Top 5 Flavor Trends Kelly Hensel | November 2014, Volume 68, No.11

Flavorists, chefs, and trendspotters predict the leading flavor trends that consumers will be seeking out in the coming year on their quest for healthier and more authentic food.

North African cuisine
Flavor is the No. 1 driver for all food purchases. It doesn’t matter how many marketing dollars are behind a product or if an award-winning chef made the dish. If it doesn’t taste good, you can bet the customer won’t be coming back for more. The good news is that today what people deem as tasty and are willing to try is broader and more diverse than ever before. According to market researcher Mintel, 57% of Americans consider themselves adventurous eaters and 82% are open to trying new flavors (2014).

Gone are the days when people learned about new flavors and ingredients solely from cookbooks. Instead, social media and cooking television channels, such as Food Network, allow people to see what chefs are trying and what their friends are eating. The new “foodie” movement has shifted from a niche group of restaurant aficionados to nearly three-fourths of all American adults finding themselves interested in food and food culture discussions (Mintel, 2014). As consumers become more educated about food, they desire new experiences that can be found by trying new flavors and cuisines. 

As technology expands people’s reach to all parts of the world, different cultures and ethnicities are also coming closer to home. The increase of Hispanic and Asian citizens in North America has created an American population that is moving to a majority-minority composition. As this happens, the interest in ethnic foods, and particularly lesser known regional flavors, grows.

While consumer demand for new and interesting flavor profiles can be challenging to product developers, it also offers an abundance of opportunities. Having a unique flavor is a great way to differentiate a product from the competition. In addition, flavor translates to more than just a tasty product; flavor can carry with it other attributes that consumers desire. For example, coconut water has become increasingly popular because of its health halo as a source for natural  hydration and electrolyte replenishment. Because of its popularity, manufacturers are introducing the ingredient into other product categories. “The continued rise in popularity of coconut water and the industry’s ability to create more mainstream appeal for this beverage by infusing it with flavors like chocolate, mango, and other tropical blends has given a boost to coconut as a flavor across many other food and beverage categories,” explains Lisa Demme, Marketing Director, Beverage Business Unit, FONA International. 

Health and wellness is just one of the macro trends in the food industry today. Another one that is top of mind for consumers is authenticity. When looking to fill the product development pipeline, manufacturers need to keep their finger on the pulse of these and other macro trends because they directly shape and impact flavor developments. With insight from numerous flavor companies, chefs, trendspotters, and market research companies, here are five flavor trends—sweet + heat; sour, bitter, and tangy; umami; smoke and oak; and Middle Eastern/North African—to watch in 2015 and the drivers pushing each flavor toward mass market appeal.