76% of global consumers say it’s important that food products don’t contain artificial flavors

Consumers have always wanted to have their cake and eat it, too, and that’s never been more true in the packaged goods market: In the age of social media, demand has soared for food and beverage products that come in eye-catching colors and unique flavors from around the globe. But at the same time, people are prioritizing their health, and looking for products that can help fuel their wellness goals.

“The pandemic has only reinforced consumers’ desire for supporting their health, and this includes the foods and beverages they consume,” notes Coralie Garcia Perrin, Global Strategic Marketing Director, Sweet, Dairy Taste & Modulation at Kerry. “This means that consumers are demanding reduced salt, sodium, sugar and fat, but that they also demand the flavor, taste, texture and mouthfeel these ingredients provide. It’s a real challenge for product developers who need to reformulate to meet these emerging consumer needs. Consumers want better for you but they also want the same taste.”

Consumers also continue to prioritize the clean label trend and sustainability. “The modern consumer is more concerned than ever about their own health and well-being, along with the well-being of the planet. They seek out products containing ingredients they recognize and that have been processed using methods they would use in their own kitchens,” says Alice Lee, Technical Marketing Manager, GNT USA, LLC. “There’s high demand for ingredients that support clean and clear labels and are perceived to be transparent and authentic.”

It’s especially important to use recognizable ingredients for flavors and colors, adds Jennifer Zhou, Senior Director of Product Marketing, North America, ADM. “Today’s shoppers are incredibly label conscious, and they are actively seeking products with flavors and colors from natural sources. Research finds 76% of global consumers say it’s important that food products don’t contain artificial flavors, and over 60% of consumers are avoiding artificial coloring.”

Just how are CPG brands able to meet these multifaceted demands? Here, leading industry insiders discuss the natural ingredient trends and innovations that deliver on color, flavor, and sweetness.

Plant-Powered Colors That Pop

If you spend any time scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, it will come as no surprise that vibrant colors are in. “Colors add the ‘wow’ factor to foods and beverages, catching consumers’ eyes and landing a spot in their carts,” asserts Zhou. “We see a rise in fantasy flavors, such as unicorn, mermaid, dragon, and yeti. These playful creations are elevated with blues, greens, purples and pinks, ranging from soft pastels to vivid brights. To note, our analysts predict a $240 million global potential in 2023 for products with blue, green and purple shades.” To help food and beverage brands develop vibrant, share-worthy treats, ADM’s Colors By Nature line offers a range of hues sourced from botanicals, spices, fruits and vegetables. For instance, their patented fruit juice blue is derived from the Amazonian huito fruit.

GNT’s Exberry line also offers a full range of colors sourced from on-trend natural ingredients like turmeric and spirulina. “They’re made from non-GMO fruits, vegetables, and plants using physical processing methods such as chopping, boiling, and pressing,” says Lee. “This means they are plant-based food concentrates that can be eaten by the spoonful, and they can be used to provide shades from across the rainbow in almost any food and drink application.” Lee notes that the company carries both liquid-based shades as well as a selection of powder products for dry applications.

In addition to creating vibrant palettes for social media-ready treats, there’s opportunity for natural colors in the growing plant-based and alternative meat category, adds Tammi Higgins, SVP Product, Applications and Marketing, Lycored. “As plant-based choices continue to gain momentum, the demand for those looking for stable reds from natural sources continues to be a main area of focus, with another segment of plant-based, fish, becoming very strong. We are seeing a lot of inquiries for coloration options suitable for salmon and have seen extraordinary demand for our Lycopene colors of red and pink in combination to our beta-carotene sourced colors to balance the right shade of orange. Our team is focused on working with our customers to find the perfect hues with beta-carotene and lycopene for their plant-based meats.”

