Global food and beverage innovations took center stage Oct. 21-25 at SIAL, a biennial exhibition held in Paris. While ethnic flavors and recipes were an integral part of the show, the most noticeable acts were the interpretations of the expo’s three themes: taste, true and meaning.

Taste, according to SIAL’s France-based innovation expert panel, is something that many foods have been lacking in recent years, as a result of an emphasis on better-for-you and restrictive diets. It is now the emphasis for many new foods.

“Today we are witnessing a true return of strong tastes to satisfy the desires for new sensations expressed by consumers,” says Xavier Terlet, CEO, XTC World Innovation. “Yet this extra taste must not be at the expense of the natural virtues of the product.”

Pascale Grelot-Girard, marketing intelligence, director Kantar TNS, says, “Consumer expectations, in terms of taste, seem significantly more pronounced and, I’d go so far as to say, more sophisticated than before.”

She cited data from this year showing that two-thirds of consumers would pay more and give more attention to choosing high-quality products, for pleasure’s sake.

“Indeed, in most countries, food is above all associated with the notion of pleasure,” Grelot-Girard says. “Pleasure procured through quality and taste, but also through discovery. In fact, 62 percent of consumers like to discover new products, with scores fairly similar across the different countries that we have studied.”

So, what does true food mean? This refers to food that is more authentic, more natural, healthier and safer. Consumers are paying more attention to what they eat, and the need for transparency and commitment has never been so strong.

“All around the world, artisans and industrial manufacturers alike are seeking to outdo each other with innovations for underpinning basic and raw pleasure, for rediscovering taste that is natural and true,” Terlet says. “It’s about the original taste, with nothing else added.”

Lastly, there’s the overarching theme of meaning. According to the experts, today’s consumers increasingly want to find new meaning in what they eat. Many consumers are getting closer to producers to do their food shopping. They favor short supply chains such as farmers’ markets and cooperatives. Local gives the food purpose.

View a slideshow of new menu items.