Flavors & Colors Trend Report

Our experts identified 3 top trends and more as purchase drivers to fuel growth in 2022.

People eat with their eyes first—and no matter how healthy (or pretty) something is, if it doesn’t taste good, people won’t go back for seconds. So, then, what are consumers looking for? WholeFoods asked industry experts, who listed the following trends:

 

Clean, Vibrant Colors

The name of the game: clean label. “The clean-label trend is driving demand for more products made with flavors and colors from natural sources,” says Jennifer Zhou, Senior
Director of Product Marketing, North America, ADM. “Many consumers perceive natural flavors and colors to be healthier and more environmentally friendly than synthetic offerings. In the U.S., 69% of consumers found clean-label products appealing when described as ‘natural, free from artificial ingredients, and containing real ingredients.’”

Right alongside “clean” comes the desire for natural and familiar. “At GNT, we know that today’s savvy consumer not only demands exciting colors, but that they’re also looking for shades containing familiar ingredients processed using relatable methods they would use in their own home kitchens,” says Jeannette O’Brien, Vice President, GNT. “These are universally appealing trends that will only grow more popular in the future. Consumers want eye-catching colors made from natural sources for all types of applications, including beverages, confections, and dairy products. The modern shopper is more concerned than ever about their well-being, and our natural, plant-based colors align with their motivation to optimize their health by selecting products containing non-GMO, vegan, and traceable raw ingredients that are familiar to them.”

Consumers also want vibrant colors, according to Jill Houk, Corporate R&D Chef at Olam Spices, part of Olam Food Ingredients. “The trending colors in food are vibrant, from rich reds and oranges to deep greens. You’re going to see vegetable-forward dishes as well as sauces and desserts that have deeply saturated colors.”

O’Brien seconds that: “A critical factor driving innovation for our R&D teams is the desire to create bright, vibrant colors that are visually intriguing and exciting. Our experts are always researching the chemistry behind natural colors in order to
optimize and improve upon them.”

Zhou suggests that vibrant colors also appeal to function and fun: “Consumers’ heightened focus on immune support because of the global pandemic is driving demand for immunity signaling flavors and colors. Research shows that 78% of global consumers associate vitamin C with ‘immune-boosting ingredients.’ So, fruits that are sources of vitamin C are increasingly popular, from orange and grapefruit to açai and acerola, as are their corresponding colors: bright oranges, reds, and yellows. Also, consumers want to be surprised and delighted by foods and beverages, and naturally sourced colors help bring fun to formulations. Product developers are expanding their creativity with unexpected creations in vivid shades, like lavender spirulina lattes, golden milk with turmeric, and orange icing colored by carotenoids. Rich and stable colors are necessary for the rainbow cakes, black burger buns and tie dye smoothies that take social media by storm and prompt purchases.”

With the wealth of colors available in the food industry, there is always going to be a “hot” color that is trending, says Rene Fonteijn, Industry Business Manager, Oterra. What will it be in 2022? “At Oterra it’s got to be red,” Fonteijn shared. “Red is essentially a color you can’t live without, not only because of its association with love, intimacy, and warmth but because it’s almost impossible to do anything without it. If you consider any major application, be it confectionary, bakery or beverages to name a few, they will also need the color red. This is because red is the basis of so many seasonal activities that are celebrated with food. Imagine trying to celebrate Valentine’s Day, the 4th of July, or Christmas without red—it’s impossible.”

A few ideal applications for the color, according to Fonteijn: “Consumer-behavior studies found the link between red coloring in beverages and feelings of stimulation and excitement. Therefore, red is for example a perfect match for sports and energy drinks where consumers expect to get power, energy, and excitement from the drink they consume.”

Also working with vibrant reds (and pinks, oranges, and yellows): Lycored. The company creates its colors from tomatoes, resulting in certified kosher and halal, vegetarian friendly, non-GMO colors including SteadfastScarlet and ConstantCrimson, according to www.lycored.com.

