Umami, Flavor Encapsulation and You

Research shows consumer flavor trends emphasizing fresh, fast and healthy

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill.-- A growing number of convenience-store shoppers are seeking foods with a vast array of flavors. Baby boomers, for instance, increasingly look for bold flavors due to the dulling of their taste buds. Millennials look for a spectrum of exotic ingredients triggered by a desire for adventure and newness.

But there’s a catch to the delivery of more robust flavors. These demographic groups and others also demand fewer ingredients in the foods they buy, and seek natural rather than artificial ingredients.

What are food marketers to do to satisfy this compound-complex requirement list? Proceeding judiciously and creatively might be the short answer. The good news for suppliers and retailers is that ongoing advances in food flavor technology are enabling them to deliver more of what consumers seek.

These trends were outlined in a report called “U.S. Market for Flavors” authored by Rockville, Md.-based research firm Packaged Facts. The report details how consumers want fresh, fast and healthy foods, but the overarching trend wrapping around these desires calls for flavor enhancement.  

Looking forward, the value of the total U.S. market for flavors—including flavor additives, flavor enhancers, sugar substitutes and spices—is expected to increase from $6 billion in 2014 to $7 billion in 2019, according to Packaged Facts.

One challenge that food companies face comes from those consumers seeking the freshest ingredients, realizing that the gold standard is seen in natural foods. There is ample opportunity for the development of natural, shelf-stable flavors that can meet consumer demand for clean labels, wrote Packaged Facts research director David Sprinkle in the report.

The struggle is that these varieties have a limited shelf life as flavor, in particular, degrades more rapidly for all-natural products, notes Sprinkle. Convenience-store retailers, for one, have been slow to integrate natural foods into their sets, as higher price points and reduced shelf life both combine to make it a slow growth proposition across the channel.  

In the Packaged Facts report, the delivery of fast, fresh and healthy—and along with it high flavor—comes with some conditions. Consumers want simplified ingredients. From trans fats to gluten, grocery lists have a growing number of things to avoid, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other artificial flavors, said Sprinkle.

Clean labels are a key. Food manufacturers that can shorten their ingredient lists and substitute artificial and unrecognizable ingredients with natural or recognizable ingredients will continue to edge up in market share and market penetration, said Sprinkle.

The advances in food technology are another key. Although the concept of flavor encapsulation technology traces to the 1940s, increased consumer demand for clean labels and natural flavors—combined with new innovations in food and beverage flavor development—is giving flavor encapsulation “a new lease on life,” said Sprinkle.

By definition, encapsulation of flavors protects a flavoring agent or a mixture of molecules with a dedicated “envelope,” and can limit the degradation or loss of flavor during various product processes and storage.

The technology has a growing array of applications, said Sprinkle, and “has been pulled into the portfolios of most major flavor houses that are active in the U.S. market.” Likewise, flavor enhancers are also receiving a makeover. For example, a suite of new MSG-replacers tout enhanced umami flavor, with some also functioning as sodium replacers, Sprinkle noted.