Although flavor-of-the-month programs often can be found in ice cream shops, alcohol beverages might be taking a cue from the channel.

Dessert and breakfast flavors such as Wedding Cake, Bananas Foster and Glazed Donut for vodkas have exploded at the retail level, says Nina Hughes-Likins, senior marketing manager for Synergy Flavors, Wauconda, Ill. However, these trendy flavored vodkas rely on new consumer experiences with the product and likely will need to switch up their offerings to stay in the limelight, suggests Anton Angelich, group vice president of marketing for Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y.

“It’s kind of a fanciful world,” he says. “It’s very trendy — people go to a bar, they go on vacation, they have an exotic drink, and it’s fun, and they come back for more, but a lot of those things really aren’t consumer marketplace sustainable.”

With approximately 175 different flavored vodkas in the market, as reported by Stratford, Conn.-based Bump Williams Consulting in Beverage Industry’s April issue, new flavors consistently cycle in and out of popularity, Angelich notes. However, spicy flavored vodkas might have more staying power because spicy beverages, such as the Bloody Mary, are already familiar to many consumers, he adds.

Spicing it up

Like indulgent flavored vodkas, spicy flavored spirits have increased in production, Synergy Flavors’ Hughes-Likins says. Examples of spicy beverage applications include cinnamon whisky; black spiced rum; and vodkas flavored with chipotle, pepper, Tabasco, chili, bacon and horseradish flavors, she adds.

Mike Mulhausen, president of California Custom Fruits and Flavors Inc. (CCFF), Irwindale, Calif., notes that the company has received requests for sweet and savory flavor combinations. For instance, customer requests might include a curry flavor for a chocolate beverage or a pepper flavor for a watermelon or cucumber drink, he explains.

Although chipotle remains a popular chili flavor, Lisa Demme, marketing director for Geneva, Ill.-based Fona International, notes that habanero, jalapeño, ancho and poblano varieties are increasing in customer requests.

“We are seeing an increased consumer tolerance and demand for the heat and spice from various chili peppers,” Demme says. “… This is understandable as young consumers are increasingly adventurous in their food and beverage choices, and the growing Hispanic population within the United States is helping drive this demand for heat and spice.”

Hispanics also have inspired beverage launches like aguas frescas, which are light, refreshing fruit beverages, Virginia Dare’s Angelich says.

“With so many Hispanic people in the country and their influence on restaurants and foodservice, a lot of what the 260 million people in this country that are not Hispanic are eating is now part of the American foodway by things that the Hispanic community has introduced,” he says.

Aguas frescas are authentic enough for Hispanic consumers to enjoy, but they can cross over into the American mainstream market as an enjoyable flavor profile as well, Angelich adds. Flavor profiles for aguas frescas typically include tamarind, pineapple, watermelon, strawberry, cantaloupe, pear, guava and mango, he notes. Additionally, Downers Grove, Ill.-based Flavorchem Corp. recently released a line of Hispanic-inspired flavors, including horchata.

From exotic to traditional

Across the beverage market, authentic, natural fruit flavors and blends have increased in popularity, says Jessica Jones-Dille, associate director of marketing for Wild Flavors Inc., Erlanger, Ky. Along these lines, varietal fruit flavors are becoming more important to the industry because they enable manufacturers to create sophistication and feature images of fruit varietals on the packaging, she adds. The company recently introduced a line of authentic, varietal fruit flavors in apple, pear, peach, citrus and berry offerings.

Flavorchem’s Jim Hamernik, director of research and development, adds that many manufacturers are looking for a flavor that makes their product unique, which varietals can deliver. For instance, instead of creating a lemon-flavored beverage, they might make a Meyer lemon-flavored drink, adding a twist to better market the product, he explains.

This also can apply to tea flavors. For instance, Allen Flavors Inc. recently introduced a line of Tea Mates tea varietal flavors, including rooibos, pai mu tan and honeybush. These teas feature exotic taste profiles ranging from heavy, waxy and cedar to delicate floral notes, explains John Wilson, marketing manager for the Edison, N.J.-based company. These flavors often are paired with non-tea flavors such as apple, apricot, peach, pear and raspberry, he adds.

Manufacturers are seeking exotic flavors, including spicy flavors, ethnic flavors, and blended fruit flavors, says Leila Allahyari, research and development scientist with David Michael & Co., Philadelphia. Exotic flavors can bring a new and interesting twist to traditional foods and beverages, adds John Baughman, beverage category manager for Mane Inc., Lebanon, Ohio.