Delivering Sweetness With Less Sugar

These days, it’s not just health-conscious consumers who are limiting sugar. “We’re seeing tighter regulations across the world on sugar, and consumers’ awareness of the health risks associated with excess consumption of sugar is increasing,” Sai Prakash Chaturvedula, Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at Wisdom Natural Brands/SweetLeaf, shares. In fact, a recent study in the journalCirculationestimated that if companies cut sugar in packaged goods by 20% and sugar in beverages by 40%, it could:
  • Prevent 2.48 million cardiovascular disease events (such as strokes and heart attacks).
  • Prevent 490,000 cardiovascular deaths.
  • Prevent 750,000 diabetes cases in the U.S.
  • Save up to $160.88 billion in medical and society costs.
CPG brands looking to capitalize on demand for low-sugar products should remain wary of chemical sugar replacements like sucralose and aspartame. “Consumers continue to look for low- and zero-calorie sweeteners that are natural, minimally processed, and made with recognizable ingredients,” says Dave Rosenberg, Food Category Manager, NOW. “As the variety of alternative sweeteners has improved, consumer expectations are higher than ever. Consumers are looking for a taste that mimics sugar while also having the bulking and texture properties that sugar offers when used in baking. No single alternative sweetener can check off all these boxes, but as an industry we’re getting much closer.”

Finding the right combination of alternative sweeteners is critical to achieving optimal taste and texture in indulgent treats, like baked goods and ice cream, affirms Abigail Storms, Global Head of Natural Sweeteners, Tate & Lyle. “No- and low-sugar options in beverage are very well established, but what we’re seeing now is more brands making a push into sugar- and calorie- reduction claims in the indulgent food category, because you’ve got ingredients like allulose or even fiber that you can use in combination to build back the full sugar experience, not just the sweetness.” Some of the natural sweeteners that are fueling growth:

Smarter stevias. Stevia has come a long way. New technological advances have allowed ingredient suppliers to isolate the compound that gives the leaf its sweetness (glycosides) and remove the compound that can lend stevia a bitter aftertaste. This has spurred more brands to use stevia in development. “Innova Market Insights research notes an increase of new stevia product launches, surging by 27%,” reports Casey McCormick, Vice President of Global Innovation, Sweegen. “The increased discussion about nutrition and sustainability has also spurred stevia acceptance by consumers.” McCormick notes that Sweegen’s Signature Stevia rebaudiosides B, D, E, M, and N, are produced using bioconversion to expand product developers’ sugar reduction toolkit. Other stevia offerings include NOW’s BetterStevia and Sweetleaf’s range of products.

Allulose. “Allulose seems prepared to be the next sweetener of choice,” says Rosenberg. “It has a sweetness level that is about 70% of sugar and has similar bulking and texture-producing properties as sugar. It has a very low caloric content that is about 1/10thof sugar. When used in combination with stevia or monk fruit, it can be an ideal sugar replacement.”

Fruit-based sweet proteins.Interest is growing in sweet-tasting proteins that are extracted from tropical plants, says McCormick, noting that Sweegen currently offers two such proteins: “Brazzein [extracted from a West African fruit] is highly soluble and has good stability at a low pH and in high heat applications. These attributes, combined with being up to 2,000 times sweeter than sugar, make the ingredient appealing to manufacturers. And thaumatin, like brazzein, is a protein sweetener that occurs naturally in tropical plants, and it has a higher sweetness intensity than brazzein. Sweegen has recently announced that it will commercialize thaumatin I and thaumatin II in 2022 through our partnership with Conagen.”

Beet sugar. Brands that are looking for a sugar replacement with a better glycemic profile may find a solution in Beneo’s Palatinose. “Palatinose is a natural, low glycemic carbohydrate made from sugar beet, which provides a slow release of glucose into the bloodstream, thus keeping insulin in check too,” notes Kyle Krause, Product Manager, Functional Carbohydrates and Fiber, Beneo. “Because of that slow release of glucose, which is the main fuel for the body and brain, Palatinose provides a healthy form of naturally sustained energy for all age levels.” Krause notes that Isomalt, another beet sugar extract, is also designed for use as a sugar replacer and has a low hygroscopicity so it works well in food and confectionery where stickiness can be a factor.

