Tracking emerging flavor trends

by Jeff Gelski
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CHICAGO — Curry in its many forms has evolved into a dietary mainstay in England, and its versatility offers potential to U.S. food processors interested in expanding their flavor portfolio, according to researchers representing Mintel International.

"The national dish in the U.K. is curry," said David Jago, Mintel’s director of custom solutions who is based in the research firm’s London office. "It’s our most popular dish; it’s even better than fish and chips. We eat curry all the time."

Curry may feature a range of spices, including cumin, turmeric, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Its multi-ethnic flavor profile, including Indian and Asian, gives curry a platform for worldwide growth, said Lynn Dornblaser, director of Mintel’s Chicago office.

"It’s also very versatile," she said. "It can be spicy or not so spicy. It can be vegetarian or not so vegetarian. It can have a flavor profile that seems very familiar or it can be something that seems very foreign or very unusual."

Ms. Dornblaser and Mr. Jago spoke July 29 in Mintel’s "Emerging Flavor Trends" presentation during the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo at Chicago’s McCormick Place. The Mintel researchers listed Moroccan as another emerging savory flavor. In sweet flavors, acai continues to enter food and beverage applications. Interest in goji berries also is rising.

Product prototypes featuring curry were difficult to find at the Expo. Wild Flavors, Erlanger, Ky., did offer curried chicken meatballs with Indian butter sauce.

Product introductions involving curry made up 2.2% of all U.S. food product introductions from 2001-2007, according to Mintel. Sauces and seasonings accounted for 43% of the launches.

"That’s a very easy way for consumers to try out a new ethnic cuisine," Ms. Dornblaser said. "It’s a very small investment."

Meats and meal centers accounted for another 30% of U.S. product launches involving curry.

In the United Kingdom, product launches involving curry accounted for 7.5% of all product launches from 2001-2007. Meats and meal centers made up 53% of the U.K. launches.

U.S. food manufacturers should check European markets for curry flavor ideas, Ms. Dornblaser said. U.S. manufacturers also may find out what niche players in the United States are doing with curry. The niche players potentially could be acquisition targets.

Even fewer U.S. products involve Moroccan elements, Mr. Jago said, but it’s a growing trend in Europe. Influenced by many cultures, Moroccan flavor may feature such familiar elements as olives, citrus, mint, cinnamon, cumin, beef, lamb and couscous, Mr. Jago said.

"Nothing is really alien, but they can be used in ways to make unique flavors, original flavors in the United States," Mr. Jago said.

U.S. consumers are becoming more familiar with acai and goji berries and their high antioxidant contents. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., St. Louis, offers 180 Blue, an energy drink with acai, and 180 Red, an energy drink with goji berries.

Ms. Dornblaser said she expects to see manufacturers use low levels of acai in blends with other ingredients. Smoothie restaurant chains such as Juice It Up! and Smoothie King include goji berries in their products, Ms. Dornblaser said.

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