Inside the process of flavor innovation, Symrise
A look at how Symrise takes an idea and turns it into multiple concepts.

GERMANY — Much in the way sparks are required to create flames, inspiration is required to drive innovation. What is different is the complexity of product development. To successfully navigate the innovation process requires focus, collaboration and the insights necessary to separate the big ideas from those with less potential.

In food and beverage, inspiration and ideation are constant processes sometimes driven in a reactive manner to requests of customers, and proactively as an endeavor to showcase a company’s capabilities. For an industry supplier such as the flavor company Symrise, which has a U.S. office in Teterboro, N.J., the process is further complicated as its staff attempts to create flavor profiles that correspond with emerging trends.

To simplify the process, the company breaks its innovation process into segments that include food treks that help staff members get a first-hand look at what is influencing food trends. One such food trek the company took involved research into the influences that are driving consumer interest in products perceived by consumers as being craft or artisan. The trek led the company to Brooklyn, N.Y., where visitors learned about a distinctive variety of small batch hot sauces from around the world.

“Craft, artisan is a big trend that started in the category several years back,” said Emmanuel Laroche, vice-president of the marketing and consumer insights group and global marketing leader for Symrise. “It resonates with millennials who are looking for authentic experiences, stories around products and are open to experimentation. We took a group of 30 people from Symrise on an exploration trek in Brooklyn and that led us to the Heatonist.”

Hot sauce is not a new category, but it has undergone several changes over the years starting with an emphasis on heat, shifting to a focus on what may be described as sophisticated heat, and is now evolving into the fusion of complex flavors layered with different levels of heat to create unique experiences. The category has grown at an annual rate of 9% and generates approximately $1.3 billion in sales, according to Symrise.

Hot wings
The hot sauce category has evolved beyond heat for heat's sake.

“We’ve seen an increase among consumers for spiciness for some time now,” Mr. Laroche said. “Hispanic and Asian influences have made the American population much more knowledgeable about such things as the source of the hot sauce and the chilies used.

“Hot sauces are a food that goes on food. It is a condiment, but also something more.”

The Heatonist, which is owned and operated by Noah Chaimberg, may be described as ground zero for the third iteration of the hot sauce trend. The business, which includes the store in Brooklyn and a mail-order component, only stocks and sells small batch hot sauces, those made in batches of 40 gallons or less.

Mr. Chaimberg meets personally with the makers of the hot sauces he stocks to understand their manufacturing processes and see the ingredients they use. Sauces sold by The Heatonist come from such companies as the Bravado Spice Co., Houston, that manufactures unique varieties, including jalapeño and green apple, pineapple and habanero, and ghost pepper and blueberry.

It is at this juncture within the innovation process where key decisions must be made. Businesses have finite resources and cannot chase every idea.

“Hot sauce is a hot topic, no pun intended,” Mr. Laroche said of Symrise’s decision to pursue this particular venture. “It resonates with trends of sweet and heat, and we are seeing the integration of spicy, hot sensations into different types of products.

“We know that it is important in categories like snacks, beverages and culinary. It gives many new products an extra dimension, and these insights are what led us to pursue this research.”

Mr. Chaimberg visited the Symrise offices this past January and made a presentation before the Symrise product development staff. He brought along a number of hot sauces featuring such ingredients as cilantro, kiwi, blueberry, and tamarind, and ranging from mild to very hot. The goal of the session was to inspire the development teams to understand what may be done with hot sauces, Mr. Laroche said.

From inspiration to ideation

Following the inspiration session, the Symrise team brainstormed how they may leverage the information gleaned into new concepts for culinary applications, savory snacks and beverages. From the brainstorming, two platforms emerged, the first defined as “around the world” and the second as “citrus on fire.”

Both platforms capitalize on consumer interest in ethnic cuisines and concepts. In his original presentation at Symrise, Mr. Chaimberg noted a wide variety of ingredients are used to make hot sauces from around the world. Hot sauces from Barbados, for example, are influenced by the incorporation of mustard, those indigenous to Louisiana feature vinegar, and those from central Asia may feature shallots.

Mr. Laroche said the citrus on fire concept also involves combining the right fruits with the right chilies.

“It goes back to the target,” Mr. Laroche said. “It means selecting the pepper and fruits growing from the same part of the world. It’s part of making it authentic and using the ingredients to tell a story.”

Concepts that emerged for inclusion in the around the world platform include fire roasted Hatch and New Mexico chilies with agave and prickly pear, and ancho and chipotle moritas with agave, charred vegetable and mescal.

For citrus on fire, snack flavors developed included Thai chili with kaffir lime and ginger lime habanero. Culinary flavors developed include a Yuzu, mango and aji Amarillo dressing.

“This is a complex process,” Mr. Laroche said of developing flavor profiles that are perceived as authentic. “I think, for me, it goes beyond the ingredients. It is an experience, and there are different elements that make the experience authentic.

“If you are looking at why people see the Heatonist as authentic, it is the expertise he shares with customers, and it is the dimension of trust the people interacting with him have.”