The very landscape of food flavors is changing, as well evidenced in Baskin Robbins’ recent decision to retire five of its iconic 31 flavors (French Vanilla--on the menu since 1945, Caramel Praline Cheesecake--a 1970 addition, 1975’s Campfire S’mores, 1976’s Apple Pie a la Mode and 2007’s Superfudge Truffle). Granted, the ice cream giant has close to 1,300 flavors in its flavor library, but it does serve as a sign that Americans look for changes in flavorings, from menu items to retail concoctions.

Floral and fruit combinations are finding their ways into beverages, as are classic sweet flavors, assisted, in part, by the growing market for alternative sweetening agents. However, new flavor varieties are not necessarily stemming from adventurous new flavors. Vanilla, hardly a recent flavor invention, considering its use dates back hundreds of years in Mexico and Central America, is nevertheless enjoying something of a revival. While not a completely new product, Coca-Cola has opted to rechristen Vanilla Coke as Coca-Cola Vanilla and Coca-Cola Vanilla Zero, while Haagen-Dazs has relaunched Vanilla Honey Bee. Even Dry Soda Inc., renowned for its juniper, lavender and rhubarb sodas, has gotten into the vein of vanilla with its introduction of a Vanilla Bean variety.

Another flavor mainstay has enjoyed something of a rebirth with a healthful positioning, as chocolate--its dark varieties, in particular--has been heralded for its heart-healthy flavanol content, as if consumers needed an additional reason to enjoy the comforting qualities of chocolate. However, it and vanilla are proving that flavors do not have to be cutting-edge to be popular among consumers. In fact, a recent Business Insights report on the top 20 most popular flavors had only classic flavors, such as caramel, cherry, cream, lemon, mint, nut, orange, strawberry and vanilla.

That said, analysts still believe manufacturers will turn to more creative flavors in many product introductions. Mintel has targeted several flavors it believes will become more pronounced in introductions this year and next. Cardamom, intensely aromatic and having a strong, unique taste, should expand beyond its ethnic applications. Cosmic Chocolate, for instance, has added a cardamom-and-orange-flavored chocolate bar, and cardamom can likewise be found in Inter-American Products’ Malabar Spice Chai Black Tea under the Dimensionalitea brand, which also includes a Green Tea with Rose Petals variety.

Floral Exam
Similarly, rose water is emerging beyond the fragrance category. A common flavor in ethnic foods, rose water is making its way into brownies with a subtle rose flavor. A. Monteux introduced a Rose Water specifically for baking; the line also included an Orange Flower Water. Indeed, rose has been prominent in Turkish Delight introductions, notably Haci Bekir’s Real Turkish Delight, where it was paired with a lemon flavor. However, rose was also found in Rose Lemonade from Fentimans; the beverage was prepared with 100% pure and natural rose essential oils. Furthermore, rose was featured in The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s limited edition Chocolate Rose Tea of late 2009. This tea was a blend of milk chocolate, delicate rose and Ceylon black tea.

Similarly floral, hibiscus likewise is commonly found in teas, as manufacturers capitalize on the USDA’s finding that hibiscus tea can lower blood pressure, per a November 2008 study by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (see Hint’s Pre-mium Essence Water offers a Hibiscus-Vanilla flavored water, while Blue Moon Brewing Company incorporated a “touch of hibiscus and orange peel” in its Pale Moon variety brewed with European malts and cascade hops. Fearless Chocolate’s raw organic chocolate included hibiscus in its Sweet & Hot Hibiscus Ginger with 70% cacao offering; and Hibix Corporation featured the flavor prominently in Ooba Sparkling Hibiscus, an all-natural beverage in a hibiscus and vanilla variety, promising to be high in vitamin C and a “super antioxidant.” The flavor has also made its way into frozen desserts, with Turtle Mountain’s So Delicious brand’s Hibiscus Sorbet made with coconut water, hibiscus juice, organic pear juice from concentrate and organic apple juice from concentrate among its ingredients. Indeed, the flavor star of recent years--the Superfruit pomegranate--is sharing the limelight with hibiscus in BCGA Concept Corporation’s Pomegranate with Hibiscus Ginger Ale.

If Mintel is accurate in its predictions, the next big Superfruit should be cupuaçu, which boasts more than 10 vitamins and antioxidants, plus essential fatty acids and amino acids. It was key to Musselmans’ apple sauce with a lime and cupuaçu flavor. A Fruta Vida beverage combined cupuaçu and açai berry, while Neimo Trading has featured the ingredient in a range of products, from frozen pulp to butter.

That said, gauging the future often simply means looking to the past, and one supplier’s flavor forecast did just that, by predicting “where the cocktail meets the kitchen” as a flavor trend. Jelly Belly Candy Company may have already gotten the message, as it debuted Cocktail Classics jelly beans at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo. The range included such varieties as margarita, mojito, peach bellini, pomegranate cosmo and piña colada, with a selling point that echoes Jimmy Buffett: “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” pf

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