Beverage and Flavor Innovations Witness Return to Simpler Time

Innovations in beverage flavors give consumers the chance to savor updated fruit- and cocktail-based drinks.

By Deborah Cassell, Contributing Editor

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Forget everything we've written lately about superfruits and exotic ethnic flavors. With leaves and temperatures dropping, consumer tastes in beverages are turning to familiar domestic fruits – with or without alcohol. Maybe politics or the economy are factors too.

"Consumers are seeking safety and comfort in response to the volatility of the economy and current political landscape of an election year," says Jim Shephard, director of R&D and innovation at Indianapolis-based Sensient Flavors LLC.

"There is a rising [interest] in local varietals of American produce, fruits coming from local producers and traditional or heirloom varieties," Shephard continues. Sensient has responded by launching a range of natural from the named source apple varietal flavors. They are Braeburn (crisp, sweet and aromatic, with juicy notes); Crispin/Mutsu (a sweet honey profile); Fuji (super sweet with crisp notes), Gala (a mildly sweet, vanilla-like flavor profile), Golden Delicious (mellow with subtle sweet notes); Granny Smith (extremely tart, with juicy notes); Honeycrisp (a complex apple flavor profile, with balanced sweet and tart notes); Jonathan (a classic apple flavor profile with balanced sweet and sharp notes), McIntosh (sweet and refreshing, with an acidity and vinous profile); and Red Delicious (a characteristically sweet apple with mild aromatics).

"Domestic fruit flavors are finding their way back into beverages as consumers look toward local and sustainable ingredients," agrees Stephanie Weil, product manager for Wild Flavors, Erlanger, Ky. "Consumers are also looking for simplicity, so using varietal or regional names, rather than a blend of fruits, creates a simpler, yet interesting profile."

While consumers love the familiar, adding a varietal orange or a touch of mint to grapefruit intrigues those eager to try new things, Weil notes. Wild's Farmstand Favorites library contains such flavors as heirloom tomato, wild strawberry and peppery peach. And its new Ethnic Fusion line combines familiar favorites with global inspirations, yielding Strawberry African Ginger, Moroccan Melon and Shanghai Lime offerings.

Shephard also notes all this interest in fruit flavors plays to consumers about their health and well-being.

Virginia Dare, too, is touting new fruit flavors based on the knowledge that consumers are gravitating toward products that are familiar, local and labeled "natural," says Anton Angelich, group vice president of marketing for the Brooklyn, N.Y., company. He's also seeing a shift toward the use of fewer and simpler-sounding ingredients.

"In this age of global food security concerns and locavore and sustainability interest, many consumers are turning away from exotic superfruits from distant lands and seeking more familiar domestic-sourced healthy fruits such as blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, elderberry, cranberry, etc.," he explains. "An apple is not an apple is not an apple," he says, citing the "new, improved and better-tasting apple varieties" now in stores. Virginia Dare has created "true-to-fruit flavors" based on this produce trend.

While noteworthy beverage applications include flavored vodkas, malt beverages, flavored waters, functional teas, and ready-to-drink coffees, Virginia Dare also has seen rapid growth in ready-to-drink teas and coffees. So the company has created a proprietary brewed tea concentrate incorporating tea flavor and top notes, plus solubized tea solids, that "can eliminate unsightly tea powder settling in the finished beverage while delivering full-body mouthfeel and desirable astringency," Angelich says. Fruit flavors add pleasant fusion tastes, and sweeteners such as stevia lend calorie control.

Sensient also is seeing a resurgence of "classic cocktails with a twist," Shephard says. The company's contemporary takes include Shikuwasu Gimlet, a citrus fruit native to Japan that boasts a bright and sour taste, and pairs nicely with a gin gimlet. Red Delicious Apple Manhattan couples the sweet and aromatic red delicious apple with the traditional Manhattan cocktail. Then there's Grapefruit Basil Mojito, which lends bright citrus and sweet basil notes to the traditional mojito. Peach Jalapeño Margarita brings notes of fresh peach and earthy, hot jalapeño to the traditional citrus cocktail. Ginger Shrub is a classic technique originally used to preserve fruit by combining fruit, vinegar, sugar and other ingredients that can be used in various cocktail creations.

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