Flavor launches this year include mustard and dry seasoning featuring sriracha. 

CHICAGO — The next salted caramel may be soursop, said Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insights at Mintel, Chicago. Also known as guanabana, soursop is a tree fruit native to parts of Latin America and has a flavor that is described as a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with notes of sour citrus and a creaminess similar to that of coconut or banana.

Here’s why Mintel expects the flavor to expand in the United States.

“It’s from a country that is close by (Mexico), and from a country that is in the minds of many consumers in the US, which is Cuba,” Dornblaser said. “The flavor profile is very familiar to consumers. The product itself looks different, so success might come in prepared products.”

During the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition, held July 16-19 in Chicago, industry experts from Mintel and Innova Market Insights discussed emerging flavor trends.

“Why is thinking about flavor important?” Dornblaser said. “Consumers like intense experiences.”

Consumers are drawn to experiences in foods, such as McDonald's McChocolate Potato. 

Fifty-eight percent of US consumers last year said they like to try new recipes, up from 52 percent in 2008. Millennials in particular are open to experimentation; 35 percent said food should be fun to eat, compared with 21 percent of non-millennials. And the leading product attribute consumers said they look for in food and beverage is taste or flavor, ahead of value, health and convenience.

“Consumers are much more about collecting experiences than collecting things,” Dornblaser said. She cited examples of unexpected flavor combinations introduced in global markets, including McDonald’s McChocolate Potato, which was offered in Japan and features the fast-food chain’s french fries drizzled with two flavors of chocolate syrup.

Mintel charted the expansion of such wildly successful flavors as sriracha and salted caramel to identify what factors support the growth of an emerging flavor trend. Sriracha, for example, has demonstrated the potential to expand across geographies and product categories. The popular hot sauce has turned up in snacks, meals, spreads, beverages and bakery products in recent years. Launches this year include mustard and dry seasonings featuring the flavor.

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Harissa: The next sriracha?

A staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking, harissa is a spicy, aromatic paste of hot chili peppers, garlic, olive oil and such spices as cumin, coriander, caraway and mint. The flavor is expected to expand in the United States, driven by the continued popularity of ethnic cuisines, particularly among younger consumers. Additionally, Dornblaser noted, North African food is still relatively unique to the market, which may appeal to many consumers seeking new flavor experiences.

A potential caveat of harissa is its hot and spicy flavor profile, which Dornblaser said may be “attractive to some, but a turnoff to others.”

The majority of new product introductions featuring harissa are sold in Europe, but several North American launches have taken the flavor beyond its primary category of sauces. Examples include a chicken and couscous frozen entree from Wicked Kitchen in the United States and harissa hummus rippled potato chips from Loblaw’s President’s Choice brand in Canada.

“As you identify new flavors to try and see if they work for your portfolio, do not be afraid to move the flavor beyond that home category where it lives,” Dornblaser said.

Spicy surprises

Spices are surging in product development, led by cayenne pepper, up 47 percent in global product launches last year, according to Innova Market Insights, Arnhem, The Netherlands. Other trending spices include caraway (up 40 percent), saffron (up 31 percent), horseradish (up 29 percent) and turmeric (up 21 percent). Products launched last year containing chili grew 34 percent in North America, 55 percent in Latin America, 35 percent in Australia and 12 percent in West Europe.

“There are so many chilies; I don’t know how many we’ve identified,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights. “That’s something that’s captured everybody’s imagination.”

Peppers and spices aren’t limited to sauces and seasonings. Global soft drinks containing spices grew 20 percent in 2015 over the prior year. Flavored bottled water containing spices rose 84 percent, while oils with spices increased 62 percent, fats and spreads with spices grew 59 percent, gum with spices was up 38 percent, and chocolate with spices climbed 37 percent. Recent global launches featuring spices include The Chaat Co. Savory Yogurt Snack featuring mango chili yogurt and a crunchy turmeric spiced lentil puff topping (United States), Lurpak Infusions Butter with Chili and Lime (United Kingdom), and Belly Real Dulce De Leche Ice Cream with Spiced Chocolate (Canada).

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Ethnicity specificity

 America’s love affair with global fare is nothing new; however, trending cuisines are emerging from specific regions and, in some cases, cities of the world, Williams said.

“It’s not just Indian food; it’s not just Southern Indian food; it’s Andhra Pradesh,” she said. “It’s all about really specific ethnic flavors.”

Dornblaser of Mintel shared recommendations for adopting global flavors in product development.

“Track where flavor trends started and how they expand geographically and by category to give you a sense of the strength of the trend itself,” she said. “Sometimes the tactic needs to be different depending on if you’re a small brand or a big brand. For a small company or niche brand, jump right in. The consumers you appeal to are a smaller group and a smaller sales target, so you can experiment with something new and different.

“For big brands and companies, it’s about finding the right moment to take a flavor mainstream.”