Fruit can add a distinctive, consumer-pleasing flavor to a host of products, but fruits are capable of so much more. They can add a healthful benefit and serve to provide products with a healthy halo.

In general, flavor trends can be largely a matter of regional preferences; after all, one person’s comfort food can well be another person’s exotic cuisine. However, research from Innova Market Insights suggests one flavor trend is having a global impact. The rising interest in superfruits -- whether due to the flavor of the items themselves or to the healthy halo surrounding them, is a global phenomenon -- and pomegranate leads the way.

Pomegranate accounted for more than 40% of beverage launches featuring superfruits tracked by Innova between June 2008-May 2013. It far outpaced runners-up açai and lychee -- which, nevertheless, managed a sizable 12.5% and 12% of superfruit-flavored beverage launches, respectively.

Emerging superfruit superstars tracked by Innova were led by guanabana/soursop, cactus/prickly pear and marula.

“Cactus/prickly pear is one of the emerging superfruit flavors in the North American beverage market,” explains Lu Ann Williams, head of research at Innova. “U.S. launches over the past year include Cactus Juice and Cactus Tea from Nopal and Prickly Pear Cactus Tea from Hunter & Hilsberg, as well as Martinelli’s Prickly Passion Lemonade juice drink, featuring prickly pear pureé,” she notes.

Fruit flavors are also finding favor as accompaniments, notably with vegetable flavors, Williams has found, in juices, smoothies and teas.

Tr3s research supports the Innova findings, particularly in the area of the Hispanic adult Millennial demographic. In 2012, Tr3s’ “Hispanic Adult Millennials Living the Next Normal: Age of Uncertainty” report specifically explored the subject of non-alcoholic beverages to this growing consumer base. The report found this group is keenly interested in organic -- with one in six purchasing organic meat, fruit, vegetables or dairy -- and in reducing their consumption of fat and sugar. They tend to avoid the latter through bypassing regular soda and juice, or opting for sugar-free or -reduced juices. In fact, for this group, single-fruit juices (apple, grape or orange) have declined in popularity, just as beverages with bolder flavor concoctions and more fruit/vegetable combinations are on the rise.

As the research noted, “Fruit juices with a mix of flavors (V8, V8 Fusion, Capri Sun Super V), Dr Pepper (with 23 bold flavors), Sierra Mist, Sprite and Gatorade are on the rise.”

Keep in mind this demographic heavily consumes non-alcoholic beverages, particularly 18-29-year-olds, who average 5.9 glasses of milk, 5.8 glasses of thirst-quenchers, 3.5 glasses of orange juice and 2.4 glasses of vegetable juice every day.

The fruit-flavored trend is far from limited to the adult male Hispanic demographic or, for that matter, even to North America. Research firm Canadean finds flavor mixes, such as peach, lemon and ginseng, are “booming” in European soft drinks. In terms of growth between 2011-2012, a range of flavor combinations peppered the list of the countries’ fastest growing, juice-containing products list.

Leading the way were combinations of peach/lemon/ginseng, followed by mulberry, peach/green tea, banana/pear and orange/kiwi. Pineapple/papaya, apple/aronia, pineapple/lime, blackcurrant/pomegranate and apple/berries also factored into the top 10.

As Canadean surmised, varying the flavor mix is “an inexpensive way of attracting new consumers.” In addition, “mixed flavors are more economical to produce than single variants. The specific mix of flavors is not always considered important by consumers, so producers have room to formulate mixes in accordance with the price of raw materials.”

Not only is the incorporation of such superfruits as aronia and various berries regarded as a boon to the healthy nature of the products, but in a number of European countries, such flavor mixtures are seen as more sophisticated beverage offerings.

Flavor Sophistication

Back stateside, consumers tend to regard restaurant chain menus as not only sophisticated, but also inspirational, and recent menu introductions have made no small use of tropical fruit flavors. Rock Bottom Brewery’s Cabo Mahi features mahi with smoked paprika ancho glaze topped with pineapple pico de gallo, while P.F. Chang’s has added a Grilled Pineapple-citrus Swordfish.

Pineapple can even be found on a pair of Pizza Hut options: the Meaty Tahiti Pizza (featuring ham, red onion, pineapple, red pepper, green onion, barbecue sauce and mozzarella cheese); and the Sweet Chili Pizza (with fajita chicken, red onion, green bell pepper and pineapple, plus the chain’s original sauce and a sweet chili sauce). Indeed, pineapple would appear almost to be a sign of summer, as seen in KFC’s fast-casual Caribbean Tango concept, which is a blend of KFC’s original recipe boneless chicken, pineapple salsa, Cheddar cheese, black beans, tortilla strips, cilantro, pickled jalapenos and barbecue sauce.

A traditional pineapple presentation in the form of the pina colada also has found its way into desserts, courtesy of Baskin-Robbins, which introduced the option as part of its no-sugar-added line. It featured coconut-flavored ice cream with chunks of pineapple. Meanwhile, Jack in the Box also added a flavor of the tropics with a Pina Colada Smoothie addition to its real fruit smoothie range, which featured strawberry, strawberry-banana and mango, itself something of a superstar fruit flavoring.

