Posted: August 31, 2020
Author: Tyler Burns, Food Scientist

Without a doubt, 2020 has solidified mainstream flavors in food and beverage, as consumers turn to familiar and indulgent flavor options during this time of stress and uncertainty. Many mainstream or classic flavors are reminiscent of simpler, safer times and provide a point of refuge for consumers. This increasing desire for comfortable flavors paves the way for flavor innovation that creates new experiences based upon familiar favorites.

Start Simple

At Wixon, we really do shine as developers of unique and custom flavor systems. Oftentimes manufacturers come to us asking for innovative flavor options to extend current lines of product flavors. Most commonly, brands look for trending and relevant flavors that still land within the bounds of mainstream.

Each food and beverage category has its own list of “mainstream flavors,” but what I see in industrial development are familiar options like these:

• Ranch
• Cheddar
• Sour Cream & Onion
• Taco
• Garlic Herb
• Parmesan
• Bacon
• Lemon Pepper
• Soy Sauce  
• Vanilla
• Maple
• Chocolate
• Fruit Punch
• Lemon
• Strawberry
• Caramel
• Cinnamon
• Apple
• Cherry

These flavors are familiar to consumers; ones we often see in snacks, beverages and sides. What’s interesting to note is that these mainstream flavors do change over time. For example, 20 years ago “taco” and “maple” were not common as flavor options like they are today.

Build and Balance

Unsurprisingly, trendy flavors and ingredients don’t always equate to craveable tastes or viable concepts. So, it’s my job as a taste expert to bridge that gap and translate the trend into a great tasting marketable concept. That often involves a balancing act among a number of factors – trendiness, crave-ability, functionality, price and raw material supply. Let me give you an example. Imagine a customer is looking for a new take on their current cheese flavor. I would start the development process by considering the flavor I want to highlight, in this case, the cheese flavor. Then I’d review trending flavors and market data to find which ones I believe will pair well with cheese. When looking for trends, I utilize several sources to verify new flavors and find insight. Mintel provides us detailed information on new product development and restaurant trends. I also take notes at trade shows of interesting flavors and am constantly skimming grocery store shelves and food blogs for further validation.

In this example, I may decide to focus on providing depth of flavor with trending smoke notes. Or maybe I will try a sweet pairing with honey crisp apple or elderberry. I could also take the cheddar base and pair it with a complementary mainstream flavor like bacon for a savory bacon mac and cheese flavor. Once I’ve gathered enough inspiration and acquired the appropriate samples, I start developing our new flavor. To ensure palatability, I make sure the flavor is crave-worthy by incorporating salty, sweet, acidic, savory, umami and aromatic notes. Once I feel I have the flavors balanced, I then vet them through our internal sensory process.

Many times, ideas on paper do not translate as expected in development. Cost, application and polarizing flavors are all issues that can arise. Sometimes, raw material availability for new trending flavors can be challenging if the ingredient is too new or relatively difficult to replicate. Clean label initiatives, such as organic and Non-GMO Project Verified can also limit flavor and ingredient options. At Wixon, we work around these development hurdles by utilizing our strong supplier partnerships and ingredient library. We typically identify any supply issues prior to development. For unwanted flavor off-notes, our Mag-nifique™ library of flavor modifiers provides access to technology that help us balance or accentuate the flavor. Open and constant communication with our customer is essential during the development process, especially when working with new or trending flavors.

From Trending to Mainstream

One of the best parts of being a food scientist is the ability to test and try new flavors as they become adopted by the consumer. We’re currently seeing many flavor trends on the bench that I anticipate will shortly be the new mainstream. Most notably, ingredients with a health halo like turmeric, ginger, honey, fermented ingredients, and apple cider vinegar are taking main stage as more consumers adopt an attitude toward proactive health maintenance. Spicy flavors like jalapeño, habanero and chilies will also heat up with an increase in spice intensity compared with spicy flavors of the past.  Global flavors will also continue to increase in prevalence as younger consumers continue to explore authenticity and regional options. This includes:

  • Korean (kimchi, Korean BBQ, gochujang)
  • Indian (masala, curry, tandoor, raita)
  • Chinese (black garlic, black ginger)
  • Japanese (wasabi, kombu, miso, ponzu, furikake)
  • Filipino (pineapple, coconut, cassava, vinegar)
  • Middle Eastern (pomegranate, hummus, tabbouleh, falafel, za’atar, baharat)

Only time will tell where these current flavor trends will take us, but they offer a host of opportunities for new flavor innovation.