In contrast with last year’s indulgent flavor trends, beverages this year are shifting to reflect consumer interest in health and wellness. “We have noticed the beverage market is leaning more toward the ongoing flavor trends of superfruits, exotic fruits, tropical fruits and fruit-and-vegetable combinations in both non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages,” says Alex Scott, flavorist at Gold Coast Ingredients Inc., Commerce, Calif. “As growing numbers of consumers are becoming more health conscious, beverage companies are targeting these niche markets with flavors that reflect high nutritional value and more health benefits.”

This is especially true for vegetable-based flavors, points out Douglas Rash, group vice president of global sales at Treatt USA, a Lakeland, Fla.-based division of Treatt plc. “The perception of such concepts is positive in that vegetables are seen as imparting health,” he explains. “With 55 percent of people globally making a conscious effort to eat as many vegetables as possible, the so-called ‘healthy halo’ of vegetable-based beverages makes them a hit with all types of consumers. The trend is now spreading across nearly all beverage sectors.”

Treatt offers a variety of vegetable flavors, including Green Bell Pepper, Roasted Bell Pepper, Tomato, Jalapeño and Cucumber. The benefits of each flavor depend on the type of beverage, Rash notes. For example, Jalapeño is particularly suited to alcohol beverages, as it imparts the earthy, green impact of the peppers without the heat, he explains. Cucumber, on the other hand, is applicable in a wider variety of beverages and can be used to deliver a subtle, fresh green note or a stronger cucumber flavor, depending on the usage level, he says.

In line with these consumer interests in vegetable flavors, Innova Market Insights, the Netherlands, confirms that vegetable flavors are showing more prominence in the beverage market, frequently in combination with fruit flavors in juices, smoothies and teas. In fact, the number of beverage launches featuring celery flavor rose six-fold in 2012, and the amount of new beverages featuring cucumber and beet flavor doubled that year, the market research firm reports. Vegetable flavors add health-giving phytochemicals to beverages as well as a new flavor element, it explains.

These flavors that were once thought of as strictly for savory flavor palates have been especially relevant in juice blends and enhanced waters, notes Cathianne Leonardi, senior flavorist at Allen Flavors Inc., Edison, N.J. Products like Camden, N.J.-based Campbell Soup Co.’s V8 V-Fusion Juice line, which marries vegetable and fruit juices, and San Francisco-based Hint Inc.’s Cucumber-flavored enhanced water variety have helped to promote these types of flavors in the consumer market, she cites as examples.

Between August 2013 and August 2014, total new U.S. beverage launches with vegetable flavors, including fruit-and-vegetable combinations, numbered 114, compared with 94 products in the 2012-2013 period, according to the Mintel Global New Products Database. This includes juices and juice drinks, enhanced waters, beers, spirits, drink mixes, sports drinks, coffees, teas and carbonated soft drinks.


Picking fruit

On the fruit side, consumers are interested in true-to-fruit fresh tastes from well-known domestic fruits, including blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, pomegranates and blackberries, according to Anton Angelich, group vice president of marketing at Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y. “With the popular food media and such food mavens as Michael Pollan suggesting that you should not consume any product that contains anything your grandmother would not know what it is, consumers are more wary about trying things that they are not familiar with,” he says. “Contaminated products in overseas markets that present food safety risks have consumer product companies and consumers alike looking for domestically sourced … ingredients.”

However, to add a sophisticated twist to these familiar flavors, consumers also are calling for specific varietals of fruit flavors, Angelich notes. “An apple-flavored beverage is not just apple anymore; it is becoming more and more a thing about which variety it represents,” he explains.

To meet this need, California Custom Fruits and Flavors Inc., Irwindale, Calif., offers a Sweet Fiji Type apple flavor for use in product applications.

In addition to including them in flavor formulations, beverage-makers also should call out specific fruit varietals on beverage labels, as that has proven to be a major selling point, says Jim Hamernik, director of research and development at Downers Grove, Ill.-based Flavorchem Corp. “Consumers are looking for more than just a lemon flavor,” he explains. “To declare something like a Meyer lemon on a label can increase interest in a product.”

Sweet and spicy

Another twist on a beverage market trend is the growing sweet-and-spicy trend, evolving from the hot-and-spicy trend. Judson McLester, executive chef and ingredient sales manager for Tabasco at McIlhenny Co., Avery Island, La., says this flavor segment has shown the most growth and ingenuity recently compared with other types of flavors. He credits Thai cuisine with leading the trend. “Delving into why, McIlhenny has found it’s the circular rotation of multiple sweet flavor perceptions being countered immediately by different heats,” he explains. “With sweet items, it is important to utilize this strategy to keep the developed product interesting and not overly hot or sweet.”

