Ah, the sweet task of trying to predict the future. It’s something that nearly every industry attempts to do come this time of year, and retail foodservice is no different. For this attempt, we asked ingredients manufacturer Corbion and flavoring manufacturers Embassy — both of whom provide commissaries with the tools of their trade, as well as market research firm SPINS (which has specialized in tracking natural, organic, and specialty product sales for the last 20 years) what they think will be a hit in 2017. As you’ll see, we got a number of different answers, but one thing’s for sure: all-natural and adventurous are still going to be the top qualities that prepared foods consumers want.
What will keep growing
2016 was definitely the year of the all-natural and wildly experimental, but inevitably, some of those experimental trends are going to fade. “Often times when we see real curveballs in product categories that already have sufficient and closely-related alternatives, they may sell for their curiosity factor, but struggle for more widespread adoption, as the learning curve is pretty steep,” says Kora Lazarski, senior strategic alliance manager for SPINS. “Gluten-free is still the most popular product claim though, and will likely continue to climb — if a wheat alternative that is also nutrient-dense like quinoa, spelt, and almond are made available, then it will likely see success in any type of retailer.”
Indeed, all-natural is one trend that all agree will keep on snowballing.
“2016 was very much about clean label, non-GMO, organic and all-natural flavorings — those were the top trends in flavors this year,” says Angel Wong, certified flavorist for Embassy. “All-natural is big and will continue to be big. Everything is natural, clean-label, organic.”
As the senior industry director for bakery at global food ingredient company Corbion, Abby Ceule agrees, and also made mention of alternative grains. “One area that we saw really take off this year was the incorporation of ancient grains into a variety of different products — from breads and muffins to cereals and bars,” she says. “A few years ago, if you mentioned the word quinoa, consumers didn’t know what it was — many couldn’t pronounce it, much less cook it. According to Corbion proprietary research, as consumers become more educated on these ancient grains, more than one-third indicate strong purchase intent. That’s good news for quinoa and others, such as amaranth, spelt and millet.”
Of course, as noted in the original market research study What’s Driving the Retail Foodservice Consumer? that was released in the October issue of instore, it wasn’t only healthfulness that consumers were looking for this year and will continue to seek out in 2017 — it’s also about indulgence.
“People are talking about clean-label and being healthy, but they don’t want to give up the indulgent part,” Wong agrees. “So the good thing about Embassy is that we can actually modify the bakery mixes that we are capable of, and cut down on the sugar and the salt, but then we use flavor to top it off. So when you taste our products they actually taste as good as the regular one that gives you the high fat and high sugar, but have a short ingredient list and are better for you.”
“Indulgence without the guilt,” adds Olga Jovnyruk, marketing executive of Embassy. “Customers want it all. Don’t we all?”
And that seemingly unusual demand for the fresh and natural — as well as the indulgent (and even decadent) — is what will continue to flourish in the coming year, across all channels.
“2016 was certainly the year of flavor in general,” Lazarski says. “Long gone are the days of plain flavors, as we’ve seen a phenomenal explosion of creativity and risk-taking in flavor by big and small brands alike.”
The mashups and the made-ups
That creativity has led to many manufacturers and retailers taking indulgence to a whole new level, especially when it comes to baked goods.
“Another trend that we’re seeing take off is around innovative hybrids, or ‘mashups’ if you will,” Ceule says. “People don’t want to choose between a cookie or a brownie – they want both. While this trend was sparked by the popular Cronut (a croissant-donut hybrid), we’ve seen numerous spin-offs of this in the past couple of years. Our favorites include the Scuffin (scone and muffin), the Brookster (chocolate chip cookie dough and brownie) and the Churrnut (churro and donut).”
Other creative mashups include those of flavor profiles, as chefs, manufacturers and retailers alike have begun to combine different cuisines and create fusions of flavor that consumers will continue to encourage with each dollar spent on the new and unusual.
“In the flavor industry, we are always ahead of the game,” Wong says. “So we actually started two years ago doing savory flavors and combining them together with sweet flavors, and we’re starting to see it pick up in the market. For example, fried chicken with vanilla. You see it in baked goods as well, basically on any menu. I would say that will continue to pick up next year, and get even bigger. The fusion of savory and sweet — like barbecue and lemon — is interesting.”
