Smoothie blenders and cocktail “mixologists” have raised the bar for flavor innovations in packaged bev-erages. The freshly prepared refreshments allow for a layering of flavors that goes beyond mixing strawberry with kiwi and lemon with lime. Add the fact that today’s health and wellness-seeking consumer wants taste without excessive calories and it makes sense why layering flavors to create a more satisfying drink experience has become trendy.

Following this trend, Ayala’s Herbal Water, Philadelphia, markets a line of botanical-infused calorie-free waters in varieties such as lavender mint, lemongrass mint vanilla, and lemon verbena geranium.

By no means is the layering of flavors a new concept, as the coffee bean and tea leaf companies have been adding flavors to their no-calorie beverages for ages. However, it’s the breadth of beverages being enhanced by flavor extracts, along with the sophistication of the flavors that is worth noting.

“Sweet and savory is the current trend in flavors these days,” said Catherine Armstrong, vice-president of corporate communications at Comax Flavors, Melville, N.Y. “Consumers continue to seek out interesting and contemporary taste fusions to jazz up their usual menu.”

And though savory, per se, is not a flavor profile one would expect in a beverage, tastes that are the opposite of sweet provide the contrast consumers increasingly are craving.

Sometimes it’s combining two familiar flavors to produce an unusual, yet delicious sensory experience. That’s what one gets with grapefruit.

Many consumers associate the taste of grapefruit with juice. They are surprised how grapefruit’s citrus profile changes when it is combined with other fruits or various botanicals. Not only does it become refreshingly sweet, it provides a tangy taste that mellows over time. For example, Comax’s pink grapefruit ginger flavor extract melds the bitter sweetness of grapefruit with a delightful ginger kick and works in all types of beverages, still and sparkling, as well as alcohol.

Ready-to-drink chilled tea beverages remain popular, with flavor suppliers offering an array of ingredients that either create a signature flavor profile through a layering of flavors or provide a premium positioning, or both.

John Wilson, marketing manager with Allen Flavors Inc., Edison, N.J., said tea essence blends may provide a full-flavor experience to tea-type beverages.

“Combining tea essences with tea flavor top notes increases flavor impact,” he said. “For instance, for black and green teas, we offer proprietary tea essence blends ranging from those that provide a ‘fresh’ profile to ones that deliver an ‘earthy’ experience. For sweet teas, we can add a flavor layer of ‘sun brewed’ or even a touch of caramel.

“But what is really shaking up the industry is our non-tea flavors that give ready-to-drink tea a twist. We have a ‘pear honeybush’ tea that has a fleshy, fruity profile with hints of honey and some herbal notes.”

Kelli Heinz, marketing communications coordinator for Bell Flavors and Fragrances Inc., Northbrook, Ill., described some layers-of-flavor beverage concepts the company recently developed.

“Chai and black tea work well together, and then when you add some apple flavor, it’s a very refreshing experience,” she said. “And, starting with a green tea flavor base, we add basil, blueberry, pepper, lemon and thyme flavors for a very complex, yet tasty beverage.”

Even milk processors want in on the layering of flavor trend. This past winter holiday season, Minneapolis-based Kemps L.L.C. partnered with a local, but nationally recognized purveyor of flavor extracts and spices, J.R. Watkins, Winona, Minn., to create vanilla eggnog, which is made with Watkins vanilla, and pumpkin spice eggnog, which is made with Watkins cinnamon.

Millennials leave their mark

Many of the multi-dimensional flavored beverages are designed to appeal to the millennial demographic, which is considered one of the most diverse generation of consumers ever, said Donna Hood Crecca, senior director at Chicago-based market research firm Technomic.

“Millennials are very demanding, as well as adventurous and curious, especially with food and beverage,” she said. “They like to try new products and they want authenticity.”

This is a generation that never knew orange juice could be concentrated and frozen in a can. For that matter, millennials seldom drink a glass of plain orange juice. This generation demands beverage marketers provide an artisanal twist to everyday refreshments.

For years, the sales performance of the market for fruit juices and juice drinks has been flat. Between 2007 and 2012, dollar sales of fruit and vegetable juices and juice drinks barely budged, and the volume of juice and juice drinks consumed by households hardly kept pace with population growth. Yet underneath the placid top-line performance are undercurrents of constant, rebellious change, according to a recently released report from Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md., titled “Fruit and vegetable juices: U.S. market trends.”

Shifts in the $20 billion market have come at the expense of mainstays in the juice category. For example, between 2007 and 2012, consumption of orange juice declined by 3.6%.

“It’s not just orange juice for breakfast anymore,” said David Sprinkle, publisher of Packaged Facts, adding that “many of the products posting the highest growth rates are riding the waves of juice bar and smoothie chain trends.”