Mango flavor was among the options of Wienerschnitzel’s Summer Sippers, lemonades blended with blackberry, cherry, mango or strawberry flavors, and one of the sugar-free options in Sonic Drive-In’s flavor list. Mango has range beyond beverages, however, as evidenced by a host of savory applications on menus, from P.F. Chang’s (featuring the flavor in its Peking Summer Rolls made with roasted duck, julienne green papaya, snow peas and carrots wrapped in rice paper and served with a mango-jalapeno vinaigrette) to Quaker Steak & Lube’s Mango Habanero Salmon to a new Asian Salad from Cheddar’s Casual Café, which features chicken, carrots, herbs, wonton crisps, peanut sauce, mango and sweet chile glaze.

Proving Themselves

Beverages, however, are serving as something of a proving ground for flavor innovators, particularly in the spirits sector. Technomic research, specifically its “2013 Spirits TAB (Trends in Adult Beverage) Report,” finds flavor innovation helped propel the spirits industry to hit a milestone in 2012 and has fostered continued growth in 2013.

“Many of the trends that drove the spirits market in 2011 continued in 2012, such as premiumization and consumer interest in exploring different categories,” explains Donna Hood Crecca, senior director at Technomic, “but the real driver was product innovation, particularly around flavor. Spirits suppliers came to market with compelling products featuring interesting and sometimes unexpected flavor profiles. Consumers were intrigued, especially the all-important Millennial consumer group.”

In 2012, consumers saw such intriguing spirit options as dessert-flavored vodkas (Absolut Cherrykran, Belvedere Lemon Tea, 360 Buttered Popcorn and Van Gogh PB&J among them). In fact, the flavored vodka segment recorded a double-digit percentage gain and managed to account for 28% of total vodka volume.

By no means was such spirit flavor innovation confined to vodka, however. Both sweet and spicy flavored liqueur varieties of American and Canadian whiskeys could be found, leading whiskey specialty products to a 14% share of the leading cordial and liqueur flavor classifications, with Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey ranking among the fastest growing brands of the year.

The trend, which extended into flavored rums and mixtures, shows no indications of slowing.

“Included in the 120 new spirits products introduced in the first quarter of 2013 . . . were 21 flavored vodkas, 23 cordials and liqueurs, seven flavored rums and six flavored whiskeys,” says Crecca, noting that suppliers are going well beyond traditional flavor profiles to attract consumers.

“We’re seeing unexpected flavors, such as Pernod Ricard’s Mama Walker’s line of breakfast-inspired liqueurs, involving flavors like Maple Bacon and Blueberry Pancake. The dessert trend is continuing in vodka, with Smirnoff Sorbet Light in Mango Passionfruit and Raspberry Pomegranate launching, and Beam adding Rainbow Sherbert to the already extensive Pinnacle line-up. Spice is showing up in whiskeys and liqueurs, and exotic fruit and floral flavors are also still on-trend.”

Looking ahead, Technomic anticipates continued growth for flavored vodka, whiskey, tequila and rum, as well as the potential for flavorful expansions into cordials and liqueurs.

Of course, for a host of consumers, those fruit flavors are largely a means by which to encourage their children (or even themselves) to eat healthier foods. GoGo squeeZ, for instance, has added a flavored range of squeezable applesauce, including the newest flavor, ApplePear. The line promises not just fruit flavors, but also all-natural, 100% fruit and to be free of gluten and dairy. It also includes such options as AppleApple, AppleCinnamon, ApplePeach, AppleBanana, AppleStrawberry, AppleBerry, AppleMango, AppleCherry and AppleGrape.

For a flavor mixed with something other than apple, BluePrint has added three new juice beverages. The cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juice and juice beverage line is purportedly designed to detoxify and purify the body. New to the range are Carrot Lemon (featuring organic carrots and organic lemon); Kale Apple Lemon (again, all organic); and Orange Grapefruit Lemon (boasting “three kinds of citrus make . . . a refreshing alternative to standard OJ.”).

Recognizing the emergence (not to mention the importance in terms of buying power) of tweens and teens, FruJuici Beverages is targeting those demographics specifically with five new flavors: Bursting Berries, Orange Mango Tango, Lemon Strawberry Pucker, BerryBlue Explosion and Cherrylime Squeeze, each offering 100 calories, plus 100% of the day’s vitamin C, per 20oz bottle.

Frank Natale, president of FruJuici Beverage, notes, “As kids get older, looking and appearing ‘cool’ quickly becomes a top priority, and even the drink they carry around can take on increasing significance. FruJuici Beverage marketers have picked up on this and have begun to more specifically target ‘tweens’ and teens for our line.”

 Manufacturers realize that fruit flavors have a host of advantages going for them: In addition to the sensory benefit, they also deliver a degree of confidence in a product’s healthy attributes and can serve as a lure to adults, as well as children.