Firmenich announced “Classic Blueberry” as the flavor of the year for 2020, due to its longstanding association with well-being and its role in helping usher in a new wave of food and beverage options for consumers around the world. 

This is the eighth consecutive year that the company—known for its industry-leading consumer insights and trend forecasting capabilities—has cast its vote for the hottest food and beverage flavor.

“What’s classic is new again,” says Emmanuel Butstraen, president, Firmenich Flavors. “With blueberry we celebrate a flavor that is timeless and enduring, but also increasingly relevant. Blueberry has been a beloved flavor for centuries in many markets and today, with our increasing focus on health and wellness, blueberries are being rediscovered and growing to be one of the most relevant flavors in many categories,” he added.

Tiny but mighty

Consumer interest in blue berries overall has surged in part due to a strong linkage with well-being. In a recent Firmenich social media study of online discussions around “super foods,” berries were the No. 1 food mentioned, and blueberry was the leading berry. Products with blueberry flavor are nearly twice as likely to make a functional claim on pack as a typical food or beverage according to Mintel data.

Blueberry as an ingredient has been growing in food and beverage use each year since 2008. Agricultural production of blueberries in the US has increased fivefold since 2007 and has more than doubled worldwide in that same time period (source USDA, UN FAO).

As a flavor used in new product development, blueberry has seen 101% growth during the past 10 years globally, with particularly rapid growth in markets such as the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, according to Mintel. Blueberry has seen growth in nearly all of the food and beverage categories tracked by Mintel, with particularly strong 10-year growth in baby foods (700%), snacks (255%), special drinks (224%), breakfast cereals (145%), dairy (143%), sports & energy drinks (127%), and alcoholic drinks (100%).

Comfort & happiness amid the new

There is currently a tremendous influx of new food and beverage products entering the market, due to an increasing focus on issues such as sustainability and health. 

“As consumers are being introduced to an expanded offering of choices, more traditional flavors like blueberry are being used to help them experience these new food trends, as they evoke positive feelings at a time in history when we crave optimism,” says Mikel Cirkus, global creative director, Foresight & Trends for Firmenich. 

In a recent survey across 16 countries conducted with nearly 5,000 consumers, Firmenich found that the number one emotion associated with blueberry was happiness, followed by a sense of comfort.

“This choice of a more traditional flavor as our ‘flavor of the year’ actually represents a more significant shift in the food industry toward more intentional and emotional design,” notes Jeffrey Schmoyer, vice president, Global Insights for Firmenich. “Consumers are more inclined to try something unfamiliar to them, such as kombucha or a cashew yogurt, if it’s flavored in a way they can connect with on an emotional level. We see blueberry playing a bigger role in the coming years in helping product developers introduce new food concepts around the world.”

Flavor foundation

Blueberry flavor provides a dependable and stable foundation to build on, making it a perennial favorite within the flavor community. It not only pairs well with other flavors, it also stands up on its own. 

“Classic blueberry is a fantastic flavor to work with because it’s robust and multi-faceted,” explains Eric Tang, a flavorist at Firmenich who has been responsible for many of the company’s biggest blueberry wins in recent years. “Blueberry has stand out floral notes and distinct tanginess, with fresh green and sweet elements woven in. Besides the classic pairings you find with blueberry, I’m also drawn to pairing it with less obvious matches, such as black tea or habanero.”

In the culinary world, long gone are the days when berries were relegated to supporting roles in salads or dressings. Today, blueberries are found in countless savory items, including pizzas, grain bowls, and meat dishes. 

“Blueberries can even be used in noodles as a good source of vitamin C and for color,” says Oana Ocico, vice president of Firmenich’s Global Savory Business. 

She adds: “through Culinary Anthropology, the Firmenich Chef Designers have created a series of delicious and novel ideas that can inspire our clients and their consumers to bring more blueberry to their creations.”

Traditional is now trendy

Trend forecasting is often associated with discovering what is on the fringes; shedding light on ideas that have yet to be incorporated into the mainstream. 

Yet as a new decade begins, and after years of the food and beverage industry being fascinated by what is “the next thing”, Firmenich is comfortable placing its bets on something that has been here all along, which is a novel idea indeed.

About Firmenich

Firmenich is the world’s largest privately-owned perfume and taste company, founded in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1895. Driven by its purpose to create positive emotions to enhance wellbeing, naturally, Firmenich has designed many of the world’s best-known perfumes and tastes, bringing delight to over four billion consumers every day. Renowned for its world-class research and creativity, as well as its leadership in sustainability, each year, Firmenich invests 10% of its turnover in R&D to understand and share the best that nature has to offer responsibly. Firmenich had an annual turnover of 3.9 billion Swiss Francs at end June 2019.