KANSAS CITY — Raise a mug to one of the hottest snack trends this season. Hot cocoa is gaining steam as a flavor in new limited-edition cookies, candies, popcorn and gum.
“We have seen indulgence-inspired flavors such as hot chocolate in a variety of applications like ice cream, chap sticks, cookies, candies and other snacks,” said Tina Rzeha, marketing associate, Beverage Flavors North America, at Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill. “While hot chocolate falls under the umbrella of chocolate, it definitely is its own flavor category — it is creamier, more ‘marshmallowy’ and can contain a hint of vanilla.”
The emergence of hot cocoa as a holiday flavor is part of a larger product development trend — the blurring of food and beverage categories, Ms. Rzeha said. Think coffee-flavored yogurt and craft beer-inspired potato chips.
“Traditional beverage flavors have made their way into sweets, dairy and even savory products and vice versa,” Ms. Rzeha said. “There are no longer hard lines drawn between these categories, because consumers, especially millennials and the ‘i-generation,’ are increasingly looking for new flavor experiences and trends.”
Another driver of the trend is an uptick in dessert flavors used in a variety of food and beverage applications.
“Cookies and cream, Christmas cookie and donut-flavored coffee are no longer deemed as exotic in coffee shops around the country,” Ms. Rzeha said. “The same applies to ice cream and yogurts. Consumers are looking to combine products they consume on a daily basis with indulgence, allowing them to treat themselves without necessarily feeling guilty.”
This year, new product introductions featuring a hot cocoa flavor include Chips Ahoy! cookies, M&M’s chocolate candies, Clif energy bars and Hubba Bubba bubblegum. Ms. Rzeha said this classic comfort treat may become as popular as pumpkin spice.
“If we look at the wide variety of pumpkin spice-flavored products that are available in the market, we can see that nothing is being left out — from ice cream to sauces and beer, everything can contain pumpkin spice,” she said. “It is hard to believe that only 10 years ago it was simply used as an ingredient for pumpkin pie during the holiday season. Hot chocolate has the potential to follow its tracks and become a seasonal flavor that consumers crave after and wait for all year around.”