In this way, the sweet-and-spicy blend of tastes adds a multisensory experience to the flavor profile, says Bridget Schigoda, consumer insights manager at Sensient Flavors, a Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based subsidiary of Sensient Technologies Corp. “In a digital world where more of life is virtual and online, consumers place a premium on sensory stimulation,” she explains. “They crave multisensory experiences to cut through the clutter and add value to brands in their daily lives. Sweet-and-spicy combinations are a great example of how to do this.”

The flavor company demonstrated this multisensory experience by offering samples of a Chocolate Gochujang black tea and a Mango Jalapeño water at the IFT 2014 Annual Meeting and Food Expo. The Chocolate Gochujang black tea paired the sweet, familiar flavor of chocolate with exotic gochujang chili, while the Mango Jalapeño water used the rich, sweet flavor of mango to provide some relief from the jalapeño’s heat, Schigoda says.

“Sweet-and-spicy flavor com-binations are popping up in most beverage categories,” she says. “However, we see the most excitement in the beer and spirits markets, which is not surprising since many flavor trends start in alcohol. We are seeing a rise in beer offerings that include habanero, ancho, jalapeño and chipotle flavors paired with sweeter flavors such as mole, fruits, vanilla and cinnamon.”

Some sweet-and-spicy com-binations can be a bit milder and more mainstream, Allen Flavors’ Leonardi notes. For example, chai tastes in tea can be calm or sweet and spicy; Bloody Mary-type mixers can pack a spicy punch; and pumpkin pie flavors for coffees, hot chocolates and other beverages offer a seasonal element to this trend, she says.

Ginger, another mainstream ingredient, is growing in popularity in the sweet-and-spicy arena because its innate sweet-and-spicy flavor profile pairs well with other flavors, explains David Wasnak, associate director of marketing and consumer insights at Robertet Flavors, Piscataway, N.J. Like many other flavor trends, one of the places this recent ginger trend got its start was in the alcohol category, particularly in cocktails, he explains. As consumer interest in spices and herbal and botanical flavors grew, the spice flavor emerged into the consumer packaged goods space through beverages like teas, fresh-pressed juices, kombuchas and hard ciders, he says.

The Wauconda, Ill.-based Synergy Flavors team, which includes Technical Director Paulette Lanzoff, Senior Beverage Technologist Devin Fochler, Product Manager Kevin Goodner and Applications Manager Angela Lantman, also notes that it has seen increased requests for ginger. “[Ginger] offers more complexity,” the Synergy Flavors team says. “We’ve cycled through the heat series, and people are looking for more complexity, as [ginger is] spicy and rich.”

The flavor also is popular in combinations, such as mango ginger and ginger cardamom, for use in teas, beers, crème liquors, spirits and other adult-profile beverages, according to the team. Ginger cardamom is especially trending in whiskeys, teas and chai-based beverages, it notes.

In addition to a sweet-and-spicy flavor profile, ginger often is perceived as a better-for-you product because of its digestive health benefits, Robertet Flavors’ Wasnak notes. 

Sometimes the functional side of the spicy flavor in the combination helps make it appealing to a wider variety of consumers, Wasnak notes. For example, people who do not like spicy flavors might still consume a spicy lemonade juice cleanse drink for the functional benefits, he points out.

Gold Coast Ingredients’ Scott notes that the spicy kick also plays a functional role in energy drinks. “[Sweet-and-spicy combinations] are also starting to show up in some energy drink formulations for both physical and psychological effects to give consumers a more intense energy-boosting experience,” he says.

For other consumer groups, including the growing Hispanic and Asian populations in the United States as well as millennials, the sweet-and-spicy and even just spicy flavor trends should continue to be areas of flavor growth, experts note.

However, the sweet-and-spicy trend can be otherwise limited by consumer taste preferences, Gold Coast Ingredients’ Scott says. Consumers have varying levels of heat sensitivity and tolerances, so that has limited trend growth, he notes. In addition, a spicy component alters consumers’ perceptions of a beverage as cool and refreshing, he says. “Spicy components lower the cooling and refreshing sensations of the beverage, so sweet and spicy combinations are mostly found today in alcoholic beverages and cocktails,” he explains.

Robertet Flavors’ Wasnak agrees that sweet-and-spicy products tend to be polarizing, and, therefore, expects them to be more applicable to limited-time or niche products. Instead of the heat, he sees cooling flavors, such as mint, as trending. “In addition to tea and a few other categories it was established in, we are beginning to see mint and other cooling flavors, such as cucumber, work themselves into a variety of products,” he explains. “Mint is the most noteworthy, now finding its way into trending categories like lemonade.”

