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Product Development Trends for the New Year

Jan. 4, 2024
Tamarind, ube or Pepper X? Fortification, simplification or cost-cutting? Global, local or private label? What flavor, ingredient and consumer trends will shape products in 2024?

Tamarind, ube or Pepper X?

Fortification, simplification or cost-cutting?

Global, local or private label?

These and other questions will (maybe) be answered over the next 12 months as R&D and marketing teams try to navigate the flavor, product development and consumer trends (respectively above) of the new year.

There is no shortage of new-year trends and predictions stories in the final months of the old year. In both the product development and consumer sectors, January is the logical time to look into the crystal balls – or at least the test tubes and beakers – to try to get ahead of what could be The Next Big Thing.

This advice comes from Innova Market Insights (www.innovamarketinsights.com): “New research shows that, while the effects of high food price inflation and the need to cut back are still affecting consumer markets worldwide, eye-catching or well-loved ingredients, nature-friendly claims, as well as health benefits, will increasingly inspire higher spending into 2024.”

Let’s look at three broad segments.

 

Product development issues

Inflation has abated, but that’s left consumers facing prices that are stable but higher than they were two years ago – with some decisions to be made.

“The inflation pinch is real for the American consumer,” says Ibotta (www.ibotta.com), a mobile technology company that tracks consumers’ online and cellphone purchases of groceries and other products. Ibotta warns against market share gains by private label/store brands. “Amidst rising costs hurting shoppers, as well as competition for their attention, brands must effectively reach as many consumers as possible with timely, relevant offers to drive efficient revenue growth.”

“Faced with the prospect of growing inflation and interest rates in 2024, some consumers are saying less is more at the grocery store,” says a trends report from Tyson Foods (www.tyson.com). “In 2024, that means both smaller basket size and smaller packages of fresh meat, with lower prices to match. Where do consumers most want to see smaller sizes? Fresh chicken breast filets.”

Tyson responded to that trend – and to the trend toward smaller households -- with smaller packages, such as its twin-pack of two 6-oz. pre-seasoned, marinated fresh chicken breast fillets. Coming sometime this year are smaller packs of beef steaks and pork chops. In addition to being more affordable, “These smaller sizes are perfect for individuals, couples or families wanting to cater to differing taste preferences,” Tyson says.

Most prognosticators see an ongoing retreat of plant-based meat and cheese analogues, and maybe “milk” has reached the saturation point, too. But the bigger trend of plant-based eating always has been there, always will be, and most think it still has growth opportunities if product developers choose carefully.

In its annual Top 10 trends list, Whole Foods Market (www.wholefoodsmarket.com), suggests “putting the plant back in plant-based” and “shrinking labels all over the plant-based category… We’re seeing new and emerging protein-forward products with mushrooms, walnuts, tempeh and legumes in place of complex meat alternatives. Even plant-based milk alternatives are participating, with some brands simplifying labels to just two ingredients – perfect for the vegetarian purist.”

In the seafood part of the Whole Foods list, “Watch out for carrots in place of lox, trumpet mushrooms for scallops, and the root vegetable konjac getting its moment in sushi rolls and poke bowls.”

ADM (www.adm.com) sees consumers looking for an expansion of protein choices to “a variety of high-quality protein options, whether it’s animal-based, plant-based or hybrid."

Will cultured meat and poultry, and maybe seafood too, finally reach store shelves in 2024? On the same day last June, Upside Foods and Eat Just Inc. received grants of inspection from USDA, opening the door to sale of their cell-cultivated chicken products to American consumers. Nearly immediately, both started offering their products in restaurants of famous chefs, but neither has been able to produce retail quantities … yet.

The beverage aisle “was once a simple in-and-out trip with few core options, but over the years it has mutated into either a harrowing maze or a delightful exploration, depending on how you look at it (and maybe how much time/energy you have to make a decision),” observes Hartman Group (www.hartman-group.com) “Fizzy, functional concoctions tout nirvana-like experiences; energy alternatives offer much more than a clean buzz; there are seemingly unlimited permutations of water; and non-alcoholic options have come a long way.”

Who’s going to buy all your wonderful new products? Increasingly, Generation Z, the kids/people born between the early 1990s and 2010 or so, are the current darlings of marketers, who are trying to get a sense for their buying and eating habits as they enter adulthood and become food shoppers.

Lurking somewhere in the background of all this in 2024 will be debates over ultraprocessed foods. 2023 saw a sudden uptick in science and news coverage, even a 2023 book and a documentary. Now the subject is earmarked for discussion by the 2025-2030 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Whether the concerns gain traction with consumers or policy makers likely will be determined in the new year.

 

Trending flavors

McCormick (www.mccormickcorporation.com), which has been creating annual flavor forecasts for 24 years, predicts the flavor of 2024 will be tamarind. That’s a little mercenary, as the company just created a retail Tamarind & Pasilla Chile Seasoning, but they explain: “Tamarind, a spice native to Africa, India and the Middle East, has lent its acidic, tangy-sweet flavor to Latin, Caribbean and Mexican cuisines for centuries. Today, this plump, pod-like fruit is jet-setting across the world, feeding a global curiosity for what's next in food, drink, and flavor.”

