Predicting the next pumpkin spice or salted caramel is “an inexact science,” said Jessica Jones-Dille of MANE Inc., a flavor and fragrance manufacturer in Lebanon, Ohio.
Consumer demand for cleaner labels and a blurring of traditional meal parts are among factors influencing flavor trends in the snack market, said Ms. Jones-Dille, director of the savory and snack category.
“Flavors play a huge role in the day part blurring because you can take something like a popcorn and take it from a snack to a dessert quite quickly,” she said.
During a presentation at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, she highlighted emerging flavors in snack products for three types of consumers she described as the core consumer, the gatekeeper and the roamer.
“The core consumer for sweets and snacks is intrinsically attracted to the top shelf good stuff,” Ms. Jones-Dille said. “They want those vibrant profiles, products that are tried and true that they know and love. They want authenticity in taste and texture. And experience and enjoyment are purchase drivers for them.”
This consumer craves sweet and spicy combinations and hybrid profiles, she said.
“They look for stuff that is maybe a bit more on the edge but also classic,” she said. “Retro innovations drive interest and trial for this consumer. You see a lot of trends in flavor toward pickling and herbs and utilizing preservation methods and the flavors that are associated with those in blends for sweets and snacks.
For example, she said, fermented as a product descriptor has increased by 158% over the past five years.
“The other thing we find with this segment is the need for spicy foods,” Ms. Jones-Dille said. “Spicy foods are coveted for flavor interest and what I call ‘extreme social engagement.’
“As we worked on a pepper platform, people in the lab wanted to taste these hot peppers and then of course wanted us to video it to share with all their friends.”
Snacks that appeal to the core consumer may include peach chipotle potato chips and hot roasted garlic and dill almonds, she said.
The gatekeeper, typically mothers who may be wary of the candy and snack categories, are drawn to flavors perceived as natural or nutritious, Ms. Jones-Dille said.
“They want control and sometimes they feel like they’re out of control in that space,” she said. “They find baked snacks and a baked descriptor to be healthier. They want to convince their family to ditch the junk, but they don’t necessarily want to replace that with things they don’t want. They still want to treat their children.
“This is where we find new inclusions, new fruit-focused innovation, new vegetable-focused bases, whole grains, things like that. The flavor focus here is often a more subtle flavor delivery, as is synonymous with natural and not artificial.”
Varietal fruit flavors, such as blood orange and tangerine, may create authenticity, she said.
“The world of citrus allows for a broad range of flavor nuances,” Ms. Jones-Dille said. “Hand in hand with that, the marketing of preparation techniques can showcase some fruit-forward innovation.”
Examples of products that may appeal to the gatekeeper are blood orange tangerine lemonade candy tablets and white chocolate truffles with a poached pear flavored filling, she said.
The roamer consumer “delights in the sweets and snacks segment” but are the least brand loyal of all consumers, Ms. Jones-Dille said.
“They love the freedom to choose what they want when they want it,” she said. “This is an impulse purchase driven person but also really open to trying new things.”
For these reasons, it is especially difficult to predict which flavors these consumers prefer, she said.
“They tend to gravitate toward new and different but also tried and true in different applications,” she said.
Botanicals, coffee and cocktail flavors tend to resonate with this consumer. The roamer may enjoy dark berry blended with dark chocolate or a chai berry caramel.“Berries definitely aren’t a new flavor, but we’re seeing it more in different applications,” Ms. Jones-Dille said, citing dark berry as a flavor gaining traction outside of the dessert category. “Bartenders and chefs are playing a greater role in influencing trends across categories.”