January 2012/Prepared Foods -- The flavors of foods consumers crave can vary depending on what the date on the calendar shows. In its 2011 “Flavor Consumer Trend Report,” Technomic found seasonality plays a part in consumers’ flavor preferences, with almost two in five consumers (38%) saying their flavor preferences shift according to the time of year. In addition, certain flavors are more appealing to consumers during particular seasons. For instance, pumpkin and cinnamon flavors are often associated with the fall, while tropical fruits tend to be of particular interest in the summer.

Technomic observed both age and gender differences on the topic of seasonality affecting flavor preferences. Regarding age differences, consumers belonging to the two youngest groups (25–34 and 18–24) were the most likely to say their flavor preferences change with the seasons, reporting overall percentages of 49 and 43%, respectively.


Meanwhile, consumers in the oldest age group (55+) were the least likely to echo that sentiment (just 27%). Regarding gender differences, slightly more women (40%) than men (36%) overall report that seasonality impacts their preferences. Interestingly, gender differences are the most pronounced among the youngest (18–24) and oldest (55+) consumers.

That preferences for certain flavors ebb and flow throughout the year validates the strategy of developing and rolling out limited-time menu items. This strategy applies to both foodservice operators and manufacturers. Consumers have come to expect the start of a new season will bring new, seasonally inspired items—at restaurants as well as on the shelves of their local grocery stores. They anticipate seeing, say, pumpkin-, apple- and cinnamon-flavored items during the fall; peppermint-, gingerbread- and eggnog-flavored food and drink in the winter; and in-season fruit-and-vegetable items during the spring and summer.

A look at recent seasonal limited-time-only offers (LTOs) at restaurants reveals these expectations are indeed being met. Last fall, LTOs included a Pumpkin White Chocolate Mocha at Caribou Coffee, Fall Harvest Butternut Squash Soup at Fresh Choice/Zoopa and a Pumpkin Smash Smoothie at Jamba Juice. So far this season, winter-inspired LTOs have included a Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake at Chick-fil-A and Winter Chocolate Marshmallow ice cream at Baskin-Robbins—with many more sure to follow.

Seasonal flavors represent a winning strategy for manufacturers, as well. Knowing that end-customers’ flavor preferences change with the seasons, manufacturers should be striving to innovate their existing product lines at regular intervals, to incorporate the flavors of the season. Many of their foodservice customers appreciate the foresight and menu development guidance.

And, consumers look for innovation on store shelves as well. Nestlé satisfies the yen for seasonal flavors with its Coffee-mate creamers. The line includes seasonal themes, such as Eggnog Latte, Peppermint Mocha and Gingerbread Latte. For its part, Kellogg’s regularly introduces limited-edition varieties of Pop-Tarts, such as its Frosted Sugar Cookie variety, complete with winter-inspired packaging.
Seasonal items enable manufacturers and restaurant operators to maintain a fresh image and stay relevant with their customers, making such LTOs a huge potential revenue-booster.