Taste and nutrition company Kerry has released its "Global Taste Trends" report that maps out the key tastes linked to trends across the United States and Canada, Mexico, Latin America, Europe, and the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions.
“In the past year, we have seen trends shift and accelerate due to the COVID-19 pandemic." said Leigh-Anne Vaughan, global strategic marketing director of taste at Kerry. "A taste for nostalgia has emerged, with consumers gravitating toward comforting and familiar food and beverages such as cotton candy and cookie dough. Seasonal tastes also offer comfort, with consumers expecting limited-time offers during seasons or holidays.
“However, consumers are also looking for excitement, and are drawn toward enticing and visually impactful food and beverages to disrupt the monotony of day-to-day life," she continued. "They are exploring the world through their taste buds in order to seek adventure, with authentic yet accessible cuisine choices on the rise. Meanwhile, health-conscious consumers are also demanding products with less sugar and with healthy-halo ingredients.”
The following top taste trends were identified for North America through Kerry's research:
- Enticing eats
- Taste exploration
- Novel flavors
- Acceptable sweetness
- Healthy halo
Heightened by the pandemic, consumers are gravitating toward comfort food and beverages, and nostalgic and classic flavors that are familiar to and craveable for the entire family. This includes family-favorite flavors such as chocolate, peanut butter, apple and caramel in desserts, and mixed berry, orange and strawberry in beverages. Outside of classic flavors, there’s a growing focus on nostalgic dessert-inspired flavors in beverages, yogurts and sweet baked goods, such as brownie, apple pie, fudge, churro and s’mores.
"Dessert-inspired flavors are emerging in the beverage category, and alcohol notes, such as gin and whiskey, are rising in the sweet category," said Vaughan.
Kerry discovered that seasonal tastes provide consumers an opportunity to break free from their day-to-day monotony and the stress of the pandemic, and to spice up their new routines. North Americans have come to expect seasonal and limited-time food and beverages – think smoke and barbecue for summer and pumpkin and apple for fall. Among new flavors entering the market that bring a sense of novelty to the holiday or season are springtime florals such as rose, lavender and cherry blossom, and fruits such as guava, dragon fruit and yuzu.
Consumers are interested in new textures, flavors and ingredients that add to the overall taste experience. Whipped coffee (aka Dalgona coffee), boba pearls and chia seeds add unconventional textures to beverages, while matcha, ruby chocolate and turmeric provide visually vibrant color to sweet products and beverages. Kerry also found innovation in emerging categories, such as plant-based meat and dairy alternatives that are focusing on building back the rich and authentic taste tonalities of traditional meat and dairy.
With or without COVID-19 travel restrictions, consumers continue their love for traveling through their taste buds — whether it’s exploring international flavors such as Middle Eastern za’atar, Indian garam masala and Southeast Asian yuzu, or exploring local cuisines, including regional barbecues, soul food and Tex-Mex.
"They are exploring the world through their taste buds to seek adventure, with authentic yet accessible cuisine choices on the rise," said Vaughan.
The level of adventure depends on the consumer — while some crave authentic representations of the international or local cuisine, others want to dabble in unfamiliar tastes but in approachable and familiar formats. For instance, poutine, a staple in Canada consisting of French fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy, has seen increased influence from international cuisines — Indian curry poutine and Korean kimchi poutine, to name two — making the dish adventurous but approachable to consumers.
Novel, unfamiliar, fantasy and mystery flavors can bring newfound excitement to consumers’ eating habits, according to Kerry research. Doughnut brands are innovating with novel flavors, such as cucumber, mint and lime, in addition to spicy flavors. Classic and new fantasy flavors, such as cotton candy, birthday cake, mermaid and unicorn, are popping up in sweet, beverage and salty snack product categories. Authentic international flavors and ingredients also add novelty, such as chile crisp/oils and saffron.
In an effort to maintain health and wellness, consumers are looking for products that help them manage their sugar consumption, whether through reduced sweetness perception, lower sugar or clean-label sugar alternatives. Sweetener alternatives such as agave, jaggery, monk fruit, coconut sugar, stevia and erythritol are gaining heightened consumer attention, and ingredients such as brown sugar, dates, honey and maple are being used not just for their sweetness, but also for the flavors they impart, according to the report. There are opportunities to employ flavors and ingredients that shape the perception of sweetness without increasing sugar content, including vanilla, cinnamon, chile, cloves and other spices.
Furthermore, consumers are interested in food and beverages that not only taste good, but also have perceived health and functional benefits. This interest has substantially grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, as consumers look to protect their health in the short and long term. Consumers are searching for products to help improve their personal health priorities, ranging from probiotics and ginger for immune and digestive support; to adaptogens such as maca, moringa and turmeric for stress support; to green coffee bean extract and cordyceps to support energy. Florals and botanicals, including lavender, rose, chamomile, cinnamon and cardamom, support mood, beauty or antioxidant intake goals, in addition to providing unique and novel flavor profiles that are appealing to consumers.
Overall, Kerry researchers are seeing lots of taste innovation in all applications. "For example, there has been a big increase in low- and no-alcohol beverages and hard seltzers as consumers seek to enjoy alcoholic beverages but in different ways," said Vaughan. "The rise of intriguing botanical flavors can be seen in low- and no-alcohol beverages and in soft drinks. Coffee applications are becoming more and more innovative, with cold-brew and alcoholic creations being launched into the market.
"Snacks has always been a very creative end-use market, and we are seeing some interesting flavors emerge here, such as seaweed, harissa and salted egg," she continued. "The snackification trend means that consumers often try intriguing new flavors in small snacks."
The "Global Taste Trends" report can be accessed online.
Based in Tralee, Ireland, Kerry provides sustainable nutrition solutions for the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. The company has offices in 31 countries and 149 manufacturing facilities, and employs 26,000 people globally, including more than 1,000 food scientists.