Some research shows 60% of people are influenced by aroma, mood, flavor intensity and flavor impact, when asked about spicy and pungent flavors.

Article: Finding Favor with Flavors -- October 2010
Cheryl Leach and Jacqueline Beckley, The Understanding & Insight Group LLC

After slow growth in the mid-2000s, the markets for flavoring products, including seasonings, spices and ethnic foods, are making comebacks. Flavors, it seems, are back and bigger than ever. Mintel (2010)1 reports seasonings are a mature market, but they are making a return, as Americans are cooking at home more often, due to the economic recession. At the CAGNY (Consumer Analyst Group of New York) meetings in early 2010, representatives from H.J.Heinz, General Mills, ConAgra, Campbell and Unilever all suggested value would drive the consumer through 2010, and it has.

But, it is not just about value. A growing popularity of ethnic foods, and the awareness of health benefits of common herbs and spices found as ingredients in many ethnic foods, create the trifecta of opportunity for flavors. Most consumers know flavors can bring both excitement and, sometimes, benefit their health. There has also been new research supporting the existence of high levels of antioxidants in spicy and hot foods.2 Seasoning companies are stepping up to the plate with new mixes of spices and herbs for cooks who want to try new dishes, but are wary of results, if left to their own devices. According to Mintel, ìIndividual spice and seasoning sales have increased 30% for 2004-2009î and will continue to grow through 2014.2 McCormick, a leading seasoning and spice company, is so committed to this concept that in early 2010, it launched ìSpices for Healthî--a marketing campaign aimed at educating consumers ìon how spices can contribute to good health via the high antioxidant content of seven ësuper spices.íî2

Spicy and Pungent Flavors Come of Age
As early as 2003, The U&I GroupÆ initiated research reported at this yearís IFT convention in Chicago. The research suggested ìDrivers of Consumptionî (which was part of the Getting ItÆ process for consumer understanding) and showed 63% of people were influenced by aroma, mood, flavor intensity and flavor impact, when asked about spicy and pungent flavors. Only 13% did not like spicy or pungent foods. The most frequent behaviors of these individuals included ìfamily orientedî and ìcurious about the world.î

As the more sophisticated researchers have found, researching and testing the area of spicy and pungent is ìvery tricky.î3 The developer needs to allow for complexity, as there is no simple definition of these flavors. Moreover, the consumers who seek these flavors still represent a small fragment of the population. Flexibility and variability can provide a basis for undertaking new trend suggestions and to understand the potential of the idea and the consumer buttons.4 According to ìFlavor & the Menu,î as reported in Food Technology, ìChile-fired sauces are among the 10 major influences driving menu trends for 2010.î Chilies are even showing up in hard candies and lollipops.5

 Ethnic Foods Market
The flavor market has been boosted by international travel, as Americans are seeking to replicate their global culinary experiences. In the more prosperous years of the last decade, restaurants provided this cuisine; as the recession settled in, home chefs have become more common. 84% of those surveyed cooked at least one ethnic meal at home in the last month.6 Another influence in this category is the melting of Americaís diverse populations. In the news story, ìThe U.S. is a Spicier Nation (Literally) Since 1970,î Andrea Hsu suggested, ìThe consumption of spices in the U.S. has grown almost three times as fast as the population...Much of that growth is attributed to changing demographics of America.î As diversity grows in the U.S., it is reflected in USDA data--ìover a 600% increase in chili peppers, 300% in cumin and 1,600% in ginger since 1970.î7

Medicinal Flavor and Seasoning Markets
ìSpices and seasoning will be the next generation of Superfoods.î8 Peanut butter infused with turmeric (studies support turmeric contributing to reduced cancer tumor growth) is one new product on the market. Hot sauces loaded with capsicums to ward off illness continue to be a mainstream of American desires; however, the burned-out taste buds of the hot foods group are easing into ìheatî with flavor, as compared to ìhot.î About 5% of the adult population really wants ìhot-hotî tastes, while upwards of 60% look for taste that is included in products, such as added peppers.4, 9 The ìheavyî spices that once served as preservatives and spoilage-masking agents (i.e., cinnamon, ginger, clove, cardamom) are now becoming nutritional- and health-enhancers. Those killer chicken wings are now health food (minus the fat). Additionally, the desire to lower the sodium content of prepared foods has spawned new interest in alternative seasonings. While ì52% of consumers are monitoring their sodium intake on a regular basis,î10 seasonings like onion, garlic, thyme and basil can commonly be found as adjuncts to a lowered-salt product design goal.

