Finding the Next Big Thing in flavor

What’s the next sriracha?

Easier asked than answered. But hard as it is to predict what flavor will seize the nation’s gastronomic attention, it’s a question that must be raised — constantly — in today’s hyper-competitive foodie environment.

And there are plenty of Next Big Thing flavor candidates in the baked goods industry as 2018 draws to a close and a new year beckons.

International flavors have been on the industry’s radar for some time, said JoAnn Rupp, global market insights manager, bakery, for Lenexa, Kan.-based Corbion.

Expect more of the same in 2019.

“Across the food and beverage industry, we’ve seen a large push for more ethnic-inspired flavors, and the bakery segment is no exception,” Rupp said. “Vibrant and exciting baked goods, such as tortillas and flatbreads, have been popping up everywhere, and we’re excited to see what comes next as consumers continue to explore the world through the food they eat.”

Maeve Webster, president of consultancy Menu Matters, agrees. Ethnic trends that may have first manifested in restaurants are making their way to other channels, including bakery.

“You’re absolutely seeing instore bakeries take more inspiration from a range of international cuisines,” Webster said. “Middle Eastern may be a bit farther out, but certainly Asian, Mediterranean and Central and South American are all showing up beyond the most traditional, expected flavors and formats.”

Citing the McCormick Flavor Forecast, Rupp said more and more consumers are searching out Asian foods that are spicy, smoked and savory. When it comes to baked goods in particular, she said, look for increased use of flavors like bay leaves, thyme, turmeric and allspice.

Blends, fruits, matcha

Other trending flavors on the horizon, Rupp said, include spicy and savory blends, fruits, sweet spices and rich flavors like cinnamon and chocolate.

Matcha will be another flavor to keep a close eye on in 2019, said Amy Marks-McGee, president of consultancy Trendincite LLC.

Popular in drinks and other categories, expect matcha to make a big splash in baked goods next year.

“Matcha is going mainstream, and I expect matcha as a flavor to appear in other applications such as desserts like matcha cupcakes and donuts at instore bakeries,” Marks-McGee said.

Marlo Masterlerz, research & development chef and director of R&D for seasonings specialist Excalibur Seasoning Co., agrees that matcha and international flavors will continue to be popular in 2019.

Other flavors to keep an eye on, according to Masterlerz: cocoa, turmeric and regional spices.

Sweet browns (caramel, raw sugar, maple, honey, brown sugar), varietal honeys (key lime orange blossom, avocado), smoke, coffee, tea, ginger, varietal citrus, dark chocolate, coconut, vanilla are among the flavors Suzy Badaracco, president of consultancy Culinary Tides Inc., said she’ll be monitoring closely in the coming year.

Many times, Badaracco said, a flavor that should be a winner struggles in the marketplace because of the context in which it’s presented. Consumers need to be able to make a connection with the new flavors they’re trying.

“What can strengthen a trend is making it approachable to consumers,” she says.  “Why did acai only last a year but pumpkin is still here? Because consumers can buy pumpkin in produce and canned.  There’s no way to buy acai in the U.S. other than in dried form – it’s not relatable.”

Spicing it up

When you’re thinking trendy, experts looking ahead to 2019 say, don’t forget hot — spicy hot, that is. The chances of “the next sriracha” being something like sriracha are pretty good.

“Consumer demand for hotter, spicier foods has continued to increase, especially among younger consumers who are looking to find the next sriracha,” Rupp said. “Baked goods that incorporate peppers and chili varieties, as well as other ethnic-inspired flavors, are likely to appeal to consumers in 2019.”

Also in 2019, look for continued emphasis on baked goods that are good for you — but also on foods that make you feel good (e.g. comfort foods).

“Fresher ingredients are increasingly being used, and I think these operators are looking to expand skill bases to have more made fresh and increasingly from scratch,” Webster said.

Today’s consumers, Rupp said, crave indulgent flavors, but they also want healthy options. Looking ahead to 2019, bakers will continue to seek ways to boost taste and texture while meeting consumer demands for less sugar, reduced calories, and gluten-free or free-from products.

“As consumers look to healthier options, bakers are venturing into new territories,” Rupp said. “In fact, many manufacturers have expanded their product lines to include organic, low-carb, non-GMO, gluten-free and vegetable-based alternatives, which has also helped spur sales. While calorie-conscious consumers may not find a great savings in choosing flatbread over traditional sandwich bread, they may find its use as a pizza base to be a more manageable way to control portion sizes while layering on flavor.”

On the comfort side of the equation, meanwhile, expect new variations on some familiar themes, Marks-McGee said.

“I think classic comfort food such as PB&J will continue, but there will be new applications that use this flavor duo — perhaps in instore bakery,” she said.

PB&J innovations are well underway, Marks-McGee said, citing products like Hormel Foods’ Skippy P.B. Fruit Bites, a line of bite-sized real dried fruit snacks covered in peanut butter. The “portable and poppable” treats are available in both Strawberry-flavored Dried Cranberry and Dried Grape. Snack-sized whole grain oat bars and ice cream are among some of the other products companies have rolled out to keep up with the trend.

To everything, a season

In 2019, purveyors of baked goods will keep a close eye on the calendar when determining what flavors to serve their customers, Marks-McGee said.

“In bakery, I think seasonal flavors are gaining more traction, particularly for the fall,” she said. “We can credit Starbucks and its Pumpkin Spice Latte for America’s obsession.”

For fall sales, look for pumpkin variations on muffins, pies and other baked goods, Marks-McGee said. Maple and maple combinations are also trendy fall flavors.

Fall isn’t the only time of year when bakers are looking to differentiate themselves with seasonal products, she said. In spring and summer for instance, expect to see an uptick in the use of lemons, berries and other seasonal fruits.

Many flavors, many solutions

To help its customers stay on the cutting edge of flavor development, Corbion offers a variety of solutions to help bakers deliver quality products that meet today’s demands, Rupp said.

“Our easy-to-use bakery blends make it easier for bakers to ensure the quality and consistency of their products, with less hassle and waste,” she said. “By working directly with our customers and aligning our solutions with current trends, we’re able to find the solution that best fits each customer’s needs.”

In addition to its easy-to-use bakery blends, Corbion also offers its customers its Meister flavor blends, which can be added to existing bakery formulations to jazz up breads, rolls, bagels and tortillas.

The easy-to-use dry blends consist of a mix of spices, herbs, vegetables and specially milled grains, which, Rupp said, help bakery manufacturers create flavor-infused products that appeal to today’s adventurous consumers.