Jovnyruk agreed, noting the popularity that the classic southern dish chicken and waffles saw this year. “We emulated that flavor concept,” she says, noting that last year the company also did a bacon flavoring for donuts. “It takes some time from development to the end consumer. So we’ll be working on something two years ago and only now will it really hit the market and the general public.”
And when it comes to the general public taking these flavor fusions on, SPINS couldn’t agree more.
“We predict that more swapping of flavor profiles in traditionally sweet or savory categories will occur,” Lazarski says. “We’ve seen this with the rise of cinnamon-sugar and cappuccino-flavored potato and vegetable chips, as well as with tomato and sweet potato yogurts. Sriracha was a big flash in the pan from the last two years, and though we saw many novelty items carrying this flavor come and go, what it really accomplished was opening the floodgates to a world of other spicy sources, like habañero and ghost peppers, in everything from chocolate to refreshment beverages.”
Like Embassy, Corbion has also been experimenting in this vein, but with sweet and sour instead of sweet and savory, trying to hit the perfect balance.
“One of the really fun projects that we’ve been experimenting with in the lab is the incorporation of a sour taste profile into bakery products,” Ceule says of Corbion’s R&D. “I’m not talking about fermented dough, or adding Greek yogurt into muffins — I’m talking about cheek puckering, mouth-watering sour. We took the latest technology, Purac Powder MA, from the confectionery side of our business, and incorporated it into a lemon glaze. Then we drizzled that onto strawberry cake donuts, and the resulting strawberry lemonade donuts were made. We debuted this delight at the IBIE tradeshow in Las Vegas this year, and are looking forward to experimenting with additional flavor varieties in 2017.”
And of course, everyone expects spicy to keep going strong.
“The spicy concepts are on the rise as well,” Jovnyruk says, “so we’ve been playing with heat a lot in flavoring, a lot with jalapeño and chili peppers.”
“People are always looking for ethnic food and spices,” Wong agrees, “and it’s so interesting. All of the spices are so complex when you start talking about the top note, middle notes and base notes of them. When you add the right one to something, it really brings a beauty to it.”
“Botanicals in particular offer a literal garden of variations,” Lazarski says. “Jasmine has been a traditional popular botanical, but lavender emerged as the star of 2016, with hibiscus, violet, and rose increasingly popping up on our radars, with so many more sources still out there.”
Wong predicts a new trend as well: Halal-certified foods, which like Kosher foods, tie diet in with religion and cultural custom. “It’s a belief in the Muslim culture that the products cannot contain ethyl alcohol (among other things),” Wong says, “and that’s a change for us, because a lot of the flavors we have contain alcohol as a solvent, so we have to reformulate them because of that requirement.”
SPINS is hedging their bets on some flavor profiles from a few different continents, however.
“We believe that North African spices like dukka, harissa, and sumac, as well as Asian sambal and gochujang, will pop up in various categories of sauces, chips, jerkies, and nuts,” Lazarski says. “Although each category of food has its own particular rockstar ingredients, a few transcend categories, including matcha, turmeric, and botanicals. These are functional ingredients that we’ve seen embraced by beverages hot and cold, condiments, jams, sweets, energy bars, refrigerated entrees, ice cream, and desserts.”
All in all, though each expert queried had different ideas on specific trends to come, it’s the burgeoning trend of East meets West that everyone seems to agree will in some way power through 2017.
“The way East meets West, that trend is really emerging, and consumers are adopting different norms,” Jovnyruk says. “They’re not satisfied with just the American palate anymore; they want to explore flavors from around the world, and that’s really becoming more dominant and common. So the different flavors that come from different cultures are the ones that I think are going to really start to shine through in the year to come.”
And as a commissary, it’s never been a better time to get adventurous with your foods. It may be a little risky, but with the way consumers have been and will continue to shop, there’s a huge potential payoff to be had.
“Right now, it’s ok to be creative and it’s ok to play around with different flavors, and we’re happy to make them and explore all of these different trends,” Jovnyruk says. “So for 2017, I’d say to not be afraid to dabble with the different things that are out there.”