In this two-part series, Candy Industry asks several flavor experts about trends within the industry, as well as challenges they face in addressing demands from the public and their customers.
Participating flavorists, marketers and executives include: Cindy Cosmos, principal flavorist, Bell Flavors & Fragrances; Chuck Dodson, director global mint product management, ADM; Alan Owen, marketing director - Sweet Flavors, Sensient Flavors; Kacey Smith, applications scientist – confection, Flavorchem Corp.; and Christoph Witte, Head of Product Management B2C, Döhler.
CI: Clear and clean labeling seems to be all the rage with food manufacturers and consumers these days. How is that affecting flavor companies?
Cindy Cosmos: Clean labeling has required flavor houses to re-evalute flavors they currently provide their customers to see if the solvent system meets the clean label restrictions. If the flavor needs to be converted to natural, the greatest challenge is cost, followed by profile. Many artificial flavors contain raw materials that are not found in nature so the flavorist may have to be very creative in providing that same profile naturally. Along with that, the pricing of compounds in natural form can be extremely expensive so the replacement may have to be used at a higher usage level and evaluated in a “cost per use” framework. Combining the direction of clean label and in some cases, natural conversion, the flavor may no longer be soluble in the confectionery matrix it started in.
Alan Owen: It’s become increasingly challenging to formulate with all the constraints associated with clean-label initiatives. Plus, each customer has its own definition of what constitutes clean label and standards change frequently. It also puts increasing pressure on procurement, particularly related to securing organic raws.
Kacey Smith: Yes, we are seeing an increased demand for more natural, clean label flavors and ingredients. These are vague terms so we work closely with our customers to develop products that fit their individual requirements. A lot of the requests include substituting “natural” colors for synthetics, eliminating propylene glycol (a food grade flavor carrier), GMO-free and organic flavorings, and eliminating various other components that are synthetic or that must appear on our customer’s labels. We can often deliver what the customer is looking for but good communication between the flavor company and customer is important to set realistic expectations. Organic and non-GMO certified flavors are increasing in demand and have been a large growth segment.
Chuck Dodson: We are seeing a continued demand for great tasting, clean- and clear-label, plant-based and functional foods. Demand for natural flavors and colors from natural sources continues to be driven by consumers who are seeking products with recognizable, natural and fewer ingredients on the label. This can sometimes create challenges in terms of taste, cost or functionality, so our product development experts work closely with formulators to help them create great-tasting, innovative and functional products by leveraging ingredients that serve multiple purposes or adding complementary flavors from our extensive portfolio to enhance taste. For example, A.M. Todd brand mint is non-GMO and natural, which is certainly on trend for clean- and clear-label products, and it also serves as a great masking agent, so it can be a good option for confectionery products that are also used as supplements, especially in combination with fruit or herbal flavors.
CI: Reportedly, Millennials are more adventuresome with regards to experimenting with new and bolder flavors? Are you finding that to be the case?
Christopher Witte: Millennials are very individualistic and love to try new foods and flavors. Various surveys have shown that a large proportion of Millennials consider themselves to be “adventurous eaters.” Thus, new and exotic taste experiences such as matcha, white guava, cucumber and combinations of fruit, vegetable and botanical flavors really appeal to this group of consumers. According to Döhler Sensory & Consumer Science, taste matters a great deal, but at the same time, products still need to be healthy and convenient. It is interesting to note, however, that their loyalty to new tastes is often relatively low.
Alan Owen: Absolutely. Millennials are much more adventurous and experiential than the generations that proceeded them. They are traveling abroad with unprecedented frequency (InnovaDatabase 2016) and are exposed to cultures and cuisines that create intrigue and the desire to relive those experiences when they return to the United States. Millennials and the Latino influence are key drivers of bold, spicy and hot flavors. Not long ago, jalapenos were synonymous with chili peppers. Today, varietal chipotle, peri peri, ghost poblano and shishito peppers are common and desired for their varying heat levels, but more importantly for the distinct flavors they impart.
Cindy Cosmos: Yes, Millennials seem to have expendable dollars which they use to try anything new. They constantly want to experiment so their palate is very open to new; however, the attention to the “new” does not last long so and it is hard to expect longevity to a flavor blend. This does allow the manufacturer to pursue a “limited time offering (LTO)” if they have a SKU available for that.
