The talk in flavor trends this year was all about creating new taste experiences and signature flavor profiles but without venturing too far from the familiar. “Today’s consumers are easily bored by traditional fruit flavors like apple and orange, and can often be enticed into trying something new and exciting. As a result, more complex flavor combinations, and flavors such as pomegranate, passionfruit and varietal flavor types such as Fuji Apple are commanding more shelf attention,” says Suzanne Niekrasz, director of marketing communications at Robertet Flavors, Inc. She adds, “Craft drinks in all forms are experiencing a renaissance—think artisanal sodas, signature cocktails, handcrafted smoothies and lattes,” she says. Consumers’ ongoing interest in getting back to simple, natural ingredients continues to have a big impact on flavor trends, as well as the influence of Hispanic consumers—note the popularity of flavors like papaya and guava—and the health and wellness trend.
Below is a round-up of many other flavors trends seen in the beverage aisle this past year.
While exotic fruit flavors were getting a lot of buzz in previous years, consumers are returning to basic fruits, yet with a twist. Complex regional flavors or fruit varietals are the name of the game now, such as Valencia, Mandarin and blood orange instead of basic orange or Fuji apple rather than just simple apple, and key lime. SoBe Lifewater, for instance, offers complex flavor combinations such as Blood Orange Mango and Fuji Apple Pear. Other regional varieties include Asian Pear and Red Muscat Grape. Named varietals are an effective way for a brand to differentiate its flavor profile from the competition on the shelf.
Traditional cocktail flavors, such as margarita, piña colada and peach bellini, are migrating into the healthy non-alcohol segment into products like enhanced waters and low-calorie drink mixes like Crystal Light, which comes in flavors Margarita, Mojito and Appletini. By crossing fun cocktail flavors over into more health-conscious beverage categories, consumers get a bit of healthy indulgence without feeling like they are sacrificing on taste. In the same vein, one unique innovation launched this year was ArKay, a whisky-flavored non-alcohol drink designed to mimic the taste of whisky for consumers who abstain from alcohol or have medical conditions or religious beliefs that prohibit alcohol consumption.
What’s old is new again, especially as it comes to flavors, as old-time favorites are reintroduced to a new generation. Nostalgic flavors like lime rickey and cream soda are making a comeback. Canadian brand The Pop Shoppe leveraged this trend to bring back its flavorful sodas with varieties like Lime Ricky, Grape Soda and Orange and Cream and it’s now the No. 1 premium soda brand in Canada. Fans of AriZona Beverages picked Cherry Lime Rickey as the official 20th anniversary flavor for the company in a flavor-off that included Orange Creamsicle and Chocolate Fudge Float. Even simple favorites like Strawberry Lemonade are attracting consumers’ attention as with Starbucks’ new Refreshers line, which includes that flavor along with Orange Melon.
Premium and artisanal beverages have been experimenting with floral, savory and spicy flavors traditionally found in the culinary world, such as pepper, saffron and tarragon, and infusing them into beverages to offer consumers a distinctive taste experience. Dry Soda Co., which markets its line of high-end drinks as “Soda Re-Imagined,” offers Lavender, Juniper Berry and Rhubarb soda varieties, just to name a few. This trend has really taken off in the liquor segment with vodkas especially embracing the buzz around savory flavors. Oddka Vodka offers Wasabi and Salty Caramel Popcorn flavors and Southern Comfort launched a Fiery Pepper variety of its whisky.
Fresh and Natural
Getting back to basics is another big trend seen in 2012 and mint, with its simple crisp refreshment, and all-natural ingredients like honey are getting a lot of buzz. Minta, a mint-flavored soda, launched this past September with an emphasis on its crisp, bubbly flavor. A 100-percent natural drink, Minta comes in original and diet, which features a stevia-based sweetener. The all-natural trend continues to flourish as part of this back-to-basics movement and consumers are looking more for simple vitamins and minerals found naturally in fruits and vegetables rather than dietary supplements. Drinks that combine fruit and vegetable juices are a hot trend and beverage companies are finding innovative uses for these juices beyond just flavoring. In some drinks, cucumber juice concentrate is used as a filler instead of traditional apple juice or white grape juice as it’s lower in calories and sugar, says Tyson Jones, business manager with Dohler-Milne Aseptics.
How Sweet It Is
Confectionary and dessert flavors have crossed over into beverages, offering consumers healthy indulgence or a cocktail with a more complex taste profile. Pinnacle Vodka has made a name for itself with its line-up of 34 decadent flavors, such as Whipped Cream, Cotton Candy, Gummy, Cake and Pumpkin Pie. And while this trend has played out more in the liquor segment, healthier, non-alcohol drinks are satisfying a sweet tooth as well. For example, Good Heavens, a premium yogurt-based drink, has an Intense Tiramisu flavor.
Staying Close to Home
Berry flavors are perennial favorites in the beverage market. And in recent years, beverage companies looked to exotic berry flavors from Asia and South America, such as açai and yumberry, to create a signature flavor profile. This year, beverage companies looked a little closer to home to find distinctive flavors, especially among the darker berries. Hotlips Soda resurrected the forgotten boysenberry and the little-known marionberry for two varieties of its premium sodas, along with more mainstream flavors cherry and cranberry. And beyond berry, beverage companies also are looking to familiar vegetables to develop a new twist on a traditional drink. Complex Beverages’ Lettuce Tea drink is based on an age-old tradition of drinking nutrient-packed tea made from leafy greens and uses a vegetable liquid-based extract combined with green and black tea and tropical fruit flavors.
Investing in Innovation
Despite the disappointing economic picture, the future seems bright for the beverage market and ingredient companies are investing significantly in innovation and technologies. Ingredient manufacturer Ajinomoto North America recently opened the doors of a new Customer Application Center in Illinois, which will serve as a hub for innovation to meet the diverse market tastes and demands of the North American market. Ajinomoto R&D specialists at the Center will focus on customer-focused efforts, such as new product development and investigating new ingredient applications. Kerry Ingredients is investing $100 million in a new global technology and innovation center in Ireland with a focus on speed to the marketplace. By having all product development expertise under one roof, Kerry’s new facility will speed up the entire innovation process.