A taste for exploration

In order to ensure beverage manu-facturers are ahead of trends, flavor suppliers are constantly researching up-and-coming combinations.

In partnership with its SXT Flavors Latin America team, Sensient Flavors identified several sweet-and-spicy combinations, including Chili Mango, Grapefruit Cayenne, Spicy Pear and Spicy Ginger Lime, as flavor combinations that will likely become popular in the coming years. Through its Trends to Taste Program, which identifies flavors that currently are trending and probably will trend in the future, Sensient Flavors also has identified some up-and-coming exotic, regional flavors that fit into consumer interests in ethnic and complex spice flavors.

“Whether in their travels abroad or through local exploration, consumers are hungry to experience other cultures through their food,” Sensient Flavors’ Schigoda says. “Bringing those flavors home to their kitchens is the natural next step.”

For this year, Sensient identified ras el hanout and gochujang as popular or soon-to-be popular flavors. Ras el hanout, which means “top of the shelf” in Arabic, is a Moroccan spice blend that consists of the best spices a merchant has to offer, including cardamom, clove, cinnamon, chili peppers, coriander, cumin, peppercorn, paprika, fenugreek and turmeric. In some cases, the blend can include up to 25 dif-ferent components, Schigoda explains. Gochujang, which has been described as the next sriracha sauce, is a savory and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chili, rice, fermented soybeans and salt, according to Sensient Flavors.

Other current flavor trends center around more well-known flavors from other product categories that are making their way into the beverage industry.

“Ever since the mixology geniuses at New York City’s PDT [bar] decided to extract bacon in spirits, there have been bacon flavorings appearing in other alcoholic products, such as beer, vodka and bourbons,” Allen Flavors’ Leonardi says.

As a variation of this, Colleen Roberts, director of sales at Flavor Dynamics Inc., notes that maple bacon flavor has been a popular item for the Plainfield, N.J.-based company. The flavor has been used in coffee, tea and alcohol beverages, she notes.

Similar to bacon moving from food to beverage, alcohol flavors continue to move into non-alcohol categories, notes Danielle Durso, marketing coordinator, and Victoria Vaynberger, marketing and consumer insights manager, of David Michael & Co., Philadelphia. “We have recently seen a surge in requests for alcohol flavors … specifically the classics like mojito, Margarita, [and] mint julep,” they say.

To support this trend, David Michael offers an Adults Only flavors line, which is designed to mimic the taste of alcohol cocktails, including gin-and-tonics, Bloody Marys and Margaritas. The flavors also are formulated to exhibit the warming sensation associated with alcohol beverages to enhance the experience, the company says.

 These alcohol-type flavors and other flavors found in cocktails will be part of the crystal ball that helps flavorists determine future flavor trends, Robertet Flavors’ Wasnak says. Beyond that, flavor experts also are expecting a proliferation of international and ethnic flavors, particularly from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean, as millennials continue to seek adventurous flavors.  

Taste you can feel

As experts often note during beverage tasting sessions, there is more to taste than flavor. Other sensory attributes, including the drink’s color and fragrance, can impact a taste experience. In other cases, a certain mouthfeel or other tactile sensation is needed to round out the experience.

“Texture and mouthfeel, or mouth interactivity, creates a close relationship between flavors and sensations,” explains Alex Scott, flavorist at Gold Coast Ingredients Inc., Commerce, Calif. “One could add salt enhancers, sweetness enhancers, mouthfeel enhancers, cooling agents or heating agents to enhance the trigeminal effect of the overall [consumption] experience.”

Gold Coast Ingredients uses natural ingredients, like menthol, capsicum, cinnamon, ginger and clove, to enhance flavor experiences with tastes you can feel.

Similarly, Sensient Flavors has developed a line of stimulating mouthfeel enhancers called Sensates that can deliver warming, cooling and tingling effects, says Bridget Schigoda, consumer insights manager for the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based subsidiary of Sensient Technologies Corp. “When properly balanced with the flavor and other aspects of the product base, these materials can enhance the overall impact of a product for consumers, making it more complex than just a flavor alone.”

To illustrate this sensation, Sensient Flavors offered a “Taste Plus” menu of foods and beverages at the IFT 2014 Annual Meeting and Food Expo. Specifically for beverage applications, it offered tastes of a cool Chocolate Gochujang black tea with Coolenol for cool, soothing properties and a Pineapple Jalapeño water with Heatenol for a warming sensation to round out the taste experiences.