Flavors offer a bundle of benefits

by Jeff Gelski
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Flavors may assist the food and beverage industry in several ways. For restaurant operators seeking to attract recession-weary customers, unique flavors may invigorate traditional menu items. For companies looking to create products with simple/clean labels, flavors from natural sources are available. For companies confronting, say, this year’s rise in peanut costs, flavorings may reduce the amount of nuts they use.

Food service customers are hesitant about spending, but 42% said they are more likely to try new flavors than they were a year ago, according to the “Flavor Consumer Trend Report” released Nov. 17 by Chicago-based Technomic, Inc. The survey included more than 1,500 consumers and found 52% express a preference for restaurants that offer unique or original flavors, up from 42% of those polled two years ago.

“There is only so much you can do with pricing until your profit margins disappear,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of Technomic. “So you have to look at ways to differentiate your brand. Incorporating unique flavors into existing menus can be a low-cost and easy way to grow sales and attract new customers.”

For example, sweet, hot, smoky, spicy and fruity flavors may differentiate pizza products. For hamburgers, globally inspired flavors are moving Pan-Latin, Asian and Italian interpretations into the mainstream.

Natural flavor acquisitions
Flavors from natural sources also may spark consumer interest. According to The Nielsen Co., U.S. supermarket sales of products promoted for natural benefits reached $23.3 billion for the 52-week period ended June 11, which marked nearly a 10% increase from $21.3 billion in the previous 52-week period.
“What seems to be top of mind for consumers, and manufacturers as well, are terms like ‘organic,’ ‘natural,’ ‘clean,’ ‘green,’ etc.,” said Agneta Weisz, vice-president of flavors and technology for Comax Flavors, Melville, N.Y.

Symrise AG, Holzminden, Germany, in September conducted a two-day event in Noerdlingen, Germany, that focused on the natural trend in the beverage industry. Birgit Gebhard, managing director of Trendbuero Hamburg, a German-based business that observes trends, presented research results on the idea of natural. She said it plays a role among high-income groups in Europe and also in growing middle classes in other areas of the world, such as Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

Frank von Keutz, vice-president BU Beverages EAME for Symrise, said, “Beverage Inspiration Day confirmed that naturalness is a global trend affecting all regions in different ways. To sum up our insights from the two-day event, nearly all consumers around the world prefer products made from natural ingredients. We thus put high priority on continuing to further develop natural beverage concepts and give our customers and the consumers what they want.”

Symrise has a Sorocaba, Brazil, location in the center of a citrus plantation and a U.S. location in Teterboro, N.J.

Two acquisitions announced in September involved natural flavors. Wild Flavors GmbH, Zug, Switzerland, on Sept. 12 said it had acquired A.M. Todd Group, Inc., a provider of mint flavors and ingredients and based in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“With the addition of A.M. Todd’s mint product portfolio, Wild will be able to combine the advantages of natural mint oils with its specialized technologies in health ingredients, colors, taste modification and flavor,” said Emily M. Hibbs, marketing and public relations coordinator for Wild Flavors, Inc., Erlanger, Ky. “This will further Wild’s innovative and natural solutions for a variety of food, beverage, functional and confectionery applications.”

On Sept. 26, Synergy Flavors, Wauconda, Ill., announced its acquisition of Sensus, L.L.C., a natural essence and extract manufacturer based in Hamilton, Ohio.

“This acquisition offers significant benefits to our customers by providing direct access to natural essences and extracts that greatly enhance our capability to serve the growing demand for natural flavorings,” said Roderick W. Sowders, president and chief executive officer of Synergy Flavors.

Coping with nut prices
Other flavors may help companies cope with peanut and pecan prices.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in its Nov. 9 Crop Production report estimated 2011 U.S. peanut production at 3,648.5 million lbs, down 12% from 2010. Peanut prices were more than 62c per lb on Nov. 18, which compared to about 26c per lb a year ago.

The Nov. 9 report also forecast pecan prices to be sharply higher this fall because of drought in key growing areas and demand from China. Ms. Weisz of Comax Flavors said pecan prices may hit $11 per lb or more in supermarkets this year, which compares with $7 per lb in 2007.

Nut flavorings from Comax Flavors may help food manufacturers save on costs, according to the company. Peanut flavors and pecan flavors may be used in such applications as baked foods, confectionery items, beverages and dairy products. Comax Flavors offers the peanut flavors and pecan flavors as natural or artificial, oil-soluble or water-soluble, and with varieties containing the named ingredient as well as those that are allergen-free.

“Comax Flavors works individually with each manufacturer to develop flavor formulations based on the specific product,” Ms. Weisz said. “There are many variables that are taken into account with each and every proprietary formulation. As such, the reduction of peanuts/pecans could greatly vary.”

Consider fruity flavors on pizza, Asian interpretations of hamburgers

A “Flavor Consumer Trend Report” released Nov. 17 by Chicago-based Technomic described how flavors may differentiate items in specific restaurant menu categories:

All entrees — Mexican flavor profiles continue to shine for entrees on limited-service restaurant (L.S.R.) menus. Garlic-accented profiles and spicy flavors are among the top flavors for full-service restaurant (F.S.R.) entrees.

Sandwiches — On L.S.R. menus, savory Italian flavors imparted through Italian meats, cheeses, dressings, sauces and seasonings stand out. On F.S.R. menus, spicy flavors, garlic-accented profiles and barbecue seasonings and sauces are leading options.

Pizza — Italian flavors dominate, but sweet, hot, smoky, spicy and fruity flavors help differentiate signature offerings.

Hamburgers — On L.S.R. menus, globally inspired flavors are moving Pan-Latin, Asian and Italian interpretations into the mainstream. On F.S.R. menus, signature barbecue sauces, hickory woods and spicy, peppery profiles highlight flavor in specialty burgers.

Pasta/noodles — Technomic’s forecast of retro Italian entrees is evident in traditional basil and garlic flavors.

Condiments and sauces — Adding hot, smoky or herbal accents to standard offerings may showcase flavor for appetizers.

Non-alcoholic beverages — Coffee, strawberry, chocolate and lemon flavors are found in smoothies, ice-blended specialty coffee drinks and teas.

Dessert — Traditional profiles such as chocolate, vanilla and strawberry are top-tier flavors while seasonal profiles such as raspberry and cherry are second-tier flavors.

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