- Sweet and seasonal satisfaction, spicy revolution, global finds and empowered eating and drinking are the four up-and-coming trends in the annual McCormick Flavor Forecast, which is in its 20th year.
- Sweet and seasonal satisfaction highlights flavor combinations that change with the seasons, like Meyer lemon with lemon thyme in the warmer months, as well as smoked spices and pumpkin pie spice with coconut milk in the cooler parts of the year. The spicy revolution predicts that chilies will expand their appeal through both their heat and tang and in regional sauces. Global flavors center around cuisine from the Eastern Mediterranean, Latin America and Asia. Empowered foods encompass alternative proteins, functional herbs and spices and umami veggies.
- Global flavors and functional foods have been recurring trends over the past several years. As consumers become more interested in bolstering their health through food and are looking for cultural experiences as travel plans may be on hold, it is not a surprise that these trends are topping the list going into 2021.
Although flavor trend predictions are updated annually, some seem like they are here to stay.
Ethnic cuisine flavors have peaked on flavor forecasts for four years now. Asian and Middle Eastern flavors continue to appeal to millennials, Hispanics and Asian consumers. According to Technomic's 2018 Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, a third of consumers eat ethnic cuisine at least once each week, and nearly a third are willing to pay more if it's authentic. Types of regional cuisine that consumers are interested in have remained fairly stable, however, a new region is popping up on consumers' radar this year: the eastern Mediterranean, meaning northern Africa and Turkey.
Functional foods are also becoming mainstays in consumer preferences as plant-based products continue to maintain a high profile in the marketplace. McCormick pointed to pulse proteins — which are packed with nutrients including protein and fiber — as the upcoming focus for plant-based eaters. Specifically, pigeon peas, cranberry beans and black beluga lentils were called out as staples that will soon have their moment.
Functional flavoring ingredients McCormick saw on the forefront of the trend don't seem as innovative as they have felt in past years. Matcha, chia, turmeric and flaxseed topped the list, all of which are longtime staples in the functional food market.
Turmeric was on Kerry’s 2019 trends list and topped Buzzback’s list of functional ingredients that consumers are seeking. The ingredient first came into the spotlight in 2016, when it became a "rising star" in the Google's functional food searches in 2016. That same year, there was a 21% increase of new product launches with turmeric.
Matcha green tea has also long been a preferred functional ingredient. It has found its way into applications from energy drinks to baked goods. McCormick says that this year the tea will move more into savory applications such as chicken and seafood rubs.
Chilies and peppers are a newer addition to McCormick’s flavor forecast. Spicy foods have been getting more popular as Asian and Latin American dishes have become more common on U.S. menus. A Mintel study found 80% of millennials are interested in more spices in their food. This same group is also interested in more authentic culinary experiences.
Similarly, food that is spicy for the sake of a kick has also been a growing trend. Chilies have in many cases been introduced into diets as consumers look to cut sodium, fat and sugar without sacrificing flavor. But the challenge remains finding a balance between heat that is appropriate for mainstream American consumers and the full punch that a chili pepper can pack.
Manufacturers are working to find this balance in innovative ways. Hot Scream, from Connecticut-based Escape Brands, has had success with its lineup of spicy ice cream. Chobani has introduced low-fat yogurt in Sriracha-mango and chipotle-pineapple flavors. McCormick predicts this trend will go further with black pepper and dates being paired together in cocktails and chamoy sauce — a Mexican condiment made with apricot jam, chilies and lime juice — taking a foothold in kitchens.
Seasonal flavor combinations are also a major upcoming theme. As the days blurred together for a large part of 2020, McCormick expects consumers will pull out comforting flavors to mark the change of the seasons. Classics like pumpkin pie, cinnamon and lemon will receive updates to offer a new dimension, such as smoky undertones to traditional spices or a tropical pairing for a familiar fall staple.
While trends are in many cases temporary, manufacturers will do well to keep a pulse on how flavor preferences are evolving. As consumers continue to cook at home more than they did prior to the pandemic, many are looking to recreate authentic, restaurant-quality dishes, as well as add interest to their food through new ingredients and products.