Chuck Dodson: Flavor preferences evolve with age, and part of the reason Millennials are more adventurous is that they are in the stage of life where food preferences are a cross between the comfort of what Mom used to make and the crazy new thing their friends just tried are appealing. So food formulators are focusing on finding new ways to innovate with fusion flavors and exotic tastes and textures to appeal to this generation.
Kacey Smith: Yes, Millennials and the ethnically diverse Gen Z are continuing to push exploration of global flavors. As these groups continue to influence the market and enter the work force, their openness to these new flavors will continue to transform the industry.
CI: We’ve seen the push toward flavor fusion for the past several years. Is this trend continuing, gaining even more traction?
Chuck Dodson: Flavor fusion has been a trend for a long time, and formulators are continuing to find new ways to bring two or more flavors together to bring different and interesting taste sensations together for consumers. We see almost half of the new products in the candy sector in particular focusing on flavor fusion. There are a lot of opportunities for innovation, especially in the chewy candy sector, by combing mint with fruit, apple with a variety of different flavors, coconut and also herbal flavors like ginger. We are also seeing fusion flavors in sweet and savory combinations like fruit and sriracha and in dessert combinations like pumpkin pie spice or cheesecake flavors.
Kacey Smith: Fusions are popular for introducing the trending but sometimes polarizing flavors of herbals, botanicals and super fruits. These flavors can be made more approachable as they complement or amplify the profiles of familiar fruits, and even chocolate or cream.
Another exciting area for development of fusion flavors is the hybrid of two iconic products, like cookies and candy bars or gummies. Flavorists are challenged with translating beloved attributes of both products into new formats in a way that is convincing and enjoyable.
Cindy Cosmos: Yes. As consumer’s palates have become more accepting of different cultural influences, confectioners have used that to their advantage in releasing more uniquely flavored products. The sweet and savory fusion, which initially started with high end chocolates, now has spread to a variety of confections. Confections easily follow the beverage industry trends since the medium to replicate is similar. When mango flavor was coming on to the scene, it was fused with different juices (peach/mango, orange/mango, etc.) until it became acceptable by itself. Right now, there is a new cranberry juice blend (Cranberry/Pineapple) which I am sure will eventually become a confectionery flavor, perhaps in gummies or a chocolate-covered piece or bar. Since there are many options to fuse, the sky’s the limit.
CI: Savory and sweet combinations, such as salted caramels, have become a big hit in the chocolate segment. Any new developments in the sweet and savory coupling?
Christoph Waite: Sweet and savory combinations are huge in the confectionery market right now and are still gaining in importance. We’ve seen double-digit growth over the past couple of years, with numerous launches of sweet and savory flavors in Europe and North America. Besides salted caramels or marshmallows, lots of unique combinations have made their debuts – either in combination with salt or other savory taste directions. Just think of pesto-flavored chocolate. As one of the leading global ingredients manufacturer and suppliers, Döhler has developed a variety of new product concepts that follow this important trend. Our trend formulations offer wonderful multi-sensory experiences for consumers, and are a great fit for what the Millennial target group is looking for.
Alan Owens: Premium chocolatiers are increasingly innovating with savory ingredients such as basil, ginger and cardamom as well as botanicals.
Cindy Cosmos: I think we will see more savory, spice and herb blends coming out in the confectionery arena. Who would have thought after salted caramel, bacon would cross the boundary? Now we have chocolate-covered bacon, or maple bacon nougat. Herbs are now being fused with chocolate, nuts, fruit pieces in bars with a fruit-flavored glaze. How about a Blueberry Basil blend, or Rosemary Cashew Orange? Granted these usually are seen in chocolates but they can be use in gummies or panned confections. Beyond the trend of “pumpkin spice,”Cayenne peppers, Tabasco, chai, sriracha, jalapeno — basically flavored “heat” — I think will be on the scene more and more.
Kacey Smith: Sweet and savory combinations work well in the growing snack bar and ready-to-eat popcorn categories, which have the flexibility to function as a mindful mid-day snack or decadent treat. Sweet and spicy, salt and chocolate, and fruit and vinegar are some examples. Additionally, meat-based bars are introducing fruit flavors like cranberry, apple and mango.
Next month, the Flavors Forum will explore dessert flavors, flavors used in masking, the popularity of alcohol-based flavors and more.