Spicy and swicy heat up beverage flavor innovation

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/fcafotodigital
Pic:getty/fcafotodigital

Related tags Flavors Flavours Trends Innovation Npd

Jalapeno, pepperoncini, chili and more: spicy and 'swicy' flavors are trending across the beverage universe in 2024.

The popularity of the spicy flavor profile comes from across the wider food and beverage scene: with Latin and Tex-Mex overtaking Italian as America’s go-to food order. Over in the UK, supermarket Waitrose reports that 44% of shoppers now use hot sauces with everyday meals.

‘Swicy’, meanwhile, is a combination of the words ‘sweet’ and ‘spicy’: signifying a sweet heat and different profile to straight-forward spice. While many consumers are embracing spicy, some still find the flavor profile difficult to enjoy and ‘swicy’ offers a different take on the flavor. Again, its roots can be found in exotic cuisines – take, for example, Thai sweet chili or Mexican hot chocolate.

The desire for spicy and swicy ties in with a longer shift towards complex, flavor-forward profiles in beverages. And then there's also a bonus pop of color: with vibrant red and orange shades offering an instantly Instagramable drink. 

Trending: spicy cocktails

Spicy has a natural fit in spirits and, in particular, cocktails: adding an extra dimension for exploration. Take, for example, the classic margarita: which can be upgraded into a spicy margarita with the simple addition of jalapeno syrup.

In fact, spicy is one of the top trends identified in Diageo’s 2024 Flavor Forecast.

Not limited to spicy margaritas, jalapeño has become a ‘powerhouse ingredient’ in the world of cocktails, with social chatter about it growing in the UK (+32%), Canada (+27%), and the US (+25%), according to Diageo’s research. 

Habanero, Aji Amarillo, and other Latin-inspired flavours are popular infusions for bartenders, with Italian chilli.

Pepperoncini, meanwhile, is experiencing a 53% growth in conversations in Australia.

And Chilli is also a popular flavor enjoyed in various ways, with it the third fastest-growing flavour in the US (+36%).

Nowhere is the spicy trend more evident than in tequila: a category ready for a kick up to the next level and a natural fit for spicy given its Mexican heritage.

casamingos tequila

Supermodel turned entrepreneur Cindy Crawford - and Casamigos Tequila founders George Clooney, Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman – have launched Casamigas Jalapeño Tequila this year.

The tequila is naturally flavored with jalapenos to create a ‘spicy yet balanced tequila with just the right level of heat’. That can translate perfectly into a spicy margarita or chilled shot.

Jalapenos also lend themselves well to the bottle design: the label, designed by Gerber, features flames of fire, a jalapeno and Cindy’s trademark lips.

Does spice have a place in the wine category?

While it might not feel like an immediate fit, spicy and swicy is also finding its way into the wine category: with winemakers hoping its the winning formula to reinvigorate the category's fortunes and help it find favor with Gen Z.

stella swicy

Take, for example, LA brand Stella Rose, which introduced Pineapple & Chili flavor wine last year, adding in two more varieties this year with Lime & Chili and Mango & Chili. Each flavor blends Moscato D'Asti grapes and tropical flavors with Italian chili peppers.

The low-ABV wine (5% ABV) hopes that the flavors can help spice up mid-week meals. "Maybe you're looking for a Taco Tuesday drink but don't necessarily want to break out the Tequila – that's what the Stella Rosa Spicy Series is bringing to the table; an easy and refreshing glass of wine that offers the spice and fizz consumers crave," explained Stella Rosa Wines president, Steve Riboli.

In fact, 27% of new Stella Rosa consumers are new to the wine category altogether, reports the company.

In a similar way, fellow California wine brand Heartbeat uses 'adds unexpected spice into the wine category' with the hot rose.

heartbeat-spicy-rose

Drawing on a love for spicy cocktails, founder Kristen Knapp also highlights the potential of spicy wine to bridge the gap between spirits and cocktails and wine.

While spice might be the key differentiator and selling point, however, Knapp says her product is still fundamentally recognizable as a wine.

“The kick is comparable to a spicy margarita, drinkable and refreshing,” she told us. “What’s so unique about this product is that it’s completely rose-forward, and the kick doesn’t roll in until the finish, leaving your mouth salivating and wanting more.”

Spicy in non-carbonated soft drinks

In February this year, Coca-Cola chose spicy as the flavor profile for its latest addition to its permanent trademark Coca-Cola portfolio, with Coca-Cola Spiced​.

coca-cola-spiced-plus-zero

The drink 'transforms the familiar into the extraordinary, blending the iconic taste of Coca-Cola with a burst of refreshing notes from raspberry and spiced flavors'.

More akin with 'swicy' than 'spicy', the drink is not actually spicy but designed to provide a new taste experience.

Coca-Cola identifies a 'massive increase' in spiced flavors: noting an 124% increase in consumer willingness to try spice in beverages since 2019.

As another key barometer of beverage trends, Starbucks launched a set of beverages inspired by the swicy trend in April as a limited time offering.

starbucks inset

New Spicy Lemonade Refreshers beverages come in three tropical flavors – Spicy Dragonfruit, Spicy Pineapple and Spicy Strawberry, alongside a new Spicy Cream Cold Foam.

The refreshers 'bring together the sweetness of a Starbucks Refreshers Beverage, the zest of lemonade and the heat of Starbucks Spicy Chili Powder Blend.