Texture is vital in food and drink formulation as it can be the difference between consumer acceptance or instant aversion. Texture’s impact also is not limited to mouthfeel. It is relevant to a product’s flavor, appearance and even a related auditory sound. For these reasons, it plays a strong role in the entire eating experience.

Consumers increasingly recognize this key influence. Whether they can articulate or not, consumers know that texture heightens sensory experience and often contributes a greater feeling of indulgence. As a result, it is increasingly regarded a valuable tool in new product development and marketing. In fact, Innova Market Insights identified “Tapping into Texture” as one of the researcher’s Top Trends for 2020.

In 2019, Innova Market Insights conducted original consumer research and learned that seven in 10 global consumers agreed that texture gave food and beverages a more interesting experience. Interestingly, textural twists can be a useful tool when targeting younger age groups. A total of 56% of those ages 26 to 35 said that they cared more about a product’s texture experience than they did about the ingredient list. By contrast, only 37% of those consumers over age 55 who expressed similar interest. 

Millennial interest is perhaps not surprising when you consider the importance of experiential consumption to this adventurous demographic. Compared with the average (10 countries), Millennials indexed highest for agreement with key statements such as “I love combination textures” and “Textures such as fluffy, crispy or smooth make food and drinks more indulgent.”

Innova Market Insights data show a growing number of new food and beverages with texture claims. The US is the most active market and accounted for 14.3% of the global total during the 12 months to the end of March 2021. The UK comes second with 9.4%, although Japan and Australia saw the highest growth rates among the major markets during a recent five-year period.

A Better Bite: Bakery, Candy & Snack Foods
On a global basis, “creamy” was the most popular textural positioning used on new products during the 12 months to the end of March 2021. It appeared in 36% of launches featuring texture claims and that ranked ahead of “crispy,” “crunchy,” “smooth” and “soft.”

Interestingly, many products promote multiple textures. This fall saw Ferrara Candy Company, Chicago, extend its Trolli gummi line with limited-edition items for the 20th anniversary of Xbox. One new flavor is Psychonauts 2 Sour Crunchy Crawlers, which plays on Ferrara’s "Best in Show Most Innovative Product Award" at the National Confectioners Association's (NCA) 2019 Sweets & Snacks Expo. Judges recognized the candy’s multi-layered technology: a thin crunchy outer layer and a chewy, fruity inside layer.

This fall also saw Madhava, Ltd., Boulder, Colo., extend its Cocomels line with new Dark Chocolate Covered Toffee Bites.

"Cocomels is known for our deliciously snackable chewy caramels made with coconut milk, but now we've created Dark Chocolate-Covered Toffee Bites to give consumers more of what they love in a new, irresistibly crunchy format," noted JJ Rademaekers, Cocomels founder.

Summer 2020 also saw General Mills Convenience, Minneapolis, extended its Muddy Buddies line. The original Muddy Buddies line involves coated crispy corn Chex pieces. The new variation features crunchy pretzel bites with a powdery coating (for a smoother initial mouthfeel). 

Speaking of crunchy, this August saw Mars Wrigley, Newark, N.J., introduce a M&M'S Crunchy Cookie variety. 

"M&M'S has a long history of developing innovation inspired by consumers' favorite sweet and savory treats," said Allison Miazga-Bedrick, senior brand director, Mars Wrigley. "Our focus on developing innovation that meets consumer preference and their desire for variety, delivers on our promise to bring better moments to our fans, in this case, by putting a crunchy texture at the center of their favorite chocolate candies."

On the flip side, this fall found PIM Brands Inc., Park Ridge, N.J., extending its creamy Welch's Fruit 'n Yogurt line with new Welch's Blueberry-Acai and Welch's Mango-Peach Fruit 'n Yogurt Snacks. The offerings promote “real fruit” centers surrounded by creamy “real yogurt.” 

For the record, the bakery and confectionery categories generate the most texture claims, with a combined global share of more than 30% of all food and beverage launches tracked with texture claims.  Bakery is the clear leader on 30%, with biscuits/cookies and crackers as key areas of activity.  The use of the term “crunch” or “crunchy” can be high-profile enough to be used in the actual name of the product.  

Recent US example include Catalina Crunch Keto Crunch Mix and Keto Sandwich Cookies from Catalina Snacks, Indianapolis; Crunchy Birthday Cake Cookies from Partake Foods, New York, N.Y.; Keto Crunchy Cookies from Lakanto, Orem, Utah; and Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Thin & Crispy Butter Pecan Cookies from Campbell Snacks, Norwalk, Conn.

The bakery category also is a major user of “creamy” texture claims across many types of products. These appear not only in cakes and pastries but also with new packages of cookies and biscuits (often involving chocolate).

Texture in the Dairy Case
New dairy products comprised 10% of all those food and beverage launches using texture claims tracked by Innova Market Insights during a 12-month period ending in March 2021.  Terms such as “creamy,” “thick and creamy,” “smooth,” “crispy” and “crunchy” are increasingly used for products as varied as milk drinks, yogurt and cheese. Interestingly, more processors are touting the indulgence of milks and milk drinks with texture and mouthfeel claims.

