Just as 2020 was an unpredictable year due to COVID-19, 2021 has proven to be just as unprecedented. Consumers are looking for foods and beverages that cater to changing needs as a result of the pandemic. Several companies have released their predictions for what flavors will be trending this year. Kerry Group, Flavorman, Comax Flavors and Symrise were among the companies that identified many of the same trends: nostalgic tastes, unfamiliar flavors and functional foods and drinks.
While these trends are a result of the pandemic and the increase in at-home food and beverage consumption, these flavors can still be incorporated into eating experiences once restaurant dining begins to return to pre-pandemic conditions.
“As the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out across the country, we can expect consumers to be more comfortable stepping out as fear for the virus is reduced,” said Sian Cunningham, senior marketing insights specialist at taste and nutrition company Kerry Group. “They’ll be interested in experiences previously avoided, and the way they access their food and beverage products may change.”
When retail pantry-loading was at its height last spring, food trends shifted to consumer packaged goods products that provided recognizable flavors.
“During times of hardship and uncertainty, consumers gravitate to comforting and familiar products and flavors,” said Cunningham.
As more consumers are preparing food at home, they are seeking out meals and desserts with classic flavors — mac and cheese, pizza, brownies and s’mores, for example — to provide that sense of comfort and normalcy, according to Kerry’s 2021 Global Taste Charts.
“It’s a turbulent time and the market is looking for something reminiscent of better times,” said Tom Gibson, chief flavorist at beverage development firm Flavorman. “That’s why we’re seeing so many blasts from the past emerge in the form of re-invented, new and improved flavors with more sophisticated applications.”
Adventurous flavor profiles
While stay-at-home orders have caused many people to seek out these familiar flavors, some consumers are looking for bold, new experiences during this period of lockdowns and coronavirus precautions.
“With reduced travel as a response to the pandemic, some consumers are looking to food and beverages to provide adventure and cultural exploration they would experience during travel,” said Cunningham.
Flavor producer Symrise unveiled its expected flavor trends for 2021 in a webinar last month and concurred that “culinary tourism” is likely to succeed as the pandemic continues. The company identified Mexican spices pipicha, hoja santa and mint marigold as some of the popular flavors that will be used in restaurant food and drinks, which the typical consumer is likely unfamiliar with and may be intrigued to try.
“As consumers continue to seek out new experiences from the safety of home, we’ve also identified flavors with an enhanced sensorial appeal — think spicy, smokey, or minty profiles,” agreed Gibson. “Adding sophisticated layers of heat, cooling, and tingling, these flavors will make their way into everything from craft cocktails to kombucha to RTD tea.”
Food and beverages with a function
Another trend identified for 2021 is incorporating flavors that serve a variety of functional benefits to shoppers and diners, which was popular far before COVID-19 arrived in the US, but increased in relevance even further when the pandemic hit.
“Health and wellness is a permatrend that has taken on new weight thanks to the circumstances of the last year,” said Gibson. “We’ll continue to see trends favoring flavor profiles associated with functional benefits, like fruits and botanicals.”
These plant-based ingredients are poised to show up in categories that already lend themselves to health-conscious consumers, such as protein bars and nutritional beverages.
“Although health-conscience beverages were trending well before the pandemic, consumers are increasingly reaching for naturally positioned beverages of all types, including functional drinks that support immunity and improve mood and relaxation, in particular,” said Katie Clark, lab manager and beverage architect at Flavorman.
Delivering on these trends
Food and beverage producers and foodservice businesses can build on these trends by finding flavors that cater to their brand purpose as well as their consumers. The same profile can even be used for many purposes, allowing brands to target different trends.
Kristen Wemer, director, beverage architect at Flavorman, identified how one flavor — citrus — works across these three trends. Grapefruit and lemon are fit to be ingredients in functional foods in many categories, while a classic dessert flavor such as key lime pie is ideal for the indulgent, comforting trend. Finally, regional ingredients like Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit and Sicilian Lemon can be a successful way to incorporate exciting new flavors into foods and beverages.
“To successfully incorporate these trends, you need to first and foremost know your consumer and how they are shifting in this highly dynamic time,” said Cunningham. “Know the consumer of today but create products for the consumer of tomorrow.”
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