When it comes to creating new food and beverage products that fly off the shelves, a product development professional’s mantra should be: “flavor reigns.” From flavor creation to product formulation, only the best survive.

But, knowing what flavors will resonate with consumers is not a straightforward science. There are a variety of factors to consider. After years of working with product developers from large corporations, as well as entrepreneurs with new product ideas, this author’s team at the Guelph Food Technology Centre (GFTC) has come up with three main considerations that affect which flavors win with consumers: demographics, the economy and trends.

Targeting a product to a specific market is perhaps a developer’s most important factor in flavor development. No single product can be successfully aimed at all demographics. It is crucial to ask questions, such as:
* Who is the product intended for?
* What sensory characteristics are valued by the target market?
* What is the age, gender and ethnicity of the target market?
* What is their lifestyle?
* What are their attitudes, values and priorities?

Because of confidentiality considerations, GFTC is not able to talk about the products that are developed or reformulated for clients. However, several product prototypes showcase the company’s capabilities and illustrate the importance of formulating to specific flavor profiles. One of these products is GFTC’s Twisted Brownie. The flavors in the brownie are chocolate, mangosteen, ancho chili and coconut.

The Twisted Brownie was created for 15- to 25-year-olds who are part of Generation Y. Generation Y consumers look for convenience in the foods they choose. They have a broad palate; they are more familiar with ethnic foods and flavors than consumers in previous generations, and they look for layers of flavors and flavor combinations. However, they also have a familiarity with traditional foods and enjoy “comfort” foods with added flavor creativity. The sensory experience with the Twisted Brownie--chocolate and fruit notes up front, ending with a warm heat note from the ancho chili and sweetness from the coconut--scores high with Generation Y.

When the economy is at a low ebb, people look for familiar and affordable favorites, such as macaroni and cheese, or ice cream with added creative touches, such as spices, curries or exotic Superfruits. While they cannot afford to travel or spend money on entertainment, they probably will splurge on a familiar treat with some added “zing” to cheer them up. Again, the GFTC Twisted Brownie is an example of this kind of product.

Flavors Addressing Trends Draw Interest
Flavor trends can determine a product’s success. Some recent flavor trends are related to foods that are perceived as healthful by the consumer. For instance, blueberry and acai are known to have antioxidant health benefits, and products that include these flavors have done very well.

Ethnic flavor trends have dominated the market over the last decade, and they continue to do so. Another GFTC-developed product is an example of both health and ethnic flavor trends. GFTC’s Rooibos Tea is a cold beverage that was created for 25- to 40-year-old women who have an active, health-conscious lifestyle. It is less sweet than many other cold beverages and juices of its kind, since a health-conscious demographic wants to feel as though the flavor coincides with the health benefits of the beverage. The beverage has a unique combination of ginger, mandarin, black currant and Rooibos tea, with naturally occurring antioxidants and ethnic influences.

More companies are using functional foods in their products, and with that comes newer flavor challenges. Beneficial ingredients, such as green tea and ginseng, can have strong flavors that may need to be masked with other flavors. In the Rooibos tea, ginger, mandarin, black currant and the flavor of the Rooibos itself are complementary and strong enough to mask the added vitamin D and calcium.

In 2010, both ethnic and functional ingredients continue to influence flavor profiles and ingredient choices. Savory and sweet flavors, such as those for beverages, are becoming more exotic, and flavor combinations are pushing the envelope. Product developers in North America face the challenge of developing new and unusual combinations of flavors that still appeal to a Western palate.

There are many complicated factors that make a product appealing to the consumer. Alongside demographics, economics and trends, the development of great products also relies on intangible factors, such as creativity and good timing. Both small start-ups and larger processors can benefit from the advice of a team of expert consultants to develop a successful flavor profile, whether developing a new product or improving an existing one. pf

For more information, type “flavors,” “flavorings,” “Generation Y,” “flavor masking,” “functional foods” or “ethnic” into the search engine at www.PreparedFoods.com.

Restaurant Trends
* 42% of consumers--particularly males aged 25-34--are more likely to visit restaurants that offer new or unique flavors.
* 66% say discovering a new flavor at a restaurant can persuade them to return to that venue for the same dish, and 55% say they may try other dishes there.
* 36% are more interested in trying new flavors than they were a year ago.
* 35% are willing to spend more on a meal that incorporates new or innovative flavors.
* Global influences are prominent, specifically Mexican, Asian and Italian flair.
* Beyond the broadly established ethnic cuisines, cuisines of high interest were Spanish (72%), Hawaiian (71%), Tex-Mex (69%), Greek (66%), Caribbean (66%) and Mediterranean (62%).
* 34% look for sauces and condiments low in fat or calories.
* 29% look for sauces and condiments low in sodium.
* Garlic, pepper and smoky barbecue flavor profiles dominate entrée menus.

Source: Technomic’s “2009 Flavor Consumer Trend Report,” www.foodpubs.com