A recent article in Food Quality and Preference, by Reinbach, et al.,11 looked into understanding more about the effects of hot spices on energy intake, appetite and sensory-specific desires in humans. As much as sweating is effected by having a really hot meal, it did not appear that energy intake was modified. Interestingly, desire for sweet foods was increased by chili, and the desire for salty food consumption decreased with mustard.

The Fifth SenseñUmami
Over the last decade, the scientific community has accepted the idea of umami, which is defined as the fifth sense. This recognition has gone a long way to assist the food designer and chef in understanding the simple combination of the ìoriginal basic tastesî just gets better, when it is rounded out with the tastes of ingredients, such as mushrooms, meats, condiments and cheeses, to name a few.12

So, what do companies like Archer Farms Chips and Frito Lay know about flavorings and taste? Over the last five or so years, both of these potato chip makers have been crafting flavors that allow consumers to travel to mysterious (Doritosí X-13D in 2007 and ìmystery flavorî in 2008) or foreign lands (Archer Farmsí General Tsoís and Greek-inspired potato chips, and Layís Chinese Beijing Duck or Canadian Fries & Gravy).13 Depending on the culture and the food item, 40-70% of adult consumers are variety-seekers or elaborators.14 What they seek in their food choices are variations of their flavor base (i.e., cheesecake, chips, burgers, etc.), but they prefer them ìswitched upî via flavor, flavorings, seasonings or other taste modifiers. 

Rule of Five
It is important to gauge whether the new flavor or taste a developer has created is dovetailing with the hearts, minds and tongues of their consumers. These writers have developed a guideline called ìThe Rule of Five.î 
1. Three times is the charm. Give the participants the opportunity to have three trials of your product. This means providing them with three servings, packages or tastings during successive days, during the time they are being denied their usual product. Remember to keep things realistic. For example, do not give someone three crackers, when testing crackers; give them three boxes. The goal is to promote use and reuse.
2. Understand, if you are there. Find out what the participants thought about the product, following the three-portion/-day/-event or -trial. Listen very well to what they are actually saying. If there are no fatal flaws, move on to step three.
3. Do I miss you? Does the absence of a particular taste or flavor make people think about it positively? Did the developers create something memorable? Or, is it too common or too much like the less-valuable brands on the market?
4. Do they want it again? Will people want to purchase or use the product two more times? If so, the product may have enough ìstickî to perhaps become the next Meyer Lemon or Chipotle flavor.
5. So, the ìRule of Fiveî is: After five experiences with the product, consumers either hate it (or they hated it on the first try and never got to two), or they really know how they feel about this product; they like it and want more.

While there is a lot of observational and behavioral science supporting the ìRule of Five,î it also has the benefit of being a good, fast way to predict the most important reason for creating new and interesting products-repeat purchases. John Prescott, a leader in the study of flavor, has emphasized that, when trying to understand tastes and flavors, a cognitive/perceptual interpretation of measurement is important. Thus, as one looks to make and design compelling flavors and tastes, keep the concept of desire for that taste in mind. pf

The Under-standing & Insight Group is a product, strategy and business development firm dedicated to measurably increasing brand and product value by understanding deeply-held consumer motivators and deftly integrating them with pertinent business knowledge. The company specializes in the front-end development of consumer-desired products and services. Jacqueline Beckley, left, president and founder, excels as an innovator, insight integrator and new business developer. Cheryl Leach, project manager, concentrates on consumer product research. They can be reached at: 973-328-9107, or; website:


1. Mintel. 2010. ìCondiments. U.S.î July.
2. Mintel. 2009. ìSeasonings. U.S.î October.
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5. Pszczola DE. 2010. Flavor Marriages Say ëI Do.í Food Technology. 64(3) 49-57.
6. Mintel. 2009. ìEthnic Foods September.î
7. Hsu A. (2010, July 29) ìThe U.S. is a Spicier Nation (Literally) Since 1970.î National Public Radio, Morning Edition. Radio broadcast.
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13. Barlow T. 2010. ìBeijing Duck Layís potato chips? Familiar brands offering very foreign tastes.î
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