Stay ahead of the trends
Fashion trends come and go. Short skirts or dark colors eventually give way to longer hemlines or neon hues, only to come back into style 20 years later.
Much like the fashion world, the consumer packaged goods world sees its share of changing trends when it comes to flavors and ingredients. And retailers that stay abreast of trends here — not only current leanings, but also emerging ones — will be well-positioned to develop unique private brand products that add an element of differentiation to their stores.
Here’s to your health
Health concerns are driving a number of emerging trends in flavors and ingredients — across foods and beverages.
Wielding an influence here on the ingredient side are new FDA nutritional labeling guidelines for added sugars, as well as rising consumer demand for clean- and clear-label sugar reduction, says Thom King, president and CEO of Steviva Ingredients, Portland, Ore.
“Clean-label sugar reduction, while not entirely an emerging trend, continues to grow faster than the American waistline. Traditional food manufacturers are looking to cut sugar, and they are looking for clean- and clear-label ingredients,” he says, adding that Steviva will be introducing new natural sweetener blends in 2017 that are designed to be “plug-in replacements” for high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose.
On the flavor front, vegetable-forward and highly flavored proteins are gaining in popularity, according to Christopher Warsow, corporate executive chef and manager of savory and sweet applications for Northbrook, Ill.-based Bell Flavors & Fragrances. This emerging trend leans toward supporting a flexitarian lifestyle, however, rather than a vegetarian one.
“These dishes incorporate very aggressive cooking techniques once reserved for animal proteins,” Warsow notes. “These vegetables are also being treated with highly flavorful sauces during cooking and after.”
One sauce candidate might be an Italian bagna cauda — which features olive oil, anchovy and lemon. The amino acids in it promote and enhance browning reactions and “highly flavorful outcomes,” he says. Vegetable finishing sauces such as a black Korean-style sauce represent another emerging flavor trend.
As for ingredients, Jean Shieh, marketing manager for Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, Calif., says her company expects to see highly nutritious root vegetables such as beetroot and parsnip being used in more product formulations and more categories in 2017 — similar to how the sweet potato has replaced the plain old potato in many snacks, soups, frozen meals and even pet foods. In fact, Sensient anticipates that beetroot will become a staple for healthful snacks such as baked chips, Greek yogurt and juice, as well as for refrigerated soups and salad dressings.
Alan Owen, director of marketing, sweet flavors for Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sensient Flavors, notes that health concerns also are driving the trend toward buying locally.
“With food having a significant impact on health maintenance, consumers are increasingly leery of what goes into their bodies,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons why fresh, locally sourced and provenance ingredients and foods have gained so much traction.”
Environmental concerns, too, are driving interest in eating and sourcing locally, Warsow adds.
But even though they might be health-conscious, today’s consumers are not necessarily willing to sacrifice taste and texture to reap health benefits.
Pat O’Brien, manager of strategic business development for Ingredion Incorporated, Bridgewater, N.J., suggests that pulse-based flours such as lentil, pea, chickpea and faba bean flours could help here. These ingredients allow for unique positioning for own-brand products, with possibilities including higher protein/fiber content, clean label, non-GMO, gluten-free and vegan.
“These ingredients are not required to be labeled as allergens and can serve as an excellent solution when trying to remove soy or other allergens from your label,” O’Brien states. “Another reason that pulse-based flours are gaining so much momentum is that there are a number of products utilizing these ingredients for unique positioning that have been launched across application categories.”
He also points out that the United Nations designated 2016 as the International Year of Pulses to increase public awareness of pulses’ benefits regarding sustainable food production, food security and nutrition. Ingredion expects consumer awareness of pulses to increase via the campaign, much like it did for quinoa in 2013, when the United Nations bestowed the same honor on that grain.
Probiotics are yet another ingredient rising in popularity because of the health and wellness push. What’s more, probiotics-infused products represent a significant white space opportunity for store brands, according to Mike Bush, president of Mayfield Heights, Ohio-based Ganeden.
“We’re seeing that the beverage category is really booming with probiotics right now, from HPP juices and kombucha to sparkling beverages and coffee and tea,” he says. “Those are areas where we haven’t really seen any store brands show up. And products like nut butters and bars and baking mixes — especially sports nutrition, the active adult product category — we’re starting to see a lot of branded products go into that space, but not a lot in the store brand space.”
Authenticity, transparency count
Outside of health and environmental concerns, trends toward authenticity and transparency also are influencing flavor and ingredient choices. On the flavor side, Roger Lane, marketing manager, savory flavors for Sensient Flavors, breaks that trend down into ethnic authenticity and regionality.
“Consumers have become very well educated due to their connection to the digital world around them,” he explains. “This has allowed them to understand what real, authentic regional flavors can and should be, so they’re wanting the ‘real thing’ versus some watered-down version of an ethnic experience.”
Sensient Flavors is now seeing an emerging trend toward flavors tied to Africa and the Middle East, Lane notes.
“Flavors such as harissa, a spicy pepper paste, have been around in the foodservice space for a number of years, and this has created an uptick for other flavors in the region, like berbere, dukkah and ras el hanout,” he says. “These spice blends include some familiar ingredients but are combined with other less common ingredients, so they are appealing to consumers who may be afraid to try something they’re unfamiliar with.”
To add authenticity, ingredients are getting more specific, too. Shieh points to California garlic, California onions and New Mexico hatch chile peppers as examples of ingredients that can be specified in the ingredient list to “differentiate the products with well-known provenance.”
But simplicity is important, too.
“Consumers are overloaded by information coming from food product manufacturers, social media and many other sources,” says Agnes Lapinska, marketing manager, savory for Ingredion. “Trends that have been winning in 2016 and will continue moving into 2017 are simplicity, transparency and freshness.”
On the transparency front, more consumers want to know what ingredients are in a product, the source of those ingredients and their nutritional makeup, Shieh notes.
“In the past several years, we have seen the market responding to consumer demands with formulation changes, as well as calling out ingredient origin to assure [consumers as to] the use of high-quality ingredients,” she says.