Looking for fun flavor ideas? The savory snacks category is ripe with innovation and a great breeding ground for flavor ideas.



Savory Flavor Drivers

STREET FOOD WITH FINESSE: Food trucks expose consumers to an increasing array of ethnic dishes. Not surprisingly, street food dishes are driving ethnic food flavor trends.

BISTRO/CAFÉ/DELI INSPIRED: Manufacturers target product decadence with flavor notes from deli meats, diverse cheese varieties and other gourmet ingredients that have been roasted, caramelized and otherwise prepared.

FLAME & FIRE: From the grill or BBQ flavors have evolved to flame-cooked or fire flavors.

SOURCED & SMOKIN’ SPICES: Rare spice sourcing and use of smoked spices are applied for flavor sophistication.

VEGGIES ON THE VERGE: Vegetables and legumes are shining as healthy ingredient inclusions, particularly for snacks and crackers. They also are combined with other ingredients for delicious results.

CHILI CREATIVITY: The choice of chilis and peppers for spicy flavor differentiation and extra heat continues to expand with country-specific claims.

MIDDLE EAST MOVEMENT: Here come sumac, za’atar, ras el hanout and harissa to add an exotic ethnic edge.

CREAM WITH YOUR PROTEIN: Big meaty flavors are being curbed with more subtle, creamy flavors for an indulgent finish. 

Innova Market Insights has labeled one key trend as “Look Out for the Small Guy.” It speaks to the fact that smaller processor-innovators are rising to the challenge. They are developing high quality, distinctive products that have small-scale appeal but big potential as far as future product trends are concerned.  Small innovators have led the way with many new healthy but tasty “craft-inspired” snacks. In doing so, they are using novel ingredients such as legumes and pulses in conjunction with an interesting array of herbs and spices in various flavor combinations.


Innova Market Insights believes craft-inspired or handmade snacks, biscuits and beverages will be the “small guy” categories with the biggest potential to impact future trends. Snacks are the next battleground where small players are staking their claim. Just consider the arrival of craft beers and how that’s changed the larger beer category. Now “craft snacks” in the snacks category are advancing in a similar manner.


Gourmet ingredient combinations continue to evolve for salty snack flavor sophistication, with many flavor options applied. For example, when analyzing new product activity, Innova Market Insights reported a 57% increase in “bistro” “café” or “deli” inspired ready meal and snack product launches tracked from 2012 to 2013. Often these types of products promote the inclusion of more gourmet ingredients for improved taste and flavor.


Alternatively, another route to flavor sophistication for salty snacks involves the wider, all-encompassing world of meal flavors. Recent salty snack flavors inspired by “fine dining” include: Lamb Shank & Red Wine, Roast Chicken Lemon & Thyme, Roast Turkey With Sage & Onion Stuffing, Beef Bourguignon and Caesar Salad. Fast-food flavors have not been shunned either, with Fish & Chips, Hot Dog, Cheeseburger, Margherita Pizza and Fried Chicken being other examples of all-encompassing meal flavors.

Snack products can be positioned on more of a premium platform by inventive small players, who are looking to create products with a sensory differentiating advantage; whether it be in terms of texture or flavor sensation or both. Consumers  have been familiar with smoky and BBQ flavor derivations in the snacks category, but an extension of this trend may be influenced by what leading chefs are serving up around the globe. Some chefs are reverting to primitive cooking methods, such as ashing and earth cooking to impart distinct flavors for dishes. This flavor trend could infiltrate snacks and other savory products with “charred,” “ashed,” and “burnt” tipped as new flavor descriptors.


Another key trend involved “The Rise of the Hybrid,” where new product innovation is truly pushing boundaries. Cross-branding from apparently unrelated brands also is becoming more prevalent, along with the use of unique flavor combinations.


Innova Market Insights has reported a strong rise in the use of chocolate in savory applications from 2012 to 2013 [+21%], with products such as Lay’s limited edition Salty & Wavy Chips dipped in Milk Chocolate satisfying consumer cravings for sweet and salty extremes. The leading sweet flavors in salty snacks (2013) were: Chocolate (26%); Brown (Maple, Molasses, Honey) (25%); and Confectionery (Toffee, Caramel, Fudge) (20%).


A key trend across all savory platforms involves hotter and more spicy flavors. Hotter chili varieties are being increasingly incorporated into flavor blends and claimed accordingly. The infiltration and consumer acceptance of spicy ethnic cuisines—other than one’s own—has helped drive spicy flavor innovation across the board. An aging global population, with reduced taste sensation also may consider more spicy flavors as a break from the bland.


A consumer perception survey by ingredient supplier DSM indicates spiced food is now the preference around the world in highly diverse countries. Introduced as part of DSM’s Global Insight Series last year, that survey revealed that when asked to rank typical food tastes they prefer to eat or prepare at home, 66% of respondents listed “spicy” as one of their top three choices out of a list including “spicy,” “salty,” “sweet,” “sour,” “sweet & sour,” “plain or mild,” “bitter” and “other.” US consumers responded exactly in line with the average score with 66% saying they prefer spiced food. Nigeria tops the list with 81%, whereas Brazilians lag behind with only 37% saying they prefer intense and hot flavors in their food. The survey, which was carried out in the US, China, Brazil, Nigeria and Poland showed that around the world, men are somewhat more likely than women to select spiced dishes as their favorite food (70% versus 62% of respondents).


Other ingredient suppliers are responding to this consumer desire for a more complex and flavorful heat. For example, Kalsec has developed Fusionary Heat, a unique line of heat delivery products. Fusionary Heat combines heat (pungency) with unexpected ingredient combinations to provide a unique sensory experience. Fusionary Heat creates a culinary dimension to heat expression by combining heat with elements such as savory, sour, sweet, and tangy. Featured Fusionary Heat products include Tangy Sweet Ginger, Spicy Orange, Herbal Jalapeno and Sweet-Roasted Chipotle.


Sensient Natural Ingredients launched a new Chili Blends collection which includes seven authentic dry chili blends inspired by the flavors of Latin America, India, Morocco, Thailand and the United States. The Chili Blends Collection includes: Red Sriracha Blend, Indian Curry Blend, Thai Arbol Chile Blend, Moroccan Harissa Blend, Spicy Buffalo Blend, Pickled Jalapeno Blend and All-American Hot Sauce Blend.

Innova Market Insights’ flavor analysis reveals that the five fastest-growing chili types in salty snacks in 2013 from 2012 were: Peri Peri, Green Chili, Sweet Chili, Jalapeño and Chipotle. Innova projects that still more chili pepper varieties will impact future flavor trends. These will include Jolokia, Guindilla, Urfa, Espellette, Piquillo, Poblano and Ancho.


Want to know what’s next? Savory snack innovators should monitor national high-end restaurants—as well as local markets—for on-trend examples of hot and spicy ethnic cuisines.  


Lu Ann Williams is Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights (provider of market research services, including the Innova Database). With 20 years’ experience in the food industry, Lu Ann is a trend expert and frequent public speaker at events around the world. She leads a team of analysts and works with global clients. Contact: luann.williams@innovami.com; www.innovadatabase.com