How to Find the Inspiration for Flavor Innovation

by | Nov 30, 2023

Food and drink development is a nuanced and complex process! Flavor innovations that satisfy through the combination of aroma, flavor, and texture lead people to enjoy foods and beverages while getting nutrients essential to health and well-being. Formulators must balance the science of bringing ingredients together to deliver nutrition with the art of creating a delicious experience, all while staying within brand guardrails and budgetary constraints.

Although the popularity of familiar flavors like chocolate, vanilla, lemon-lime, and orange remains strong, formulators continue to look for ideas for flavor innovation. Let’s review tactics you can use to get inspired for your next project.

Fast Facts about Flavor Innovation

Fact: Most people like to try new flavors in foods and beverages

  • Datassential reports that more than three-quarters of shoppers (77%) agree that “they are excited about new food and beverage trends in 2024.” According to a study from Innova, people rank taste as the #1 driver of choice for foods and drinks.
  • More than 70% of people will visit a food & drink establishment that offers new flavors, according to Technomic’s research, with two-thirds agreeing they’ll pay more for innovative tastes.

Fact: Successful flavor innovation is challenging

The value of flavor puts pressure on food and beverage manufacturers to dedicate resources to innovation and to create a process that finds the next ‘it’ taste. What makes the process challenging?

  • Finding valid (and reliable) sources of inspiration for new flavors requires time and critical assessment.
  • Determining the sweet spot between creative experimentation (which can seem like a painter throwing dots on canvas) and competent discipline requires a solid framework to move ideas to market.

Resources for Flavor Innovation

One or more of the following resources can help you create a canvas of new flavor ideas:

  • Market Sweeps. Gather a range of recently introduced flavors in your category or across adjacent categories to see what’s trending. Are any ‘themes’ like sweet-spice or flavor tactics like ‘mystery flavors’ emerging that you want to follow?
  • Your Teams. Since your sales, marketing, and product development staff are exploring foods and beverages, talk with them to find out which new flavors they’ve tried and liked across categories. Ask them what they’ve explored during restaurant visits and on recent vacations. Are there any flavors that could crossover into your brand?
  • Your Customers and Supplier Partners. Multiple inquiries from customers about a new flavor can lead you to fast-track an idea. And suppliers may have new products available that you haven’t tapped into yet!
  • In-Market Data or Social Listening: New product tracking systems from Mintel or Innova monitor launches across categories and countries. You can get detailed descriptions of ingredients and flavor innovation hitting the retail shelves. Platforms like Tastewise showcase the flavors trending in conversations by aggregating insights from social posts, menus, and digital recipes, revealing innovation opportunities.
  • Standout Statistics about Flavor Innovation:
    • Almost 7800 products launched in North America in the last year across the top 100 food and beverage categories in Mintel’s Global New Products Database.
    • Across the new products, more than 1800 featured flavors or combinations not available in the prior year. Flavor innovation could represent crossover profiles shifting into a new category, like Red Velvet flavor moving from cakes into snack mixes. Or the flavor could be new to the market, like Apricot Rose in a Kombucha.
    • Worth noting is that an almost equal number of flavors ‘dropped out’ of the launch cycle. A flavor shown in only one year doesn’t mean in-market failure, but the absence of continued innovation may indicate a shorter lifecycle for the profile.

Selecting Strong Flavor Ideas

You can narrow your list of new flavor options using a rigorous approach to evaluation:

Establish clear criteria to help you decide to go forward, modify, or reject a flavor. Key questions to consider include the following:

  • Does the flavor fit with shoppers’ expectations of your brand?
  • Will the flavor fit within your production and budget constraints?
  • Can you source flavor ingredients consistently and on time if the innovation ‘takes off’?

Conduct a small test to share potential ideas with internal staff, a few retail partners, or key customers.

Gather feedback, either qualitatively or quantitatively, with shoppers and your team to learn which flavor ideas:

  • have taste appeal
  • people would not only try but buy again
  • have any limitations that require a change to the go-to-market strategy, like becoming a seasonal or limited-time-offer instead of a year-round addition to your line-up

Partnering to Develop New Flavors

When you’ve identified winning flavor concepts, you’ll need to address essential formulation questions with your flavor development partner. The FlavorSum team will ask you for the following information about your project:

  • The food/beverage application
  • Desired label claims (Natural, Artificial, Natural WONF, Organic, GMO-free)
  • Details about the flavor solution:
    • Water or oil-soluble
    • Liquid vs. powdered
  • The target flavor profile (e.g., more candy-like, true to fruit, etc.)
  • Any in-market products with the targeted flavor profile
  • Typical batch size
  • Project timing
  • The presence of any thermal processes, functional ingredients, or sweetener systems that may negatively impact flavor

These insights will help us deliver the right flavor solutions for your products.

Flavor Innovation in Inflationary or Recessionary Times

Although recent reports suggest easing inflationary food and beverage prices, formulators continue facing ingredient cost and supply pressures. Launching products in uncertain times isn’t easy, but continuing to bring news to shoppers helps you stay ahead of the curve and remain competitive in a challenging market.

Flavor innovation opportunities include the following:

  • Explore Cost Savings. Food companies face increased pressure to deliver value as people try to deal with financial insecurity. Finding ways to improve price-value often includes reducing the cost of goods with ingredients like flavor part of the assessment.
  • Use Reformulation to Maintain Distribution. People will prioritize availability over exact flavor matches. As a result, reformulations represent an opportunity to offer better value. Creating campaigns to reintroduce your brands with taste reassurances may also compel retailers to put your items back on the shelf.
  • Limited Time Offers (LTOs) Can Engage Consumers. Seasonal or occasion-based LTOs can generate incremental revenue and keep your brands top-of-mind with shoppers. Slotting LTOs into your production calendar two to four quarters ahead ensures you have a consistent pipeline of news (and delicious flavors) to showcase.
    • Standout Statistics About Seasonal Launches:
      • Launches of limited edition or seasonal flavors increased by +24.5% in North America during the 52 weeks ending October 2023.
      • LTOs and seasonal items account for more than 10% of North American NPD, up from 8% last year.
  • Keep Innovation Agile to Meet Launch Goals. Close-in line extensions that offer a fresh take on a familiar brand, like layering new flavors into a lemonade base, will stimulate interest. Adding favorites like coconut, blackberry, grapefruit, and watermelon can elevate a classic beverage into buzz-worthy new tastes.

Themes to Inspire Flavor Innovation in 2024

The FlavorSum team examined trends affecting flavor innovation in 2024. We found four themes resonating in the North American market that represent opportunities for food and beverage brands.

  Theme   Social Topics in the Last Year   Flavors that Align
Energize Me (but Hold the Jitters) Tropical Flavors +65% Dragonfruit, Passion Fruit, Papaya, Pineapple, Mango
Refresh Me Citrus Flavors +25% Buddha’s Hand, Star Fruit, Blood Orange, Tangor, Shaitan Pomelo
Delight Me Simplicity, Fun, Approachable Global Flavors Vanilla-Apricot, Dark Chocolate Coconut, Strawberry Lemonade, Crème Brulee, Churro
Help Me Make Memories Stone Fruits Peach, Blackberry, Nectarine, Tart Cherry, Lychee

Ready to Find Your Next Flavor Innovation?

As you plan your 2024 or 2025 food or beverage innovation schedule, reach out to FlavorSum for solutions. Our team is here to help lessen the complexity of product development by supporting you with ideation, flavor formulation, and application expertise.

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