Last week, Euromonitor International was delighted to present on “Growth Markets in Global Beverages” at Flavorcon 2017 in Rosemont Illinois, a conference attended by an international mix of flavourists, food scientists and innovation specialists across consumer packaged foods.
In addition to showcasing new flavour technology (ranging from new work in food modifiers, flavour preservation, food fortification and aroma enhancers), the conference also explored future flavour trends and addressed the evolving challenges faced by the ingredients industry. These challenges range from changing regulatory and compliance environment to consumer confusion and suspicion with regards to the quality and safety of their food and beverage ingredients.
Yet the single most encouraging takeaway from the conference (from both a brand and supplier perspective) is the booming variety of consumer taste and demand: the global consumer has never been more open, experimental and curious in terms of new flavours, cuisines and dining experiences. This is particularly true in packaged beverages, where experimentation and discovery has led to the growth and mainstream appeal of emergent categories like fermented drinks, vegetable dairy alternatives, plant waters, cold brew coffees and a variety of new fruit and herbal flavour blends.
As described by Jeff Allard, Vice President of Research & Development for Dr Pepper Snapple Group, the challenge for flavour suppliers is helping to meet this demand by marrying what’s hot in terms of consumer trends with what’s possible in terms of existing technology and capabilities. Speed to market– moving ideas from concept to production to the retail shelf in a safe and reliable way– is paramount.
Trend-spotting in flavours and ingredients
Deniz Ataman, Managing Editor of Perfumer & Flavorist Magazine, made the case for plant-based ingredients and botanicals at the centre of product developed in food and beverage. In the realm of global beverages, we see the application of this point most clearly in the growth of ready-to-drink herbal teas and less sweet fruit infusions that can capitalise on simple ingredients, clean labels and the reduced (or zero) overall use of sweeteners. This point was emphasized by Barb Stuckey, President and Chief Innovation Officer of Mattson, who identified flexible plant-based diets and personalised nutrition as two of the main consumer trends transforming food and beverages.
Christopher Warsow, Corporate Executive Chef with Bell Flavors and Fragrances, spoke about the consumer-led priorities of his own team in creating food and beverage flavour enhancers and botanical extracts: these included work in salt-enhancers, flavour modifiers for sweetness (allowing for less use of sugar) as well as the creation of allergen-free sauce formulations for Asian cuisine.
Less is more? Sweetness and beverages
David Tonucci, Vice President of Global Regulatory & Scientific Affairs for Tate & Lyle, observed that “consumer perception is multifaceted” in his keynote presentation on consumer-driven innovation and regulation. While the flavour and ingredients industry continues to develop new technology in the realm of flavour enhancement, mouthfeel, calorie reduction and nutritional benefit, the industry has not always been successful in communicating the advantages of its products to the end consumer, allowing misinformation and rumour to supplant scientific evidence. Tonnuci argued that the flavours and ingredients industry must not simply respond to consumer change or regulatory pressure but take a leadership role in engaging with brand partners and end consumers about the important topics of food safety through direct engagement.
The importance of consumer engagement is particularly true in the soft drinks industry, as brands and ingredients suppliers face up to changing consumer priorities with regard to their own health and the role of sugar in that debate. Flavour modifiers in beverages will continue to be a hot topic of discussion, particularly as the consumer explores nutritious, high-protein dairy alternative beverages that can replicate the enjoyable, familiar taste of traditional juice and dairy products. Ingredients innovation must play a role in this debate. As regulatory and legislative action continues, including new excise taxes on beverage categories, many of the largest global food and beverage companies have taken major steps toward building a more balanced product portfolio that includes better-for-you, natural, zero-calorie beverages alongside indulgence options.
At least in volume terms, packaged water and products close to water are likely to remain the main area of volume growth. Product innovation will increasingly be judged by the consumer against water in terms of its label and the ingredients inside. The most successful beverages over the next five years are going to be those products that can retain those natural credentials while also delivering on bold flavour – alongside refreshment, hydration and functional benefits – through the use of natural ingredients.