“As more consumers are jet setting to exotic places, they are experiencing new flavors and textures,” Baughman says. “Fusion continues to be on trend as consumers are seeking new and interesting twists to traditional foods and beverages.”

Recently, Synergy Flavors developed three exotic flavors: caja, the fruit of the cashew tree; dragonfruit, which is popular in Southeast Asia; and jabucltaba, a berry-like fruit that grows in Brazil, according to Paulette Lanzoff, technical director for the company.

Nevertheless, respondents to Beverage Industry’s 2012 New Product Development Survey reported that traditional flavors, such as blueberry, berry, lemon, cherry, raspberry and apple, were the top flavors used in beverages last year. And according to Eric Spenske, director of beverage marketing at Geneva-based Givaudan, apple, cherry and blueberry flavors are among the most prominent flavor trends in the beverage industry. Apple has seen resurgence in the hard cider category as well as in non-alcohol still beverages, he notes.

“It’s interesting to see this has manifested in the form of varietal flavors like Honey Crisp, Fuji, Granny Smith, etc., as opposed to what we’ve seen in the past when the profile creativity was limited to green or sour,” Spenske says. “This is in line with consumers’ increasing sophistication around understanding more about the drinks they choose, where they come from, the ingredients, and so on.”

Cherry blends also have proven to be popular in combinations such as Cherry Limeade, he says. Energy drinks often feature traditional flavors like Cherry Limeade, which partially is due to the masking of functional ingredients, Allen Flavors’ Wilson says. Now, cherry flavor is merging with berry, tropical and citrus flavors, Givaudan’s Spenske adds. Blueberry flavors also continue to grow because of increased accessibility in produce sections of stores as well as the growth of the flavor in sweet goods applications, he says.

In the United States, cherries, blueberries and blackberries have taken the spotlight as exotic superfruits like acai, dragonfruit and goji berry have lost some of their popularity, Fona’s Demme says. Beverage Industry’s 2012 New Product Development Survey affirms this shift with acai dropping eight spots between 2011 and 2012 as one of the most-used flavors among respondents.

“Five years ago, superfruits were the darling of the beverage marketing world, but a couple of things have kind of suppressed the exotic ones in that, to create some of these things, you had to create a flavor,” Virginia Dare’s Angelich says. “Developing the taste of a beverage can be challenging to a flavor chemist because of the lack of available natural flavor materials.”

As superfruit flavors lose some steam, others are picking up interest. For example, nostalgic flavors like chocolate soda, cream soda and cherry cola are returning to the market, Allen Flavors’ Wilson says. “Spirited” flavors also are growing in popularity, according to Comax Flavors, Melville, N.Y. This includes amaretto, beer, tequila, Champagne, cognac, red wine, white wine, rum and Grand Marnier flavors for a variety of food and beverages, the company says.

“Alcohol flavors heighten the taste profile of foods and beverages as well as add a unique twist to standard flavors,” said Catherine Armstrong, vice president of corporate communications for Comax Flavors, in a statement. “Adding amaretto flavor to iced tea or tequila flavor to cupcakes is on par with today’s flavor-focused consumer expectations.”

Natural solutions

Today’s consumers also have a higher demand for natural flavors than in the past, according to experts. As a result, manufacturers are increasingly requesting natural and organic-compliant flavor systems, especially in the tea category, says Colleen Roberts, director of sales for Flavor Dynamics Inc., South Plainfield, N.J. Natural flavors also are popular for water and about 50 percent of the time for carbonated beverages, she adds.

As demand for natural and organic flavors has increased, Synergy Flavors estimates that more than half of its requests are for natural flavors and 10 percent are for organic-compliant or certified-organic flavors, Lanzoff says. As opposed to 100 percent certified-organic products, organic-compliant products are required to use organic ingredients in only 95 percent of the formulation, which means the flavor can be natural, presenting less of a challenge to formulators, Allen Flavors’ Wilson explains.

For many customers, “natural” takes on a stricter definition, Flavorchem’s Hamernik says. “This definition/criteria is usually given to us by the customer and could include restrictions on genetically modified ingredients, ‘all’-natural and not just natural flavors, non-allergenic, and strict regulations on various ingredients or processes,” he explains. “In general, our customers are taking more control over what a flavor can and cannot contain.”

