American model and actress Lauren Hutton, who signed a modeling contract with Revlon in 1973, which at the time was the biggest contract in the history of the industry, is quoted for having once said: “Finding your look isn’t complicated. … Notice what people are complimenting you on. Experiment with new things once in a while, but have your tried-and-true pieces that work.”
Similarly, classic flavors like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry have a noticeable presence within the beverage industry. Experts note that not only do these flavors resonate with consumers, but also are the tried-and-true go-to solutions for beverage-makers.
“There’s always going to be a market for classic flavors,” says Phillip Caputo, marketing and consumer insights manager at Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y. “However, with that said, we’re seeing more and more opportunities to elevate these classic flavors with unique and exciting pairings.
“For instance, instead of a vanilla ice cream, why not a Bananilla cream pie or vanilla cardamom flavor? For a product line extension, why not add a chocolate and ginger or chocolate and balsamic vinegar flavor?,” he continues.
Grace Kim, beverage technical service manager at Tate & Lyle North America, Decatur, Ill., echoes similar sentiments, noting that classic flavors also carry with them the comforting nostalgia that many consumers seek out in a beverage.
“The eating and drinking experience is so personal, and for many consumers, classic flavors have the power to comfort,” Kim says. “It makes sense for manufacturers to stick with the tried-and-true classics that are not only recognizable but also memorable.”
Pointing to chocolate, specifically, Gretchen Hadden, marketing leader for cocoa and chocolate business in North America at Wayzata, Minn.-based Cargill, notes that consumers love the flavor for its rich color, pleasing aroma and taste.
“Chocolate is an affordable indulgence that never goes out of style,” she says. “Furthermore, its great taste works well to mask other off-flavors in a beverage formulation.
“Beyond its functional benefits, marketers can also use chocolate to tell an amazing story. They can build messaging around the type of chocolate or how it is sourced,” she continues. “There’s an emotional element to chocolate as well — it is often viewed by consumers as a ‘permissible indulgence,’ or as a way to deliver other ‘better-for-you’ benefits such as antioxidants or a caffeine boost.”
Intriguing flavor combinations
As today’s consumers are more adventurous, constantly in search of the next exciting flavor, experts point to vanilla and chocolate as chief foundational flavors for various beverage applications.
“You are able to combine vanilla with a more exotic flavor like orange blossom, and while the overall profile may take you to a classic orange sherbet, it still feels new and exciting,” Tate & Lyle’s Kim says. “We have firm expectations of what vanilla or chocolate should be, but combinations seem like an enticing way to trial newer flavors.
“Beverage innovations are adopting this thinking. For example, a newer prebiotic soda brand pairs an unfamiliar apple cider vinegar base and prebiotic fibers with more familiar, vintage flavors, such as root beer and strawberry vanilla,” she continues. “Perhaps the nostalgic flavors ground us while the ‘new age’ keeps the drinking experience exciting.”
Although classic flavors shine as a standalone flavor, Virginia Dare’s Caputo points to the power of these flavors to elevate beverages through flavor combinations.
Noting that there’s endless potential, Caputo lists some selections of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate flavor combinations as follows:
- Vanilla and whiskey, banana, custard, wafer cookie, lavender, cardamom, cola, honeycomb
- Strawberry and black pepper, rosé, passionfruit basil, lime, kiwi, rhubarb, fig, walnuts, coconut cream, mango, cucumber, cheesecake, vanilla buttercream, pistachio
- Chocolate and balsamic vinegar, bacon, lavender, chai, butterscotch, browned butter, maple, cardamom, marshmallow, macadamia, Amaretto, Dulce de Leche
Depending on the specific application and target consumer, Cargill’s Hadden points to chocolate combinations that include salted caramel, espresso, peanut butter or mint.
“Some of the emerging flavor combinations highlight spices like cayenne and cardamom, or herbal and botanical flavors, such as matcha, jasmine and lavender,” she adds.
Classic flavors remain on trend, up to date
With functional beverages on the rise, experts note that “the classics” are becoming more prominent on such labels.
“These flavors are used in categories across the entire beverage spectrum,” Virginia Dare’s Caputo says. “Primarily, though, we’re excited about the rise of functional beverages like RTD protein beverages, clean energy drinks, fortified plant-based beverages, and more where these flavors are finding a home on the label.
“When the functional ingredients in an application might be new to the consumer, classic flavors like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry can help ground the consumer and make the beverage feel more familiar and palatable,” he continues.
Noting the expanded use of chocolate and cocoa powder, Cargill’s Hadden highlights how chocolate flavors span across beverage categories.
“We see significant use of chocolate and cocoa powder in sports drinks, coffee beverages, milks and milk alternatives such as almond milk, dessert beverages and more,” she says. “Chocolate is a flavor that people have come to expect and seek out in these spaces. Other flavors come and go, but consumers continue to choose chocolate time and time again.”
Moreover, with rising consumer interest in clean label products, Hadden highlights how cocoa products can help meet consumer expectations.
“Rising interest in where and how food is produced is part of the reason why organic claims are sought out by consumers,” she explains. “To help customers deliver on these expectations, we offer sustainably sourced cocoa products and provide opportunities for brands to contribute directly to cocoa sustainability initiatives at origin, including efforts to support farmer livelihood, women’s empowerment, deforestation projects and so on.”
Noting Virginia Dare’s love for its “classic flavor” portfolio, Caputo points to caramel, coffee and banana as considerable flavors for beverage-makers.
“These are all flavors that consumers know and love, and they’re a fantastic starting point for some inspired beverage formulation,” he says. “And don’t get us started down memory lane on the nostalgic flavors. We’ve developed an entire flavor theme, Forever Young, focused on these nostalgic memories. An extension of the nostalgic trend of the past decade, childhood favorites and child-adulthood hybrids are associated with good, simple times.
“There are countless opportunities when it comes to classic flavors, and we are so excited to help the brands we work with think up their next innovation,” Caputo concludes.