When an orange isn't just an orange

by Allison Gibeson
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Consumer taste buds have become sophisticated enough to understand there is more than one orange flavor. After all, it may be a blood orange or mandarin flavor or even contain flavor notes that may only come from a Florida or Valencia orange.

“From an innovation perspective, it’s definitely a challenge because year after year the top new product introductions (in citrus flavors) remain orange and lemon,” said Kim Carson, marketing manager for beverage at Givaudan, Cincinnati. “The innovation is really around creating more sophisticated, different types of profiles within orange or within lemon.”

Frank Peter, category director for beverage at Symrise, Teterboro, N.J., agreed saying the majority of citrus flavors being used today are still the classics like orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, tangerine and mandarin but other novel citrus fruits are finding their way into the market as consumers are experimenting with flavors.

“Despite all the introductions of regional citrus types from around the globe, orange, lemon and lime continue to remain at the forefront, whether as a stand-alone flavor or in combination,” said Joe Raimondo, president and principal at Artiste, Waldwick, N.J. “Familiarity and comfort is the driving force when it comes to citrus. Even so, more and more consumers are showing a willingness to explore other more exotic varieties. However, when they do, it is primarily in combination with the old familiars such as orange or lemon.”

Mr. Peter emphasized pairing the familiar with the unfamiliar as a way of introducing new flavors such as kumquat. Meyer lemon, pomelo and yuzu are other up-and-coming flavors, Ms. Carson said.

Ms. Carson added that citrus flavor pairings with other flavor profiles, including berry and tropical, are becoming popular as well. There has been many products pairing lemonade and tea together as well as pairing citrus with other herbs and floral profiles. When pairing citrus with an herbal or floral flavor it is important the citrus remain the dominant flavor profile with a low-level of the floral or herbal profile incorporated, she said, adding that it’s often not necessary to call such pairings out on the product.

“It’s adding complexity to the taste and making sure you are not doing it at a level that is going to overwhelm consumers,” Ms. Carson said.

She said Givaudan sees citrus being used both in sweet goods and savory products. Using lemon poppy seeds in muffins and combining orange flavor with chocolate in a bar are common examples in the former category.

Mr. Peter said in the savory area, citrus flavors have been used in crackers and potato chip seasonings. In addition, yogurt, ice cream, candies and chewing gum are other areas outside of beverages where the flavors are in use.

Citrus flavors are used to signify various ethnic cuisines. For example, grilled citrus fruits are an integral component of the current Hispanic food trend.

“With the growing ethnic population, there is a demand to utilize citrus types from regions familiar to these consumers’ ethnic backgrounds such as Latin America and Asia,” Mr. Raimondo said. “The drive is to formulate products that are ethnic focused as well as have a wider ranging appeal to target those from outside these groups. By incorporating the familiar citrus … the average consumer would be more apt to give them a try thus allowing for greater creative flavor opportunities.”

Ms. Carson and Mr. Peter agreed a challenge in developing beverage products with citrus flavors is the fruits are inherently unstable. Ms. Carson said oxidation and changes to the flavor profile may begin happening almost immediately, so it is important to use the right raw materials to build the flavor and make the product stable enough for a 9- to 12-month shelf life.

In the future, the same favorites will continue to dominate the category, but with a twist.

“I would fully expect that orange, lemon and lime will continue to dominate the citrus category,” Mr. Raimondo said. “However, we will definitely see more introductions combining various citrus from around the world with other popular fruits. For example, citrus with historical favorites like mango and guava, or citrus with fruits with perceived benefits such as pomegranate.”

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