Tahini. Seaweed. Turmeric. These aren't your grandparents' flavor preferences, are they? But, increasingly, they may be yours.
The recent Frito-Lay US Snack Index survey1 revealed the majority of US consumers are demanding more variety – in flavors, especially – from their snacks and other food items. Indeed, more than two-thirds (69%) of respondents say they indulge on globally inspired foods and flavors at least once a month; and more than three-fourths (76%) agree that they like to try flavors from places and cultures that are not their own.
More than any single seasonal flavor trend, it's really the overarching globalization of flavor that is turning the food industry upside down, ushering in a whole new approach to meeting consumer demand.
"What Americans choose to eat has become a complex mishmash of cultures and spices well beyond ethnic or traditional silos," said Dr. Christine Cioffe, senior vice president, research and development, PepsiCo. "That's why we maintain a proprietary database of more than 1,000 global flavor variants and employ hundreds of culinary experts and scientists dedicated to exploring new tastes and flavors."
The Index also found:
• 74% of Americans say they are willing to try new types and flavors rather than only purchase snacks they have tried previously.
• More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents prefer a lot of flavor options, 30% prefer a few and just two% desire only one option.
While food and flavor choices are becoming more diverse, Americans rely on some conventional sources to inspire them – with nearly half (48%) saying they usually discover new foods, cuisines, flavors or ingredients from their friends and family.
However, 44% are curiosity seekers, whose current flavor preferences are driven by where in the world they have traveled. Plus, 38% first sampled new culinary options because they saw them in a local store or restaurant.
Flavor Precision Through Technology
To address these evolving flavor trends, many of which can be confined to small enclaves within a larger community, food companies are turning to high-tech advancements to ensure products that have been created with curated flavors are matched with the preferences of a particular group or geography.
"It's given us a 'tasty' challenge – to predict, respond and adapt to rapidly expanding consumer preferences with speed and agility by leveraging technology to ensure we can get consumers exactly the snacks they want exactly where they want to buy them," said Michael Lindsey, chief transformation & strategy officer, Frito-Lay North America. "We believe it's our job to develop and deliver snacks that equally delight a niche community as well as a mass crowd."
Frito-Lay is using AI technology to continually analyze millions of data points that identify micro-markets for a flavor or product that might otherwise be missed. Recently, AI unveiled small market segments in the eastern US that sought hot and spicy flavors, although most in the macro market surrounding it had a more classic flavor palate. They then used AI to reshape their distribution to ensure that precisely the right products were available in each local point of sale based on local shopper demographics.
Demographic Differences, Adventurous Areas
Some of the nation's more adventurous cities, culinary-wise, are in the South or Southwest.
Over one-third (36%) of adults nationwide say they are more adventurous with the foods they eat compared to five years ago – with more than half of the residents of Atlanta (53%) and Houston (51%) showing they are much more adventurous than the national average.
Not surprisingly, so, too, is the cultural melting pot of New York City. More than three-fourths of Big Apple respondents (78%) often or sometimes have globally inspired foods, cuisines, flavors or ingredients, compared to the national average of 68%.
Similarly, three in five (63%) of Americans feel their current flavor preferences are driven by where they have lived. But the influence is especially pronounced in younger respondents: 84% of Generation Z respondents are influenced, flavor-wise, by where they have lived; versus just 57% of Baby Boomers.
While Americans are willing and eager to sample flavors from geographic locales far and wide, they do have their favorite regions with respect to food and flavors:
• Latin America (26%): Mole, chimichurri and all things spicy like cayenne peppers show up for this category. When it comes to the snack shelf, Frito-Lay has spicy snacks across its portfolio to meet consumers' growing demand for spicy snacks.
• Cross Culture Comfort (18%): From pickled peppers, to hot honey, to various cheeses, to ranch, this category is described as those flavors associated with comfort foods identified within specific cultural cuisines. While cheesy snacks have been a mainstay for snacks, Frito-Lay has even developed comfort food classics like fried pickles and ranch in the form of a chip.
• Mainland Asia (14%): Asian flavors have gone from the restaurant to the snack shelf inspired from sauces, red curry coconut, Himalayan salt and sweet chili, among other flavors.
Frito-Lay's US Snack Index is a national survey that reveals how different generations, regions and cities snack. For more information, visit: FritoLay.com/SnackIndex.
Frito-Lay North America partnered with Morning Consult to field the Frito-Lay North America US Snack Index nationally. This poll was conducted between Aug. 13-15, 2019, among a national sample of 2,200 adults. The interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample based on age, race/ethnicity, gender, educational attainment and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2%age points.