GNT, too, is seeing demand for “luminous” red colors, according to O’Brien, who notes: “We have two new, uniquely warm hues sourced from red potatoes that meet the global demand for stable, plant-based reds. Our vivid EXBERRY Shade Ruby Red has a captivating glow due to its hint of yellow, and our EXBERRY Shade Rubescent Red Each has a lively vibrancy.”

Vibrant red isn’t always easy to achieve, adds Fonteijn. “With natural colors, it has been so far only possible to achieve slightly darker pinkish-red to burgundy shades. Bright red could only be achieved by using artificial ingredients. Though with our in-house breeding program, we developed a GMO-free potato—Hanson sweet potato, that delivers this amazing bright red shade. And as an additional benefit, it also provides better stability than commonly used sources for red shades.”

It’s not all red, though. O’Brien singled out green, again highlighting vibrancy as an important trait. “Bright green colors are very popular right now,” she says. “Our new EXBERRY Shade Jade Green is a vibrant bluish green and EXBERRY Shade Lime Green is a radiant yellowish green hue. Both of these shades appeal to the modern consumer, and not only because of their eye-catching hues. They’re made from the on-trend ingredients turmeric and spirulina, so they’re also consumer-friendly and support clean and clear label declarations.”

 

3 Trending Factors in Flavors

“The food and beverage landscape is constantly evolving, with consumers demanding flavors not only deliver great taste, but also support their health and sustainability goals,” says Leigh-Anne Vaughan, Global Strategic Marketing Director—Taste, Kerry. “Kerry’s Global Taste Trends report maps out the key tastes linked to trends across the U.S. and Canada, Central America, Latin America, Europe & Russia and the Asia Pacific Middle East and Africa region, highlighting how they vary and travel across these regions.”

1) Traveling (Via Fork). “Kerry research is showing an expanded consumer appetite to travel the world with the senses,” Vaughan shares. “Flavors from different cuisines around the world are becoming popular in North America. U.S. consumers are seeking profiles such as Irish cream, masala, and Korean BBQ as a means to travel with their taste buds. Sriracha and teriyaki are key in the savory category while tandoori is emerging for snacks. We are also seeing an evolution of traditional citrus tonalities within this space with growth in flavors such as Yuzu and Calamansi; exotic citrus tastes, such as tamarind and lychee, have an excellent chance to create an absolute hit in the sweet and beverage categories.” And once travel resumes, Vaughan says, product developers will need to monitor the market carefully—when people go abroad and discover new flavors, they’ll come home and want to find the flavors here, too.

Houk, too, sees travel—and the lack thereof—as a major force in flavor. She notes that, for this purpose, the culture and location of origin is just as important as the flavor itself. “Because we’re no longer travelling the globe, consumers are experimenting more with foods from around the world as an alternative to the cultural experience they would normally get from vacations,” she observes. “Trending flavors are those with deep history and cultural meaning, such as those from specific African nations and Mexico regions, like mole sauce from the Oaxaca region of Mexico. These are bright, spicy, citrus-forward flavors that replace the travelling many people once did.”

Zhou singles out specific flavors that can bring new experiences to a home dinner table—and notes challenges inherent to providing those experiences: “Korean barbecue, shawarma, goolab jamun, Za’atar roasted chicken, mochi ice cream, and more are inspiring home chefs, frozen meals, meal kits and take-out orders. Spices like cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom are characteristic of global cuisines and sweet applications, and because some consumers associate them with wellness attributes, they can lend a positive halo to foods and beverages. These global influences draw from diverse color palettes, but the same vibrant shades can be challenging to replicate in packaged retail products.”

Doubling down on desire for health as a driving force behind this trend, Houk says, “Ingredients like protein-packed nuts and dairy, as well as ingredients rich in antioxidants—like spices, coffee, and cocoa powder—appeal to shoppers. Additionally, plant-based eating is very popular, so consumers are looking to cuisines like Indian, that rely less on meat and more on a rich variety of spices for full flavors and colors.”