 

McCormick also heralds all things sour. “Sour has stepped into the spotlight, revolutionizing kitchens and menus with layer upon layer of flavor, bringing balance to richer dishes and brightness to crisp ceviche. Next-level sour is taking a jump-off from lemon and balsamic acidities and diving into the deep end with stand-out flavors and ingredients like tigre de leche (tiger’s milk marinade), calamansi, sour orange, plum and pickled and fermented foods.”

Ingredients supplier T. Hasegawa USA (www.thasegawa.com) and the Specialty Food Assn. were responsible for ube being mentioned in the first paragraph. “This vibrant and unique purple yam, native to Southeast Asia, has been making waves in the culinary world,” says Hasegawa.

“The rich violet or lavender color of ube is entirely natural and contributes to its appeal as a food ingredient and flavoring. Ube’s flavor profile offers a unique combination of flavors that can be described as nutty, sweet, and mildly earthy. Its natural sweetness makes it an excellent choice for a variety of applications, from desserts to savory dishes and beverages.”

Hasegawa charts the growth of other flavors between 2019 and 2022. Those with triple-digit increases were: cherry pepper (+700%), maple (+480%), salted caramel (+219%), ancho chili pepper (+183%), furikaki (+159%) and lavender (+122%).

The Specialty Food Assn. also acknowledged Calabrian chili peppers, tahini (“a flavor in its own right”), black sesame and milk tea.

Flavorman (flavorman.com), a custom beverage development company, “predicts a significant surge in the popularity of sweet heat fusions, where fruity profiles are artfully blended with spicy twists … whether it’s a mango habanero pressed juice or a zesty spicy margarita.” The company also notes increasing demand for indulgent flavors, such as sugar cookies and brownies, pastries and red velvet “all juxtaposed with a low-cal label.”

 

Emerging or advancing ingredients

Ancient grains, seemingly rediscovered a decade or more ago, continue to be popular. Ashley Lonsdale, head chef at ButcherBox (www.butcherbox.com), a direct-to-consumer meat and seafood brand, is tabling quinoa and farro for now and giving sorghum, spelt and amaranth some well-deserved moments.

"While each can easily be prepared as a classic steamed pilaf or a new add-in for a favorite salad, ancient grains are not only nutritious, but also multipurpose, serving as ideal cover crops for farmers to increases their soil's fertility and prevent erosion,” she writes.

Whole Foods notes buckwheat, a sustainable seed containing protein and fiber, is cropping up in a variety of applications, from pancake and waffle mix to noodles to nondairy milk.

Sugar alternatives have been in the spotlight since the FDA required calling out added sugars on the Nutrition Facts panel. Allulose, despite its chemical-sounding name, was embraced by more consumers in 2023. Stevia and monk fruit are established but seem to have plateaued.

Within the discussion of sugar alternatives is a growing consumer realization that bioconversion or fermentation is “scientifically” creating many of these natural sweeteners. It’s much more efficient than picking leaves or fruits and extracting the sweetener from them. The processes create just the sweet notes without the bitter ones, but it is science, not Mother Nature.

Baldor Specialty Foods (www.baldorfood.com), an importer of produce and specialty foods, sees a slightly different sweet trend. “Now we’re seeing a push toward products that are naturally low in sugar as opposed to using sugar substitutes. Spindrift Sparkling Water, which was a pioneer in this category, is a great example in the drinks space—their products rely on real fruit juice to bring a touch of sweetness.”

“MSG is back,” announces FoodMix (foodmix.net), a marketing communications firm, “and it won't give you a migraine! In fact, it will give all sorts of food a big, tasty flavor boost. MSG occurs naturally in many foods and loads of research disproves the unfounded negative associations. Expect to see more chefs proudly proclaim the use of MSG to add a surprising burst of savoriness to dishes.”

In addition to ube as a flavor, T. Hasegawa USA highlights nine functional ingredients: choline, okara, astragalus, vitamin D, mycoprotein, seaweed, pulses, allulose and koji.

“Mushrooms are mushrooming,” adds Specialty Foods Assn. “Mushrooms for taste, for texture, for health benefits. People will discover mushrooms in every food and beverage category.”

FoodMix also observes upcycled ingredients are working their way into more foods and “insects will creep onto more restaurant menus.”

Bugs? We’ve toyed with this subject before as one of those far-out possibilities, but last year Tyson gave the subject some legitimacy by investing in Protix, a Netherlands company. The two will construct a facility in the U.S. to use insects as protein. While that project and most of the others we’ve written about have limited insects’ use to animal feed, apparently only the yuck factor is keeping insects off your dinner plate and out of your bag of snacks.

In Europe, Arla Foods Ingredients’ delactosed permeate, a dairy waste stream, is being used as food for the black soldier fly larvae of Enorm, northern Europe’s largest “insect farm.” The two companies note the larvae are currently used for animal feed but “offer huge potential as a healthy and sustainable source of protein for humans.”

About the Author

Dave Fusaro | Editor in Chief

Dave Fusaro has served as editor in chief of Food Processing magazine since 2003. Dave has 30 years experience in food & beverage industry journalism and has won several national ASBPE writing awards for his Food Processing stories. Dave has been interviewed on CNN, quoted in national newspapers and he authored a 200-page market research report on the milk industry. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter who specialized in business writing, he holds a BA in journalism from Marquette University. Prior to joining Food Processing, Dave was Editor-In-Chief of Dairy Foods and was Managing Editor of Prepared Foods.

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