It's the start of another year, and food processors are looking to innovative flavors — in microingredients such as extracts and essences or via macroingredients such as fruits and nuts. Flavor systems and profiles are expanding both to hold consumer interest and to meet the challenges inherent in creating new products that satisfy demands not just for flavor but for health and convenience.
At the top of everyone's list, it seems, is not a flavor but an adjective in front of the word flavor: "natural." "Natural flavors are the new wave of food and drink products," says Dana Sanza, a flavorist for Fona International, Geneva, Ill. "Consumers increasingly are concerned with selecting healthy, good-for-you products with clean labels. They want natural ingredients and great taste."
"Redefining natural" was one of the packaged goods trends cited by Mintel International in a November list of predictions for 2011. But the market research firm warned: "While all types of natural claims have grown in importance in all regions, and across all product categories, the term ‘natural' is still ill-defined. Terms that are vague or not well understood will come under fire and we are due to see an intervention of regulatory bodies."
"Natural" usually is a given when discussing botanicals. And health-directed beverages often are a major testing ground for more exotic flavor concepts because unique flavors typically are called upon to compensate for calories. One beverage maker adept at striking that balance is Herbal Water Inc., Wynnewood, Pa., makers of Ayala's Herbal Waters, beverages that rely on culinary herbs to achieve full flavor without calories.
"Ayala's is highly appreciated by people who care about their health and well-being and seek a zero-calorie beverage that achieves great flavor without additives, colorings and preservatives," notes Ayala Laufer-Cahana, an M.D. and vice president of product development. "It also appeals to foodies — people who appreciate sophisticated flavors."
Those "sophisticated flavors" include lavender mint, lemongrass mint vanilla and lemon verbena geranium.
Ayala's Herbal Waters followed up its single-serve, still waters with similarly herb-infused sparkling waters in 750-ml "wine" bottles.
Ayala also makes sparkling herbal waters in elegant glass "wine" bottles, designed to bridge the gap between water and wine. "It's a drink that can satisfy diners who are looking for a sophisticated flavor companion to food, but are looking for something non-alcoholic and non-caloric or that would fit in with an everyday family dinner or in a white tablecloth restaurant," says Laufer-Cahana.
"As a pediatrician, I always advocate against sodas and sugary drinks," she continues. "And I'm an amateur gardener and serious home cook, so I started using the herbs I grew to create beverages for my family and to pair with meals we share when we host. Herbs are naturally flavorful and aromatic, and virtually calorie free. The response to the home-made brews led us to think these herbal waters answer a need in the market."
Antoine Dauby, group marketing director, says Naturex Inc., Hackensack, N.J., expects to expand its floral plant extracts collection to include offerings such as rose, hibiscus and Brazilian cress.
One challenge with botanicals, however, is their flavor components are volatile and can disappear rapidly when exposed to air, light or heat. Naturex recently launched two new flavor technology subcategories: Aquaready, a range of products dispersible in water and low-fat products; and EZ-Caps, a delivery system that protects aromatic compounds from losses or degradation of the aromas over time.
From superfruits to nuts
Superfruits are alive and well for the New Year, with both a favorite and a sleeper expanding into new areas. Rising interest in vegan proteins is among the drivers.
"Our newest flavor, Amazon OJ, will hit retail stores across the country, including Whole Foods Market," says Jeremy Black, chief brand officer of Sambazon, San Clemente, Calif. Amazon OJ is an organic blend of açaí, orange juice and acerola juice, rich in vitamin C and low in sugar. "Around March, we will be launching two organic protein superfood smoothies that deliver 10g of vegan protein per bottle.
Interest is not just in exotic superfruits. Perhaps the "return to basics" mentality of the recession has reopened eyes to familiar superfruits, such as pomegranates, cranberries, various berries and other antioxidant-rich domestic delights.
"Cherries and in particular cherry juice are now receiving more attention as a recovery drink for post-exercise pain," says Brian Packer, account executive for the Cherry Marketing Institute, Lansing, Mich. Tart cherries are a good source of melatonin, a natural anti-inflammatory that may decrease swelling in the joints and muscles. Rich in antioxidants like other superfruits, tart cherries have always received less attention than similar fruits, but this may be the year they break out.
Earlier this year, the Cherry Marketing Institute surveyed R&D professionals at several companies. One of the major findings was that cherries are broadly appealing but underleveraged. "We are seeing increased interest moving into 2011," says Packer. "One of the newest products to hit store shelves is the Cherry-Pomegranate Nutri-Grain Superfruit Fusion bar," a whole-grain and fruit bar created by Kellogg Co.