Get your palates ready — 2024 promises to deliver new and exciting flavor variations, especially from cuisines beyond our country’s borders and in foods that combine different types of flavors entirely.

Expect, for instance, to see additional variations on the sweet-mixed-with-savory theme.

Maeve Webster, president of Menu Matters, said one example of this could be the use of richer, more complex flours like buckwheat and heritage grains.

Why? Because they can be used in desserts to create “a more savory — but still approachable — experience,” Webster said.

Coming at the trend the other way, look for cacao to be used in non-sweet applications including entrees and savory cocktails, she added.

Other flavors to keep an eye on in 2024, Webster said, include pistachios in applications like marzipan, dusts and sauces; and tallow, lard and other meat-based fats in “unexpected applications.”

1. International influences 

New flavors will continue to find their way into Italian foods in 2024, said Mike Kostyo, Menu Matters’ vice president.

“We continue to see a revitalization in Italian foods, with new, next-generation ingredients and flavors showing up in menu items and on retail shelves.”

Think cheeses beyond burrata, Kostyo said, with options like Taleggio, and spicier and bolder Italian flavors like arrabiata and vodka sauce taking space from traditional marinara.

On the bakery side, look for Mexican flavors to exert a greater influence in 2024, Kostyo said.

Conchas, churros, and tres leches cakes are likely to be big.

Another big ethnic foods influence on bakery will continue to gain steam this year, as well, he added.

“Thinking longer-term, Asian flavors and aesthetic influences in classic baked goods are growing in independent bakeries and high-end restaurants so retailers may want to start thinking about how to evolve baked goods in the next three years.”

Truffles will likely see their profile raised thanks to a menu decision made by a high-profile foodservice chain, Kostyo said.

“Now that Popeye’s has added TRUFF hot sauce to the menu, we’ll see truffles continue to move into traditionally inexpensive categories,” he said. “And it can be great for catering options to add a little premium note to an event.”

2. Pizza, street food and beyond 

New and unexpected flavors will also find their way into pizza this year, said Amy Marks-McGee, president of Trendincite LLC.

Comfort food favorites like mac and cheese and Thanksgiving dinner staples could well show up as pizza toppings, likely on an LTO basis. Also look for new alternative pizza crust flavors.

Another trend to keep a close eye on in the year, Marks-McGee said, is street food flavors — like those found in churros, elote and tacos — making their way into snacks.

Sweet-and-savory combinations will continue to be big in 2024, Badaracco said.

In fact, there’s a whole new vocabulary to describe them.

“Swalty, swokey, swicy.”

In the fresh produce category, look for varietals like car acaras, clementines, meyer lemons, blood oranges, pomelos and key limes to be big this year, said Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides Inc.

Ghost, ancho, serrano, Carolina reaper and other regional and varietal peppers should also get a lot of attention, as will variety apples and pears, she predicted.

3. New flavors for ISBs

With the growth of brands like Crumbl cookies, in-store bakeries should also lean into their cookie offerings, with unique, ever-changing flavors and attractive presentations, Kostyo said.

But as is true for all perimeter departments, value must be top-of-mind.

“Obviously value is the most important consideration to consumers, so every brand needs to consider their value proposition in 2024,” Kostyo said. “Younger consumers continue to act differently from their more senior counterparts when it comes to perimeter purchasing, so supermarkets will continue to need to experiment with technology, marketing, and flavors and formats to attract them and turn them into loyal users.”

Among the questions in-store departments must keep in mind: Are the flavors and ingredients that these younger consumers expect showcased, whether that’s Mexican and Asian flavors, clean-label foods, bold and spicy flavors or social media-worthy foods? A younger consumer may be more likely to be purchasing options from the deli for a charcuterie board, or seafood at the counter for salmon tacos.

And, as another example, Kostyo said: retail delis may consider adding a spicy rotisserie chicken to their prepared foods lineup.

“Continue to rethink the norms in every department to stay on-trend.”

4. Is plant-based also flavor-forward?

Highly processed plant-based (not plant-forward) may have peaked in some categories, including meat (though not seafood) substitutes, Webster said.

And looking at fresh foods sold in grocery perimeter departments in general, expect stronger efforts to create more differentiation in categories in which there typically hasn’t been much, Webster said. 

“Think about how many apples there are available but not so with extremely familiar and popular categories such as watermelon and potatoes. To make these fresh and intriguing, we’re going to see more concentrated efforts here.”

Inflation has certainly had an influence on shopper behavior, Webster said, but it’s been somewhat counter-intuitive with consumers no longer willing to compromise on categories they believe are truly important to them at the significant expense of less important categories.

“Stress from domestic and global uncertainty will continue to fuel escapism spending in all industries which could lead to significant economic problems later as consumers wrack up more debt. Economic uncertainty and a few years of restaurant industry turmoil is driving more consumers to at-home preparation, from full scratch to prepared customization.” 

This article is an excerpt from the January 2024 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Flavor Trends feature and more in the digital edition here.