BELOIT, WIS. — Sriracha macaroni and cheese burgers, ghost pepper donuts and brown butter cheese dip may give a clue to where flavor trends are headed in 2021, according to Kerry’s new Global Taste Trends report.
The taste and nutrition company found nostalgic flavors are gaining momentum as consumers continue to gravitate toward comforting and familiar foods and beverages. Nostalgic tastes are manifesting across a range of categories, from family-favorite flavors like chocolate, peanut butter, apple and caramel in desserts to mixed berry, orange and strawberry in beverages.
“Outside of classic flavors, there’s a growing focus on nostalgic dessert-inspired flavors in beverages, yogurts and sweet baked foods, such as brownie, apple pie, fudge, churro and s’mores,” said Soumya Nair, marketing insights director, North America, at Kerry. “Similarly, traditional meals and side dishes are influencing spice mixes and seasonings added to salty snacks, such as pizza, taco, salsa and mac and cheese.”
The report highlighted a bacon sriracha mac and cheese burger as an example of nostalgic flavors in action. The sriracha adds a tangy kick to the macaroni and cheese while the creamy dairy and crispy bacon provide a balanced texture for an indulgent take on classic comfort food.
Excitement around seasonal items has grown during the pandemic, with new spins on familiar favorites and limited-edition flavors giving consumers the means to break the monotony.
“North Americans have come to expect seasonal and limited-time food and beverages that include crowd favorites such as smoke and barbecue in savory for summer, and pumpkin and apple in bakery for fall,” said Julie Beauchemin, marketing specialist for taste, North America, at Kerry. “Maple is another favorite among consumers in the spring in Canada and fall in the United States.”
New flavors entering the market that bring a sense of novelty to the holiday or season include springtime florals such as rose, lavender and cherry blossom, and fruits such as guava, dragon fruit and yuzu.
Visually impactful foods and beverages are giving rise to new flavor, texture and ingredient innovation, according to the report. Boba pearls, chia seeds, matcha, ruby chocolate, turmeric, whipped coffee and edible flowers are among trending enticing eats.
“Consumers are interested in new textures, flavors and ingredients that add to the overall taste experience,” said Sian Cunningham, senior marketing insights specialists, North America, at Kerry. “Whipped coffee, boba pearls and chia seeds add unconventional textures to beverages while matcha, ruby chocolate and turmeric provide visually vibrant color to sweet products and beverages.”
Many consumers have continued their love of traveling through their taste buds during the pandemic. The level of adventure depends on the consumer, with some craving authentic representation of international cuisines and others wanting to dabble in unfamiliar tastes through approachable and familiar formats, Ms. Beauchemin said.
“For instance, poutine, a staple in Canada consisting of French fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy, has seen increased influence from international cuisines — Indian curry poutine and Korean kimchi poutine, making the dish adventurous but approachable to consumers,” she said.
Taste exploration also is shaping the trend toward novel flavors, with new and unfamiliar flavors like adobo, black garlic, cardamom, hibiscus and lemongrass piquing consumer curiosity.
“Authentic international flavors and ingredients also add novelty to consumers, especially if they’re unfamiliar, such as chile crisp/oils and saffron,” Ms. Nair said.
Meanwhile, fantasy and mystery flavors are showing up in sweet applications like donuts. Ms. Nair pointed to Dunkin’s ghost pepper frosted donut as an example.
“Donut brands are innovating with novel flavors such as cucumber, mint and lime, in addition to unfamiliar spicy flavors,” she said. “Classic and new fantasy flavors, such as cotton candy, birthday cake, mermaid and unicorn, are popping up in sweet, beverage and salty snack product categories.”
The snackification trend means that consumers often try intriguing new flavors in small snacks, added Leigh-Anne Vaughan, global strategic marketing director for taste at Kerry.
“Many flavors get their first start in sweet or savory snacks and then can spread out rapidly from there,” Ms. Vaughan said. “It’s important to keep an eye on trends in sweet and savory snack flavor innovations as consumers might develop early support for new flavors in this category.”
With three in five Americans preferring to reduce their sugar intake rather than replace it with artificial sweeteners, clean label alternatives like banana, brown sugar, coconut sugar, dark chocolate, fig, honey, maple and monk fruit are gaining attention. Kerry pointed to a brown butter honey mascarpone dip as an example. The sweet cheese dip combines the rich taste of mascarpone cheese and brown butter with tangy lemon and sweet honey.
“There are opportunities to utilize flavors and ingredients that shape the perception of sweetness without increasing sugar content, including vanilla, cinnamon, chiles, cloves and other spices,” Ms. Cunningham said.
Beyond sugar reduction, consumers are interested in flavors that provide perceived health benefits. This focus has dramatically increased during the pandemic, with functional ingredients like collagen, elderflower, ginger, ginseng, green coffee bean extract, lavender, mint, reishi mushroom and turmeric being used to add a health halo, according to the report.
“Consumers are looking for products with added functionality to help improve their personal health priorities, ranging from probiotics and ginger for immune and digestive support, adaptogens including moringa and turmeric for stress support, to green coffee bean extract and cordyceps to support energy,” said Karine Tetreault, strategic marketing manager for beverages, North America, at Kerry. “Florals and botanicals, including lavender, rose, chamomile, cinnamon and cardamom, support mood, beauty or antioxidant intake goals in addition to providing unique and novel flavor profiles that are appealing to consumers.”