2) Healthy Halo. To appeal to health hunters, it may be useful to take advantage of the “healthy halo” effect—one specific healthy ingredient or flavor that gives the whole product an aura of health. “Research finds that 44% of global consumers are more frequently choosing functional foods and beverages to support their health and wellness goals, and ADM research shows that 50% of consumers prefer products that contain natural ingredients that they perceive to be beneficial to their health,” Zhou reports. “Beta carotene from carrots, beets, and other natural sources is a precursor of vitamin A, which can support immune function. Elderberry and elderflower are also associated with immune function are used to flavor everything from dietary supplements to cocktails.”

But product developers should take into account the target audience, because, Vaughan explains, while the end goal of health is globally desired, the category itself is not one-size-fits-all. “Consumers are interested in food and beverages that not only taste good but have perceived health and functional benefits,” she says. “This interest has substantially grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, as consumers wish to protect their health in the short and long-term. However, the profiles that are arising across the globe differ. In North America, consumers are seeking ginseng and reishi and maca, while goji berry and basil have a healthy halo perception in Asia. 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.”

Looking at the healthy halo from a different angle, healthy ingredients can be perceived as having an objectionable taste—but the right flavors can help with that. “With plant-forward products becoming mainstream, ADM flavors and colors for products in this space help to bring an authentic experience through mimicry of both taste and visual appeal,” Zhou says. “Dairy alternatives, plant-based seafood chowders, veggie burgers and more benefit from vegan flavors and colors that can stand up to the rigors of processing through a product’s shelf life. Our synergistic portfolio can help customers develop delicious, authentic flavors prefaced by stunning visual appeal in all types of plant-based products that win with consumers.”

3) Stress Relief. Consumers are using flavors as a way to cope with the stress of the pandemic by looking for comforting, nostalgic flavors in all their foods and beverages. “Nostalgic tastes are manifesting across food and beverages in North America—from family-favorite flavors such as chocolate, peanut butter, apple and caramel in desserts, to mixed berry, orange and strawberry in beverages,” Vaughan shares. “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, s’mores, and churro. Similarly, traditional meals and side dishes are influencing spice mixes and seasonings added to salty snacks, such as pizza, taco, salsa, and mac and cheese.”

Looking specifically at beverages, Vaughan notes several innovations. “There has been a big increase ‘better-for-me’ alcoholic beverages and hard seltzers as consumers seek to enjoy alcoholic beverages with less guilt. The rise of intriguing botanical flavors can be seen in within this space, as well as in soft drinks and sparkling waters. Coffee applications are becoming more and more innovative, with cold brew and alcoholic creations being launched into the market. The beverage category is experiencing an increased interest in botanicals such as lavender and turmeric.”

Zhou puts some numbers to this trend: “Since COVID-19, 48% of global consumers are more conscious of their mental health and emotional wellness, and 56% of global consumers have regularly purchased comfort food. As such, warm, nostalgic flavors are thriving.” Specifically, she pulled out pumpkin spice, apple pie, salted caramel, maple, and chocolate mint. And nostalgic flavors get special dispensation to buck the “bright colors” trend—“some comfort foods and beverages, like ice cream or baked goods, tend to have soothing shades of brown, cream, and tan,” Zhou notes.

Also falling under this category, Zhou points to flavors that aren’t necessarily nostalgic, but nonetheless offer stress relief. “For those seeking rest and relaxation, lavender, chamomile, and rose are spa-like flavors for food and drink. Botanicals can be cued by a range of intriguing natural shades in formulations, including greens, purples, pinks, and blues.” ADM’s Colors from Nature portfolio sources hues from botanicals, fruits, and vegetables, Zhou says, including the juice from the Amazonian huito fruit, which ADM uses to produce various greens, purples, and browns.

The final word: Watch for new trends. Where to look? The snack shelf. “Snacks has always been a very creative end-use market and we are seeing some interesting flavors emerge here, such as apple cider vinegar, truffle mushroom and salted egg,” says Vaughan. “The snackification trend means that consumers often try intriguing new flavors in small snacks. Many flavors get their first start in sweet or savory snacks and then can spread out rapidly from there. It’s important to keep an eye on trends in sweet and savory snack flavor innovations as that consumers might develop early support for new flavors in this category.” WF