Consumer tastes are always in flux — a reality about the food industry that keeps the staff at Wixon, a Wisconsin-based flavors and seasonings company, on their toes.
Wixon flavor chemists are constantly in the lab, coming up with ways to innovate with the latest fads. Here are the top three flavor trends they say could dominate the food scene this year.
Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em
Consumers are responding to smoked and fire-roasted flavors in a big way. It’s no surprise that the flavor’s popularity has been growing in meat products. What is a little unexpected, however, is how those flavors are popping up in other items such as butter, sweet treats like chocolate and caramel, and even in cocktails.
The most unusual place Zak Otto, lab manager for the protein/pilot plant at Wixon, says his team has seen the flavor is in whipped cream.
Consumers are not only snatching up smoked and fire-roasted products, they are also becoming more nuanced in their tastes.
Otto says that consumers often want to know how their meats were smoked — using cherry wood, mesquite or hickory wood, for example — because each method can impart a different flavor.
Authentic and Adventurous
When it comes to buying food with worldly flavors, consumers want to keep it real.
“They want authenticity and traceability,” explains Dawn Manthei, Wixon’s lab manager for consumer products.
The catch is, consumers often want those flavors on familiar foods.
“We’ve seen an uptick in North African cuisine,” Otto explains. “Harissa is a common spice in that cuisine and traditionally used as a rub for meat. Now you’re seeing it in salad dressing, put on chips, etc. Our palates are expanding, and we want that new innovative flavor that excites us. But we also want something familiar … that gives them a way to ease into that flavor category.”
In other words, expect more products like sriracha mayo and Thai coconut curry popcorn.
“Consumers these days want to have their cake and eat it too,” says Manthei. “While they still enjoy desserts, there is a lot more attention being paid to health and wellness and an increased demand for fewer calories.”
It’s this craving for nutritious sweets that is leading to products like “Red Velvet Nutritional Shakes” and “Cookie Dough Protein Bars.”
Because additives like vitamins or protein frequently have a bitter taste, Wixon often works with customers to develop a desirable flavor that still offers healthy benefits.
The trend is also popping up in the meat aisle where Otto says some companies are looking to switch from pork-based products to leaner meats like chicken or turkey — while maintaining the rich taste of pork.
“We have technology that can add mouth feel, mask the foul note of a flavor and bring forward savory notes that come from seasonings,” Otto explains of the process.