Perhaps not surprisingly, dairy is one of the key categories for claims around “creamy” texture. One reason has been the runaway US success of Greek and Greek-style yogurts, offerings that emphasize thickness and creaminess as part of their product identity. With more consumers seemingly embracing the indulgent, creamy mouthfeel, the market also has seen a rise in whole milk sales as well as new iterations of even lowfat yogurts, like the Thick & Creamy Iceland Skyr line from Icelandic Provisions, New York, N.Y.

New plant-based yogurt alternatives also focus on creaminess as they aim to replicate the mouthfeel and texture of traditional dairy counterparts. In fact, Danone North America’s new Silk Greek Style Coconutmilk Yogurt Alternatives directly address that fact.

“Silk, a leader in plant-based food and beverage offerings, is turning the yogurt aisle on its head with new Silk Greek Style Coconutmilk Yogurt Alternatives,” the company says. “[It’s] the product of a multi-year effort to deliver the signature traits of Greek, without the traditional ingredient of dairy, resulting in a breakthrough combination of thick texture and a good source of plant-based protein, all in a great-tasting, plant-based yogurt alternative line. Silk Greek is seriously thick… in fact, it’s so thick, you can flip over a spoonful and it won’t budge!”

As brands seek to enhance product appeal, many turn to texture to improve the sensory experience and promote a more indulgent image. In the desserts market, this means greater use of special textures, layering and premium ingredients. Of course, these factors work in entirely new offerings as well as updated versions of traditional recipes.

In the second half of 2020, General Mills extended its Oui by Yoplait line with three varieties of Oui Layered Desserts. Each features a crème fraiche base, a crispy graham cracker crust and various toppings. The original line came in Caramel Cheesecake, Cherry Cheesecake and Key Lime Pie flavors. Joining the line this year was a Strawberry Cheesecake variety made with the same crème fraiche base and fruit topping, but also a crispy chocolate crust.

Another interesting US launch in early 2021 was Kraft Heinz’s Colliders line of co-branded creamy desserts. There are 12 varieties in three formats (Twisted, Chopped or Layered) and each combines puddings with popular candy brands such as Reese’s and Kit Kat. 

"Dessert lovers are looking for unique textures and interesting flavors when it comes to indulgent treats, and Colliders desserts will bring this type of exciting variety to the refrigerated aisle,” noted Nicole Kulwicki, general manager for Desserts at Kraft Heinz.

Ice creams, particularly premium or super-premium brands, have long featured inclusions with different flavors and textures. These include candy pieces, cookie dough, nuts and fruits. Other on-trend versions include everything from coffee beans to meringue pieces. Recent US launches include a Cream Chocolate Barbecue Ice Cream from Smize Cream SMP LLC, Santa Monica, Calif. It features smoked chocolate ice cream, gooey chocolate brownies and roasted almonds. Another California processor, Coolhaus, Los Angeles, introduced Currency Cake, a carrot cake batter ice cream with cream cheese frosting swirl and candied pecans. Retailers also get into the game. Trader Joe’s introduced a Southern Peach Crisp ice cream peach puree and crunchy buttery oat crisp.

Chewable inclusions and suspended bits also provide intriguing new eating experiences. Borrowing on the popularity of Asian boba tea drinks, Ramar Foods, Pittsburg, Calif., extended its Magnolia ice cream brand with eight milk tea flavors of boba ice cream. Notes Ramar, “Typically, boba pearls are made with tapioca starch that hardens when frozen; however, [Ramar product developers] made sure the consumers experienced perfectly chewy boba with every scoop of ice cream.”

Meanwhile, consumers are becoming more used to suspended particulates, like boba, in their beverages. Other popular US examples include Mama Chia chia seed beverages from Mama Chia, Carlsbad, Calif., and Vita Food Chia Seed Drinks from MW Polar (Milky Way International Trading), Norwalk, Calif.  

Formulation Challenges, Marketing Opportunities
With consumers increasingly recognizing the influence of texture, food and beverage processors have to respond with improved, often multi-functional texturizing ingredients and formulations to optimize product appeal. Most critically, formulators need to achieve this and focus on other key consumer issues and concerns. These include issues related to traceability, ethics, clean label and simplified and shortened ingredient lists. 

Looking ahead, it’s also clear that plant-based foods and drinks will become even more popular and new plant-based dairy and meat alternatives must meet consumer expectations regarding characteristics of texture. Likewise, formulators are replacing established ingredients such as gelatin, with new vegan-compliant alternatives in new confections, desserts and dairy products. 

From a marketing perspective, texture clearly is becoming more prominent. It’s increasingly used on-pack to call out both product names and attributes. These range from General Mills’ Cinnamon Toast Crunch to more basic claims related to “crispy” chicken, “creamy” dipping sauces, “smooth” dark chocolate or “chewy” granola bars. Texture statements also reinforce novel texture choices, while hybrid concepts promote blend of contrasting textures.

Texture can also play a key role in bridging hybrid innovation and indulgence.  An increasingly adventurous consumer is looking for something different and Innova consumer research indicates that three in five global consumers are interested in trying new sensory experiences, including aromas, tastes, textures and colors.

Lu Ann Williams is Global Insights Director at Innova Market Insights, provider of market research services including the Innova Database. With more than 25 years’ experience in the food industry, Lu Ann is a trend expert and frequent public speaker at events worldwide. She leads a team of analysts and works with global clients. Contact her at luann.williams@innovami.com.