Posted: September 15, 2020
Author: Ryan Kukuruzovic, Corporate Chef

Ryan has 20-plus years of R&D and foodservice experience. His focus is on the design and implementation of diverse and innovative culinary visions with the highest standards of excellence.

I believe the “adventurous consumer” is an individual that genuinely seeks out a unique food, cuisine or product as a gateway or vehicle for new experience. The allure to appealing to adventurous consumers – and absolute truth – is they make up a significant portion of the population (Gen-Z, Millennials, and to some extent, Gen-X are adventurous consumers). This younger swathe of the population continues to widen their flavor exploration and inherently desires new – new – new! From distinctive flavors originating across the globe to unique and unconventional holistic health techniques, methods and approaches, they collect these experiences to share with friends, family and social media. To cater to this need, it then begs the question: How do we keep up with the desire for new?

Finding Adventurous Flavors

Malaysian Nasi Lemak with fried chicken

Finding new flavors to inspire and draw interest from adventurous consumers can take place in amongst our own regional cuisines. In my experience, Creole and Cajun cuisine hands down offers the best source for flavor innovation from American cuisine. In my cooking and within my craft, it is all about using ingredients to enhance, complement and contrast each other in a bold, rich and flavor-forward way. “Flavor Up” is an adage innate in Creole and Cajun cuisine, and for that reason, it tops my list of favorite American regional cuisine.

In terms of adventurous flavor profiles from other lands, there is so much to consider. Cuisines I’m currently being inspired by include trending Malaysian and Singaporean cuisines with their big flavors of toasted coconut, calamansi, sambal, umami-rich shrimp paste and tamarind. Many of these ingredients have certainly infiltrated foodservice restaurant kitchens across the Americas. 

Developing Authenticity

Consumers are increasingly looking for authenticity in new flavor exploration. Authenticity all comes down to remaining true to the mapping inherent within any given cuisine – capturing the essence of a cuisine’s regional ingredients and the flavors those ingredients impart. The difficulty with that point of view and objective within food manufacturing and when developing on the bench can be exotic ingredient sourcing and flavor profiles. Fortunately, there are many paths one can take to achieve true-to-taste, authentic flavor.

For example, imagine you are developing a calamansi lime sambal snack seasoning. In this case, our gold standard Indonesian sambal flavor will be a balanced profile of red chilies, tomatoes, shallots and garlic, with a pronounced lime flavor. The most effective means of capturing those flavors within a dry blend seasoning is undoubtedly through OS (oil soluble) flavor extractives and leaning into the nuances of the other flavor components within the dry blend. One might add ground lime zest or some other citrus component to provide backing support to the top-note flavor quality of the calamansi lime flavor extract.

Build an Experience

Authenticity is conveyed not only in the nuance of flavor, but also in the marketing and experience of new and unique flavor profiles. Adventurous consumers seek new flavor profiles, but also the knowledge and history inherent within those cuisines. It is especially important to call out regional ingredients that are indicative of a particular place or preparation on menus or on packaging.

But this trend is taken further with the younger generation’s motivation for sharing new and exciting experiences on social media. This inborne desire takes them on an adventure to discover not only new flavors, but also new textures, colors and gourmet preparations.

60% of U.S. consumers are now cooking at home, compared to 35% prior to the pandemic

Lightspeed/Mintel, July 2020

The interesting thing we’ve seen with viral food content during the pandemic is the shift from sharing dine-in food and experience to the trends in sharing in the adventure of home cooking. For example, homemade sourdough bread and dalgona coffee were two trends that proliferated at the beginning of the pandemic. According to a July 2020 Lightspeed/Mintel survey, 60% of U.S. consumers are now cooking at home, compared to 35% prior to the pandemic. I believe this provides a real opportunity for foodservice and food and beverage retail to provide an “adventure” with unique options and flavors to be experienced in the home.

This opportunity for adventure in the home can be explored by both retail and foodservice. One idea is to provide consumers with a “meal kit” that provides a targeted flavor experience. In this case, we could use an Indonesian flavor experience. The consumer could be given the raw ingredients and seasonings needed, along with the ability to log onto a site and see the significance and geography of the various Indonesian flavor profiles included. If this was a foodservice initiative, the meal could be an LTO meal kit option that culminated in a chef-run webinar where you “cook” the meal together.

Adventure Awaits

I believe the change in the expectations of the adventurous consumer will be observed as more of an evolution and refinement of the Western cultural palate. The demand for unique flavors, cuisines and foods will advance in such a way that this demand for unique foods and cuisines will no longer be “in demand.” It will become an ingrained expectation from consumers to experience global cuisines and American regional staples in other more accessible formats that are overlaid into various day-parts within myriad food categories. From Memphis BBQ-flavored potato chips to Korean BBQ-flavored almonds, there are many opportunities to provide an experience to indulge in new and exciting flavors without traveling hundreds or perhaps even thousands of miles away.