Finding Flavorful Fits
On September 19-20, 2005, in Oak Brook, Ill., Prepared Foods held its first annual conference dedicated to providing technical, application-oriented information for formulators and others involved in product development. Over the next year, distilled overviews of the presentations will be provided in Prepared Foods magazine. This range of presentations featured insight into flavor mapping, global flavor creation and consumer motivation when trying new food products.—Eds.
Try It! You'll Like It“When is the last time you tried a new food, a truly new food, and not merely a line extension?” asked Jennifer Crouch, Ph.D., a manager in sensory and consumer research at David Michael & Co. “Was it while dining at a restaurant or otherwise ordering food away from home? Was it purchased at a supermarket? A wholesale club? A convenience store? Was it tried while visiting another country, another state or someone else's home?” While new food trial sometimes is dictated by necessity, more frequently it occurs based on primary motivators that change as the consumer gathers more life experience.
Discussing prime motivators for trying new foods, Crouch's primary focus included the life stages with the years of greatest food neophilia (defined as new food exploration) experimentation and trial usage. Prime motivators for food choice define the consumer's willingness to try new, unknown foods and flavors from infancy through senior years. In Generation Y years (current ages 11-28), key motivators for trying new foods and beverages are tied to an individual's need to establish adult identities separate from his childhood self. Motivators also are stimulated by health and prestige.
Interest in trying new foods and beverages can be viewed as a form of risk-taking. The curiosity of trying new products can occur in the absence of sensory liking for the food or drink on initial tasting. New food trial involving strong or intense flavors or sensations, or bitter or sour tastes, may not be immediately pleasant to the palate. This type of experimentation demands a sense of the true explorer, going beyond the “safety net” of acceptable or easy-to-like food flavors. For food and beverage manufacturers who want to create truly innovative products using globally authentic flavors and ingredients, this type of food trial may be of particular interest.
Flavor RadarUnderstanding the culinary development of ingredient trends is the first step in identifying flavors and ingredients that should be on every product developer's radar. “At FONA, we track the usage of different ingredients and flavors using a diverse bank of resources including restaurant menus, specialty magazines and both gourmet and mainstream retail products,” says Cara Newkirk, manager of consumer insight and innovation at FONA International Inc.
The result of this evaluation process is a variety of flavors and ingredients mapped from “novel” to “everyday” using The Flavor Radar. This flavor-mapping methodology provides a list of flavors and ingredients, offering product developers options for short- and long-term formulation projects. For example, when tracking salad dressings, marinades and sauces, flavor radar cues led flavor formulation by studying dining indicators, retail products and print media.
Figs, for example, are featured on American, French, fusion and Italian menus. “From a culinary perspective, new things are happening with figs,” informs Newkirk. Often presented as a glaze, chutney, vinaigrette or other sauce and paired with foie gras, pork chops or chicken livers, figs were spotted with pomegranate-glazed duck and also as part of a fig-apple glaze or balsamic glaze. Print media have highlighted figs in main dishes as well as desserts.
Gourmet/specialty products are an indicator of unique and novel ingredients on the rise in fine dining. The presence of a flavor in retail grocery brands often is a direct result of demand noted in mainstream dining. Likewise, print media are an indicator for both groups. Information services like Mintel International's Menu Insights and GNPD are just two resources used in mapping flavor trends.
Flavor Radar can explore either an industry perspective or market perspective, such as the different aspects of sauce or salad dressings. Focusing on evaluating and forecasting culinary ingredients and flavors, it can predict different applications of ingredients and flavors by usage and type to uncover flavor trends that can be incorporated into the application at hand. Flavor mapping methodology provides rich insight into flavors that could be introduced tomorrow—and flavors to fill the innovation pipeline for future development.
Global Flavor CreationThe new “flavorist” must now deal with disparate and multi-cultural consumers, adding several new dimensions to the ever-growing matrix, explained Timothy Webster, vice president of global business development at David Michael & Co.
Obviously, market drivers in Tianjin, China, are completely different from those in Oak Brook, Ill. In today's environment, it is not unheard of for a flavorist in Philadelphia to work with an associate application specialist in France to develop a food product that will be manufactured in Spain to be exported for sale in China.
Two different types of flavor systems have evolved—localized and globalized. The local system is developed to target the taste preferences of a particularly defined region. As the geographic area of this market increases—adding more-diverse cultures and taste history (becoming more global)—decisions must be made on how to develop the correct blend.
For example, moving from a Sichuan target to a Chinese target: Developers can extrapolate the same decisions as they expand to an Asian target and then a global target. As the target market grows, the product is further removed from the local preference of the consumer, but the individual consumer is always local. From the flavor-preference perspective, successful flavor creation depends upon developing specifically for local markets. This strategy can work well with regional and smaller companies.
Larger corporations are looking to streamline the supply chain, moving to a more global flavor solution—a single flavor system for a product worldwide. It is even better if that flavor can be used in multiple products. Developing a universally preferred flavor is a complex series of decisions and compromises, made more difficult by cost-containment constraints that go hand-in-hand with profile demands. Today, main concerns are price and logistics costs, but other concerns are on the horizon. In the future, if not now, the flavor will need to be universally accepted from legislative and religious perspectives, non-hazardous for shipping purposes, present no consumer objections from labeling and nutritional standpoints (allergens) and present no consumer objections from an ethical point of view (genetically modified organisms, GMOs).
The successful flavor creator will be able to help the customer understand the desires of the consumer and develop flavor systems to complement the operational strategy. To survive, the flavor company must re-invent itself, develop and rationally apply new technologies, and develop strategic alliances to drive costs out of the system while maintaining sufficient margin to support the creativity that makes successful food products.
Fire it Up!Abizer Khairullah, director of technology at ConAgra Food Ingredients, introduced Controlled Moisture Fire Roasted and Grilled (CMFRG) vegetables, a bold-flavored, on-trend new ingredient with unique performance characteristics that opens new product opportunities for product developers.
“It is a frozen product with concentrated vegetable solids, resulting in less water loss when thawed, thereby overcoming several formulation problems associated with the free water found in fresh and individually quick-frozen (IQF) vegetables,” said Khairullah.
By pre-concentrating the solids of the vegetable material before roasting, savory flavors, caramelized flavors and deep-roasted colors form rapidly during roasting. The process is faster, more efficient and has none of the disadvantages associated with overcooking. When the process is used to make a frozen fire-roasted and -grilled vegetable, the finished product has lower moisture with enhanced flavor, color and performance.
A comparison of color development during roasting between the traditional roasting process followed by IQF&CM processes shows the CM peppers pick up the roasted color much more rapidly (two to three times faster) than the peppers not subjected to any pre-concentration.
This dehydro-roasting process can remove 30% to 50% of the water from the vegetable, intensifying color, flavor and nutrition.
These vegetables also deliver concentrated nutrition: only 1/3 cup counts as a full serving of vegetables versus the traditional 1/2 cup needed for regular IQF or fresh vegetables.
After thawing or draining prior to use, these CM vegetables yield approximately 33% more vegetables than typical IQF roasted vegetables.
CMFRG vegetables allow price and quality consistency, meaning the vegetables are not subject to fresh produce market fluctuations and, with a one-year frozen shelflife, they can be available year round.
These vegetables are useful in many recipes, including dough-based applications, sandwiches, sauces and meals where moisture release negatively affects the end product.
CM fire-roasted and -grilled vegetables add culinary flair and diverse flavors to a broad range of menu items, such as Tex-Mex, Asian, Hispanic, Italian, Mediterranean and other cuisines.