In the process, the market for packaged juices has been upended. Consumers now may walk into the nearest supermarket and find exotic blends of fruit juices, unexpected combinations of fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, coconut water, aloe vera juice, and juices made from exotic, antioxidant-rich superfruits.

SPI West Port Inc., South San Francisco, Calif., markets a line of drinks containing pieces of aloe vera, providing a unique texture experience to the consumer. Early this year, the company rolled out its newest flavor called Alo Comfort, which combines aloe vera with watermelon and peach flavors for a one-of-a-kind flavor profile.

Other interesting layers of flavors in the Alo line include Alo Allure (with mango and mangosteen), Alo Appeal (with pink grapefruit, pomelo and lemon), Alo Enrich (with pomegranate and tart cranberry) and Alo Escape (with pineapple, guava and seabuckthorn berry).

Substantive innovation is a potential platform for growth, especially in capturing the attention of culinary- and health-trend conscious juicers, according to Packaged Facts.

“Those addressing Latino or Asian audiences should not only leverage tropical fruits, but also remember that today’s flavor lovers and adventurous eaters are also seeking out new fruit experiences,” said Kimberly Egan, chief executive officer of CCD Innovation, San Francisco, and author of the “Fresh takes on fruit: Culinary trend mapping
report.” “Likewise, tropical takes on fruit-based American classics can capture the imagination of multicultural consumers.”

She explained that varietal fruits and novel hybrids are gaining in popularity as shoppers focus on quality and variety. The varietals may provide that extra flavor layer in a beverage, that artisanal twist. For example, the flavor profiles of Meyer lemons, Cara Cara oranges or Seascape strawberries can create a point of differentiation in still and carbonated beverages.

“The addition of botanical flavor notes to fruit-flavored beverages adds a fresh twist in this category, where a thirsty public is eager to experience more complex flavor combinations and enjoy alternatives to conventional sodas,” she said. “Beyond taste, these additions add potential health benefits that appeal to consumers searching for elixirs in a bottle or tea bag.”

Building spirits

There’s a lot to be learned from the spirits industry, said Ms. Hood Crecca. Flavor innovation helped propel the spirits industry to hit a sales milestone in 2012 and is fostering continued growth in 2013, according to Technomic’s recently released “2013 spirits TAB (trends in adult beverage)” report.

“Many of the trends that drove the spirits market in 2011 continued in 2012, such as premiumization and consumer interest in exploring different categories,” she said. “But the real driver was product innovation, particularly around flavor. Spirits suppliers came to market with compelling products featuring interesting and sometimes unexpected flavor profiles. Consumers were intrigued, especially the all-important millennial consumer group.”

Some of the most notable trends and ones that have potential of carrying over to non-alcoholic beverages include candy- and dessert-inspired spirits. For example, Pinnacle brand vodkas from Beam Inc., Deerfield, Ill., include a range of flavors from cotton candy and cookie dough to cucumber watermelon and pumpkin pie.

Marketers are going well beyond traditional flavor profiles to attract consumers.

“We’re seeing unexpected flavors, such as Pernod Ricard’s Mama Walker’s line of breakfast-inspired liqueurs, involving flavors like maple bacon and blueberry pancake,” Ms. Hood Crecca said. “Spice is showing up in whiskeys and liqueurs, and exotic fruit and floral flavors are also still on trend.”

Spice, tropical and the exotic appeal to the booming Latino market, concurred Emmanuel Laroche, vice-president, marketing, sensory and consumer insights, Symrise Flavors, Teterboro, N.J. “Our on-line community of Latino consumers has led to our full understanding of the importance of food and beverages in the life of this energetic demographic. Their enthusiasm is contagious and is catching on with mainstream consumers.”

To build on Symrise’s knowledge of this group, the company teamed with Junior Merino, a mixologist, for creative beverage flavor concepts.

“I developed a tequila-based drink called The Smokey Tamarindo, which is made with juice from grilled pineapple,” Mr. Merino said. “Then there’s the Big Apple, which combines whiskey and juice from grilled apples.

“The sugar content of the fruit caramelizes during the grilling process, producing some very unique flavors that complement many beverage bases.”

Mr. Laroche said the company’s flavor chemists have been able to develop a line of grilled flavors that captures the unique tastes Mr. Merino achieves when he freshly grills fruit.

“What remains is the authenticity of the fruit, heightened by flavor characteristics that remind you of the distinctive aroma and perceptions of the great outdoors, the venue we associate with grilled foods,” Mr. Laroche said. “Our grilled fruit flavors are suited to all types of beverages, including spirits and dairy.”