Broad consumer trends for 2021 - such as an increased focus on health and wellness due to the pandemic; and increased desire for indulgence - help feed the future flavor trends we can expect to see in the coming year. Here are six top trends to look out for.
Citrus has been a classic flavor for years, and its popularity shows no signs of abating. What we will see, however, in 2021 is an evolution of citrus to more exotic and adventurous forms.
"Sometimes described as the ‘veteran’ flavours in beverages, citrus flavours continue to be firm consumer favourites with manufacturers and brands elevating their status through provenance, types and nuances," says Vicky Berry, business development manager, Synergy Flavours. "We are seeing a wave of ‘next generation’ citrus profiles with blood orange, mandarin, pink grapefruit, yuzu and clementine all becoming more prevalent. We anticipate further layering of citrus flavours with the next generation citrus profiles being combined with core citrus fruit – i.e. mandarin and grapefruit, pink grapefruit and lemon, yuzu and orange."
Yuzu, in particular, is increasingly featured in new product launches: while other flavors rising in prominance include pomelo and calamansi. But more familiar citrus flavors like pink grapefruit and blood orange are also growing.
"Blood orange has gained significant traction over the last few years," notes Holly McHugh, marketing associate of US beverage development company Imbibe. "It’s used as on its own or in combination with familiar true-to-fruit flavors in products like sparkling water, tea, juice and CSDs. And Google searches for yuzu, passionfruit, tamarind and fig grew 22% from January to October."
Travel the world
With adventures to exotic destinations all but eliminated in 2020, consumers want to travel the world with their taste buds.
"Globally inspired flavors make products seem more exotic and exciting," notes Holly McHugh of Imbibe. "The trend of using globally inspired flavors from regions like east and southeast Asia, Latin America and the Mediterranean will accelerate because consumers will be more inclined to explore other cultures through food and beverage while they grapple with stay-at-home advisories and travel bans."
"In particular, we expect to see more inspiration from Mediterranean countries. There’s already been increased use of blood orange, and we expect flavors like orange blossom, bergamot and fig to gain traction as well in premium products."
A top tip for launching exotic new flavors is to introduce them to consumers alongside something more familiar.
"Consumers’ are seeking out more adventurous sensory experiences, so brands are introducing exotic and unfamiliar fruits to consumers’ palates by combining them with familiar true-to-fruit flavors."
Health and wellness: honey and health halos
It's no surprise to hear that health and wellness is at the top of consumers' concerns. But increased awareness of wellbeing during the pandemic has a knock-on effect for flavors.
Citrus again plays into this trend - think vitamin C rich orange juice - as do combinations such as honey and lemon.
Comax Flavors' new immunity boost range focuses on flavors associated with immunity such as apple carrot ginger; blueberry elderberry; and manuka honey.
But health and wellness is a broad concept that goes beyond immunity. A desire to reduce sugar intake - a key trend for years - continues to shape flavor as well.
"In the UK, product launches with no, low, or reduced sugar claims accounted for 38.5% of new product developments in 2019," says Vicky Berry of Synergy, quoting Mintel figures. "In response to this increasing demand, brands are using on-trend ingredients to enhance flavor, such as fruits with a natural health halo, like citrus and berry and honey for natural sweetness."
The ongoing sugar reduction trend is also playing into a general move away from sickly-sweet drinks and towards savory flavor profiles.
"The juice and smoothie market has shown how less sweet flavours (i.e. vegetables) can distance products from the negativity associated with sugar," notes Vicky Berry of Synergy.
"Combining a savoury profile with a more accepted fruit is another way to help consumers accept savoury as a profile within beverages. We see this in products like juice shots, which deliver quick doses of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Many offer more savoury combinations and contain superfoods like turmeric and ginger, which are increasing in popularity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as people seek to boost their wellbeing."
Fermented flavors are another trend to watch: with products such as kombucha and kefir continuing to make waves in the mainstream.
"Fermentation is an interesting flavor trend, and we’re seeing vinegar and fermented beverages become a top medium in new product launches," says Christina Matrozou, Marketing Manager, Sweet & Modulation Taste, EU & RU, Kerry Taste & Nutrition.
Botanicals, florals and tea
The potential for less-sweet flavors also plays into the rise of botanicals: exploring familiar food flavors in a less familiar beverage setting.
"The growing desire for holistic attributes in both foods and beverages will see botanicals—lavender, turmeric, and basil, for instance—come to the fore to address the rising call for light or earthy tones," says Christina Matrozou of Kerry Taste & Nutrition.
Floral flavors are also on the rise. "Elderflower has traditionally been the consumer’s favourite floral, but we are seeing interest in other floral profiles, such as hibiscus, lavender, and geranium," says Vicky Berry of Synergy Flavours. "These deliver light floral characteristics, adding a touch of sophistication to beverages, and are proving increasingly popular with consumers."
And keep an eye out for more launches drawing on tea flavors: another light, delicate and premium flavor profile.
"Synergy predicts white tea to be one of the top flavours gaining popularity in 2021," continues Berry. "Its delicate floral profile makes it well suited to work in a variety of beverage products, especially as natural flavours are poised to perform well with their perceived health and wellness benefits."
Indulgence and nostalgia
2020 has been a tough year: and consumers have been increasingly on the look-out for products that offer indulgence at home.
"In 2021, and throughout the period of continued lockdown, we expect consumers to seek comfort by indulging in time-honored foods and tastes and enjoy “what pleases the eye and the taste buds”," says Matrozou of Kerry Taste & Nutrition.
"This will be augmented by a desire for playful, enjoyable textures and exciting tastes. The traditional citrus, vanilla, and chocolate flavors will, of course, maintain their dominant positions in 2021, but consumers are also expecting innovative tastes to emerge that introduce flavors with more sustainable, positive, and earth-friendly provenance claims."
An increased focus on emotional wellbeing is prompting beverage developers to look back in time and take consumers on a trip down memory lane.
"Revisiting old flavours offers manufacturers a new area for innovation in beverages, and we are already seeing growth across other areas of food and beverage creation," says Vicky Berry of Synergy Flavors. "With the recent launch of sweet-inspired ice lollies, such as Dip-Dab and Flump, to whey protein flavoured like Drumsticks and Love Hearts, the nostalgic influence will only grow in the coming months as consumers seek comfort from sentimental flavours associated with their childhoods."
But consumers aren't looking for unbridled indulgence, says Suzanne van den Eshof, global marketing director, food and beverages at FrieslandCampina ingredients.
"2021 will see flavors that are considered to be healthy as well as traditional, local and comforting. Consumers are increasingly engaged with the nutritional value of how and what they consume is produced, the so called “conscious indulgence” trend, which is a development enforced by more conscious consumers during the pandemic.
"Popular ingredients that will continue strongly in 2021 are ginger and cranberries, with turmeric becoming a new consumer favourite globally. Demand for durian fruit is on the increase in Asia and comfort foods such as sweet custard - with flavors reminiscent of people’s childhood - are increasingly popular across Europe."