Despite the opportunities that natural flavors offer, sourcing them presents challenges as well. For instance, not all ingredients used to create flavors have a natural alternative, Synergy Flavors’ Lanzoff says. “The number has increased steadily, but we still lack natural sources of some of the sulfur notes for tropical flavors or the nutty, roasted notes,” she explains. Furthermore, natural flavors cost between 10 and 200 times more than a synthetic version, she adds.

Natural and organic flavors also are more heat-sensitive than artificial flavors and can have a shorter shelf life, David Michael & Co.’s Allahyari says. Nevertheless, today’s consumers are seeking a healthy way of living, which includes selecting products that are natural and organic, she says.


Although natural flavors are a trend across the entire beverage industry, each beverage category carries its own flavor trends depending on the product’s application and audience. For instance, the functional water category tends to feature superfruit or exotic fruit flavors, says Nina Hughes-Likins, senior marketing manager for Synergy Flavors, Wauconda, Ill. For acidified beverages, the company has noted an increase in requests for green apple and blue raspberry flavors as well as citrus punch and mixed berry flavors, says Paulette Lanzoff, technical director for the company.

Carbonated soft drinks (CSDs), teas and alcohol beverages are more likely to utilize exotic flavors, says Mike Mulhausen, president of California Custom Fruits and Flavors Inc. (CCFF), Irwindale, Calif. Jessica Jones-Dille, associate director of marketing for Wild Flavors Inc., Erlanger, Ky., adds that natural CSDs work well with exotic fruit, spice and vegetable flavors.

Fruit-and-vegetable juice drinks typically feature berry flavors to achieve a fruit-forward taste profile, says Lisa Demme, marketing director for Geneva, Ill.-based Fona International. “The more savory notes of vegetables in the base require strong flavors or flavor combinations to cover the stewed or savory notes and to enhance the natural sweetness found in vegetables like carrots or sweet potatoes that are often part of the vegetable blend,” she explains.

Coconut waters also are being formulated with more tropical flavors, such as mango, pineapple, passion fruit and papaya, Demme adds.

Dairy-based beverages like drinkable yogurts and smoothies often feature traditional flavors, such as strawberry or vanilla, according to CCFF’s Mulhausen. Likewise, traditional flavors continue to be popular within the flavored milk segment, Wild Flavors’ Jones-Dille says. Dairy alternatives, however, have shown some flavor differences with chocolate mint and tropical flavors entering the market, she points out.

Like dairy-based beverages, functional protein drinks tend to include traditional chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors, mostly due to the complexity of flavoring protein, Synergy Flavors’ Hughes-Likins says. However, the category is branching out into more complex flavor profiles, such as s’mores and banana cream pie, she notes. The meal replacement and dairy-based segments are taking a similar approach by expanding into dessert flavors, whereas the ready-to-drink side of these categories is leaning toward the more complex side of desserts as well as ethnically inspired rich flavors, such as dulche de leche, chai and horchata, Fona’s Demme says.

Sports nutrition drinks typically feature Neapolitan flavors, but within that palette manufacturers are requesting specific characterizations, such as Tahitian vanilla or semi-sweet chocolate, she adds.

Within the spirits category, Colleen Roberts, director of sales for Flavor Dynamics Inc., South Plainfield, N.J., expects indulgent flavors to spread from vodkas to liqueurs, gins, rums and Scotch whiskies. This will be the wave of the future, she says.

Within the flavored malt beverage (FMB) category, flavors have become more sophisticated, Synergy Flavors’ Hughes-Likins says. Some of the most popular flavors for FMBs include watermelon, cherry, lemon-lime, fruit punch, grape, peach and lemonade, she notes.

In the alcohol category overall, the popularity of sourcing local ingredients has begun to influence flavor selection, Fona’s Demme says. For example, the huckleberry fruit started out in local products in the Northwest and today can be found across the country, she says.

 “Regional berries like huckleberry, predominantly found in the Northwest, were finding their way into local restaurants’ signature cocktails a few years back,” Demme explains. “Soon, local brewers in Idaho and Montana embraced the flavor and launched assorted beers and ales with huckleberry as the characterizing flavor. Since that time, we have watched huckleberry as a flavor move across the United States and onto chain restaurant menus like Buffalo Wild Wings and Red Robin, who have added huckleberry lemonade to their menus.”