Premiumization has changed the beverage industry. Beverage companies are going to great lengths to meet consumer expectations for products that are an improvement upon past offerings. The trend is best exemplified by brands attempting to one-up each other – and their own past efforts – with better-for-you, functional and clean-label drinks.
The push toward healthier beverages has also intensified innovation on the flavor front. Companies are consistently looking for new and interesting ways to entice consumer palates, particularly within fast-growing and emerging beverage categories. Meanwhile, the industry as a whole is trying to keep up with millennial consumers, whose thirst for unconventional and exotic flavors is seemingly unquenchable – and highly influential among older age groups.
How are beverage companies and their supplier partners keeping up? We asked executives from five leading flavor suppliers for their views on the changing landscape for non-alcoholic beverages, including where demand is most prominent and how they source inspiration for new flavors.
What’s your take on the landscape for flavor trends in the non-alcoholic beverage industry and how it has and will continue to evolve?
Donald Wilkes, President & CEO, Blue Pacific Flavors:
We are seeing a new apothecary beverage trend of elixirs and tonics with bitter to sour taste profiles, all less sweet than traditional CSD or RTD beverages. The flavor trends are driven by interest in authentic, adventurous and experiential new flavors. There is a movement from sweet to bitter and traditional or exotic fruit and citrus like yuzu, Cuties mandarin or Meyer lemon combined with botanical essences like organic elderflower and dandelion, to single origin root and warming spice extracts like Sumatran clove, Vietnamese cinnamon and Ceylon ginger.
Sheila Harte, Director of Beverages, Bell Flavors & Fragrances:
Consumers are more educated than ever before through sources like social media and cooking channels. They are able to easily learn more about different cultures and cuisines from around the world. This exposure leads to consumers that are more willing to try new things than ever before. India, for example, offers bold and exotic flavors like cumin, curry, rose water, and cardamom. Consumers are not afraid to try that mango lassi with cardamom. Another popular Indian flavor, tamarind, works well with cola.
Catherine M. Armstrong, Vice President – Corporate Communications, Comax Flavors
We see the landscape for flavor trends continue to expand with cultural influences. We are seeing flavors from Brazil, Cuba as well as Asia becoming increasingly popular. We are also continuing to see heat/spice flavors pop up. Sriracha is now an everyday kitchen staple. There is also still a strong demand for seasonal flavors.
Simon O’Brien, Marketing Manager, ADM/WILD Flavors & Specialty Ingredients
There are two overarching flavor trends we’re following closely today: better-for-you beverages and the art of craft. Better-for-you [encompasses] consumers’ increasing demand for natural health and wellness food and beverages including plant-based ingredients, our love for more and more protein, nearly anything organic, and clean label. One aspect of the art of craft that we’re particularly interested in is the continued push towards premium flavors and taste experiences in regional and local non-alcoholic beverages.
David Ames, Owner, Sovereign Flavors
The flavor trend that we have seen the past 12 months and it looks to continue for the next 12-24 months is the theme of keeping beverages with clean, simple labels. The key drivers are the upcoming (U.S. Food & Drug Administration) labeling requirements, Vermont’s non-GMO initiative and the consumer push for simple, clean labels. We have gone from energy-type beverages with more than a dozen vitamins, minerals and botanicals a few years ago to simple carbonated flavored essence waters. Flavored essence waters are very easy for the consumer to understand. We have seen the traditional citrus flavors that have dominated this category move to a combination of two or more flavors that are being used.
Is there a theme that links flavor with innovation in non-alcoholic beverages?
Wilkes: With a rising demand for organic beverages, innovation will be tied to the availability in the supply chain of raw materials for flavors that meet USDA criteria. This is becoming an important point of differentiation.
Harte: The well-traveled kitchen encompasses a kitchen influenced by the world. Due to the improved relations with Cuba, beverages with Cuban influence are of interest. India has inspired many beverages with unique spices. Global street food is food and beverages found in regions across the world being offered at food carts/trucks. Consumers are bringing these authentic flavors from city streets into their kitchens from regions like Marrakech, Mexico City, and Montreal.
Armstrong: Many enhanced beverages require innovative masking and mouthfeel type flavors in order to improve their taste.
O’Brien: One of the other aspects of the art of craft that we’re closely following is the growing movement towards more purposeful and holistic eating and drinking experiences. This theme is driving significant innovation, and our own consumer-based research reveals that people are paying closer attention to product color, flavor, taste, mouthfeel, body, texture, linger –- and the whole experience they’re having with the food and beverage choices they’re making.
Ames: Most popular flavors originate from the success of other products on the market. For instance, right now, we are doing a lot development with grapefruit in non-alcoholic applications. The driver of grapefruit as a top flavor in non-alcoholic beverages is due to the success of grapefruit in the alcohol category. We see a lot of new, non-traditional flavors that find success in the alcohol, confection, dairy industries that will transfer well into the non-alcoholic beverage category.
