Tastes and Trends

A roundup of flavor trends percolating in CPG and foodservice

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill.-- As the competition for consumer share of mind—and stomach—grows increasingly crowded, c-store retailers, restaurateurs and consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers are doing their best to capture customers with unique flavors. Some help to position the brand in the marketplace, while others try to ride a trend in that sweet spot between consumer acceptance and oversaturation. And some just hope to shock, awe and entertain.

What follows are flavor trends across foodservice menus and retail shelves vying for customers’ attention.

Coconut Crush

A handful of flavors are popping up with increasing frequency in both foodservice and CPG realms. Coconut has appeared across food and beverage rollouts recently, including Bruegger’s Coconut Iced Coffee limited time offer.

Bare All Natural Crunchy Coconut Chips received a warm welcome and category honors at the Sweets & Snacks Expo this past May, and one of the featured flavors in Larabar’s new Renola grain-free granola brand is Cocoa Coconut with cocoa nibs, almonds, pecans, cashews and coconut.

Alpina Foods is planning to roll out a Tropical Coconut variety in its packaged yogurt smoothie line, while New Amsterdam recently introduced a coconut variety in its vodka line. Cosmos Creations now offers a Coconut Crunch flavor in its puffed corn snack line, while Project 7 was also honored at the Sweets & Snacks Expo for its Coconut Lime gum.

Beverage Beat

On the foodservice front, PDQ recently rolled out a Key Lime Pie Milkshake, while Panera is offering a Frozen Lemonade for a limited time. Manhattan Bagel is spotlighting a Strawberries & Cream Manhattan Chillerz.

In the packaged-beverage world, Hispanic-focused flavors are permeating the category. Monster Energy Cuba-Lima was a top seller when it came on the market last year, and L.A. Libations has rolled out a dairy-based energy drink called Arriba that tastes like the favorite Hispanic beverage horchata. Alpina Foods meanwhile has brought its 18-year-old Avena Oat Smoothie line back into the spotlight with a rebranding and flavor expansion.

Seizing the Summer

As Technomic recently summed up, fast-casual chains have harvested the bounty of the summer for recent limited-time offers. Noodles & Company rolled out Asparagus di Parma featuring spaghetti tossed with fresh asparagus, white-wine butter sauce, mushrooms and tomato and topped with Parmesan cheese. Berries are popping up on many menus, including at Burgerville (Northwest Blackberry milkshakes, smoothies and lemonades) and Corner Bakery Café (Blueberry Lemonade Baby Bundt).

Au Bon Pain is featuring a Lobster Salad Sandwich with light mayo and mesclun, while Currito is closing out the season with its Summer Burrito, featuring black beans, mango salsa, jack cheese and cilantro lime rice in a flour tortilla with a choice of grilled chicken, tofu, carnitas pork or barbacoa.

The Bold and Bizarre

Restaurants and CPG firms continue to seek out the shock factor with items that are fun, irreverent and often bizarre.

Perhaps the pinnacle of peculiar is Lay’s Do Us A Flavor contest. This year’s finalists cover just about the entire flavor spectrum: Cappuccino, Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger, and Wavy Mango Salsa.

Back in early July, 7-Eleven Inc. and PepsiCo Inc. launched two complementary food and beverage product innovations for 7-Eleven customers. Doritos Loaded is triangular in shape and filled with melted cheese and encrusted with Doritos Nacho Cheese flavor. The "melted-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside" nacho cheese creation costs $1.99 for a box of four and is served warm. Mtn Dew Solar Flare, which started to roll out in May, has the citrus flavor of Mountain Dew with a blast of tropical punch.

Sweet and Savory

Consumers’ palates continue to crave items that combine both sweet flavors and savory counterparts, and manufacturers and operators are responding. Mars Chocolate North America rolled out two flavors in its Sweet & Salty line: Caramel Crème and Vanilla Frosting. Planter’s new flavored peanut line includes a Salted Caramel offering, and J&J Snack Foods introduced SuperTwists soft pretzels in a Honey Chipotle flavor.

On the foodservice side, Maverik received much attention for its Breakfast Beast: ham, sausage, bacon, eggs, cheese, hash browns and a maple spread—all tucked into a glazed long john.

Protein Power

Not quite a flavor trend, but certainly a theme permeating R&D kitchens in the increasing demand for high-protein foods. Protein is now highlighted in everything from water to gum. On foodservice menus, Rutter's Farm Stores has been very busy adding advanced foodservice items to its offerings—many with protein as the center star. Most recently, it added beef short ribs that are slathered with Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue sauce, then oven baked. Each rib has 1.7 ounces of meat, and customers can choose to order two, three or four ribs to an order. The chain also recently added Mahi Mahi fish bites, chicken wings, pork "wings," taco dogs, brisket and corned beef sandwiches to its foodservice offering.

After rolling out an updated version of its gourmet Cantina Bell menu with a bigger emphasis on protein, Taco Bell is now testing high-protein a.m. meals, including Greek yogurt with granola and higher-protein versions of its breakfast steak burritos and bowls.