages, including one using the Asian fruit to cut the bitterness of lemonade.
Bell Flavors & Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill., flexed its R&D muscle at a company beverage workshop this month. Its U.S., Canadian, Mexican and South American divisions coordinated to bring samples of the hottest beverage flavor trends to the table. The combined innovations included mangosteen, blood orange, quince, cactus pear, guanabana and horchata-flavored beverage prototypes, which spanned nearly all beverage categories.
With fortified options in mind, IFF showcased two exotically flavored smoothies at a recent Research Chefs Association meeting. One included a goji berry-flavored smoothie with pink guava mash topped with vanilla meringue and accented with tangerine flavor spray.
|Top 20 flavor claims of beverage introductions
|Full year 2006
|Year to date 2007
|Total new products*
|* Including categories not shown
Source: Mintel’s Global New Products Database, 2007
As an importer of tropical fruit, iTi Tropicals, Lawrenceville, N.J., is on the forefront of new flavor trends. The company is predicting noni, acerola and camu camu to burst onto the scene soon. The Tahitian-native noni is high in antioxidants, while acerola and camu camu have high vitamin C content. Overall Don Giampetro, vice president of sales, cautions, “It all changes. Ten to 15 years ago, mango and guava were the new exotics. They’re no longer exotic, now they’re mainstream.”
The origins of many of new exotic flavors hail from Latin areas, thus much of the demographic testing of flavors focuses on Hispanic consumers. Not only is the group ever-growing, their taste preferences also appeal to the mainstream population. For example, a few of the most popular flavors in new beverage launches include mango, lime and pineapple, which are all favorites of the Latin palate.
Yet Hispanics’ diverse population leads to varied taste preferences. Although mango and other flavors are generally popular in the Hispanic areas of the world, a mango from the Caribbean tastes different than a mango from Mexico, says Anton Angelich, group vice president of marketing for Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Virginia Dare. However, the taste preference for mango flavored beverages for the mainstream American consumer tend to be more toward a mango-peach blend, he says.
“There are 2,500 different cultivars or varieties of mangos,” Angelich explains. “We’ve done sensory mapping on the most popular ones and have tested those profiles with Hispanic and non-Hispanic consumers. In developing the most suitable taste profile for Hispanic consumers, you need to have an understanding of your target market and their preferences. If there is a demographic overlap in your market, such as in New York City and Chicago, where you have both Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans in the same market, which profile is the right one for a Hispanic targeted beverage?”
Another demographic of interest is African Americans. According to IFF, 52 percent of African Americans are under the age of 35, which presents a large marketing opportunity. The company is delving into the taste preference of African Americans, who as a group have origins as diverse as Latinos. This leads to taste preferences that run the gamut from peach to prickly pear, Mortensen says.
“On our side, we have to figure out how you meet them from a taste perspective,” he says. “Do you blend the new and exotic with heritage? That may mean blending SuperFruits that will fit into their tastes, which vary from Southern, Caribbean and African heritage.”
Heeding the natural call
The upswing in morally concerned shoppers — and the stores that support them — have created an increased demand for certified flavors. The rise of natural and organic retailers has brought certification to the forefront. To complicate matters, individual retail chains may maintain their own certification standards to which a product must adhere.
With a multitude of regulations, flavor companies have developed their own certified lines based on what customers have requested. IFF offers a 95 percent organic line as well as a 100 percent organic. Due to discrepancies in regulations, the company follows its own internal processes to certify ingredients. This guarantees that the oft-requested traditional flavors, such as cherry, strawberry, coffee and tea, are certified all natural or organic throughout the supply chain.
The supply chain also is a concern for iTi Tropicals, which offers tropical fruit essences. Source and supply are concerns for iTi Tropicals due to the exotic locales from which it sources its tropical fruits, Giampetro says. Guaranteeing organic certification is especially challenging for bulk supplies of mangos or the more exotic red prickly pears.
David Michael has developed a line of organic-compliant flavors. Another flavor manufacturer, Mastertaste, Teterboro, N.J., offers the SuperNatural flavor line that includes a large selection of organic and organic-compatible flavors. The SuperNatural line offers exotic flavors that help companies stay on top of health and wellness trends, says Markus Eckert, Mastertaste’s vice president of technical.
In another area of certification, Virginia Dare offers its Fair Trade-certified vanilla flavor. The flavor is applicable to smoothies, milkshakes and other vanilla-flavored beverages, the company says.
To substitute for high-calorie sweets, health and wellness concerns have led consumers on a search for beverages with indulgent-inspired flavors. Though not an imperative, the sweet-spiked drinks often are fortified or have low to no calories to make the indulgence more guilt-free. The flavors can vary from delectable desserts, such as Virginia Dare’s butterscotch, toffee and maple, to ethnic favorites, which include dulce de leche, a popular caramely Hispanic dessert.
“No doubt about it, there has been an increased demand for indulgence flavors,” IFF’s Mortensen says. “There are different characteristics in the indulgent arena, including guilt-free, low-sugar and low-carbohydrate options.”
He groups indulgence into areas that include comfort-seeking, such as a cappuccino flavor; nostalgic, which could be butterscotch; exotic, including orange spice ginger; and premium, which might include Bellini flavors or upscale dessert custards.
Ethnic indulgent flavors also are on the rise. At David Michael, dulce de leche and tres leches flavors are experiencing higher demand. Ennis says the Hispanic dessert favorites are working their way into tea, coffee and dairy drinks.
“People can be more ready to try a new flavor in an RTD beverage,” she says. “On top of that, the beverage can be vitamin fortified and low calorie, but in name it’s indulgent.”