Among non-alcoholic beverage categories, where is the greatest demand for new and innovative flavors?
Wilkes: We see the greatest demand for new innovative flavors in the area of plant-based beverages, fermented beverages, high-protein drinks, coffees, teas and sparkling waters.
Harte: New and innovative flavors are in demand in a variety of beverage categories: hand-crafted sodas, flavored waters, tea, coffee, juices, drinkable yogurts, probiotic/digestive beverages, and shakes and smoothies. Spicy and sweet combinations are popular in shakes and smoothies. Savory flavors are emerging in meal replacement juices and drinkable yogurts for people on-the-go. We are seeing sodas being infused with vegetables like beets and fruit flavors.
Armstrong: In terms of innovative flavors, I think the greatest demand is in the health and wellness category. Consumers are searching for more healthy options but it still needs to taste good.
O’Brien: The plant-based space, especially plant-based proteins, is exploding as well as enhanced waters and other functional performance beverages.
What are some of the challenges or opportunities in working with fast-growing beverage categories, including:
Wilkes: One of the challenges with cold-brew is its lack of aroma and complex structure of traditional coffee which tends to be preferred by older coffee drinkers. The cold-brew process doesn’t extract the oil phase of coffee, which dramatically affects the finished beverage aroma. Cold-brew extraction tends to minimize acid, which makes it smooth to drink but also challenging to identify because acid is a key taste differentiator in coffee bean origins. With the growth of cold-brew coffees, we see a mash-up of traditional vanilla or mocha with Hispanic influenced chili spices.
Armstrong: We are working a lot with plant proteins. The challenge is most certainly the off-note tastes and mouthfeel for protein-infused beverages as well as dairy alternatives. This category provides a huge opportunity for us with masking and enhancement technologies.
O’Brien: There are a wide variety of protein options – from dairy-based to plant-based – and each has benefits and downsides. The challenge is to find the right protein formulation for each product and then find the right balance of flavor enhancement to create an end product customers will enjoy.
Wilkes: The biggest challenge for beverage developers when flavoring protein-infused drinks is understanding how that flavor will be impacted after the thermal processing and over the shelf-life of the beverage. Typically, we have found that certain proteins are resistant to absorbing key flavor components, which will impact the overall flavor perception and consumer acceptability over the course of the beverage’s shelf life.
Armstrong: The sparkling water category gives us the opportunity to showcase new exotic flavors including both herbals and floral flavors.
O’Brien: Limiting sugar and calories can be a challenge here to avoid creating a product that is too close to a traditional carbonated beverage in nutritional value.
Wilkes: Creating recognizable and dimensional fruit flavors without the use of added sugar creates a myriad of challenges. With no sugar added or any natural or artificial sweeteners, the flavors typically lack key components to “bloom” authentically such as sugars and fruit acids. Without these, the typical acid profile is from carbonic acid, which has a drying effect on the tongue and lacks the functionality to create a true-to-fruit flavor profile.
Wilkes: One of the challenges with flavoring traditional kombucha is the nature of the acidity when compared to flavoring traditional beverages that use citric acid or other fruit acids. The unique acetic acid or vinegar acid profile from the kombucha fermentation process makes it challenging to balance flavor, particularly if it needs to be USDA certified organic.
O’Brien: Kombucha’s unique flavor and format can be a challenge for flavor application, so for best results we recommend working directly on the base beverage so that you get a properly balanced finished product.
DAIRY ALTERNATIVE BEVERAGES
O’Brien: The goal is to have the cleanest tasting base possible, so depending on the alternative used, there can be off-notes that need to be addressed through selecting flavors that don’t amplify or highlight the off notes and by utilizing proprietary taste modification technologies
Where do you look for and find inspiration for new flavor profiles?
Wilkes: I have been fortunate to travel extensively over the past 35 years and much of my personal inspiration comes from experiencing unique cultural culinary treks or tasting exotic fruits, spices and seasonings from Sumatra to Sri Lanka. Today, we need to look no further than our own cities to get inspiration for new flavors because of our multicultural communities and the growth of a creative network of chefs, food technologists, food scientists, consumer bloggers, food truck devotees and foodies.
Armstrong: Anywhere and everywhere! We always look to the conventional methods of data research, industry reports and such, but we love to explore and experience! From a food truck to a trendy bar or travel our team is constantly looking for flavor inspiration.
O’Brien: We have a well-defined and established global and regional trends program. We also rely on a wide range of disciplines and look across a broad array of different food, beverage and non-food categories alike to help developers cut through the clutter of niches, fads and micro trends to find the big bet trends that will help sustain their brands for the long term.
Harte: There are a lot of places to look to find inspiration for new flavor profile. Look worldwide at trends. For example, what are the popular beverages in Japan right now?
Ames: Our inspiration for new flavor profiles comes from our customers who are living in the specific beverage space. We also bring to the table trends we see in other food categories that may be applicable in certain beverages.