Liquid sugar replacers. There are also options for reducing or replacing sugar in formulations that require liquid sweeteners, says Sarah Diedrich, Marketing Director, Global Sweetening & Texturizing, ADM. She notes that SweetRight tapioca and rice syrups that have a similar functionality to corn syrup, and SweetRight Reduced Sugar Glucose Syrup can be combined with stevia to reduce sugar by 30%  without impacting taste. “Additionally, our GrainSweet glucose-fructose syrup is a sucrose alternative that brings sweetness, functionality and cost optimization to a variety of applications, including beverages, bread and bakery, dairy, sauces and condiments.”

 New Frontiers in Natural Flavors

When it comes to cutting sugar and improving taste, the use of natural flavors shouldn’t be discounted, notes Luis Hernandez, Prova Inc. Director of Product Development and Applications. “An additional tool in the search for more taste with less sugar, is the use of sweet brown flavors, such as those offered by Prova, which enhance and/or complement the profile of a product without impacting the total calorie count.” Hernandez notes that Prova can offer ideas as to how to use their cocoa, vanilla, and coffee extracts to create winning flavors.

There is also big potential for the use of natural extracts to enrich the flavor of both sweet and savory applications in CPG foods and beverages without sugar or salt. “Our Kerry Tastesense Sweet collection offers a range of solutions that help modify sweetness perception in the final product,” says Perrin. She notes that Tastesense’s range of extracts can also be used to meet demands for sustainable botanical flavors, trendy Korean and Texas barbecue flavors, and to enrich umami flavors in plant-based meat and dairy products.

Lycored also offers a tomato-derived flavor concentrate, called SANTE, which enhances taste. It also can reduce or even eliminate the need for undesirable flavoring agents like salt and added sugar.

Another potential market with opportunity for greater growth: “There is a modern moderation trend in alcoholic beverages towards low- or no-alcohol solutions for the general consumer and for the Halal market,” says Perrin. To meet this demand, Kerry’s Tastesense recently launched a new range of solutions called the Sensations range, which amplifies the alcohol sensation in low/no alcoholic beverages by triggering the trigeminal sensations. “The taste of low- or no-alcohol beverages is improving greatly, and this is due to exciting new botanical extracts and alcohol amplification technologies developed by companies like Kerry.”WF

 3 Keys to Successfully Navigating Supply Chain Issues

“These past few years have been universally challenging for manufacturers from a supply-chain perspective. We’ve experienced transportation issues and rising ingredient, energy, and shipping costs,” notes Alice Lee of GNT USA, LLC. “As a global community, we’re all doing our best to mitigate these complications. We remain hopeful that the year ahead will usher in a time of greater stability and a return to normalcy. We’re all in it together, and it’s inspiring to see how many challenges we have already overcome in the true spirit of resiliency, resourcefulness, and solidarity.” To stay ahead of the curve, our experts recommend keeping the following strategies in mind:

Keep lines of communication open. “While we tend to think of supply chain in terms of materials, it’s really about the people,” says  Tammi Higgins, Lycored. “We’d suggest making sure you’re talking to your partners and maintaining transparency. Using vertical integration to provide transparency is a significant benefit to us and our customers as we have full visibility from start to finish and can not only manage volumes, but also quality. Our tomato harvest is a good example. There was a global tomato shortage this year and it is projected into the coming harvest. Working directly with our farming partners and securing our volume needs with contractual commitment based on transparent discussion with our customers on forecasting, meant we were able to meet and even exceed the demands for our lycopene portfolios.”

Plan ahead.“Climate change has caused droughts and other changes in local weather that have put significant stresses on sourcing communities,” says Kerry’s Coralie Garcia Perrin. “Rising food costs will continue to bounce up and down as a result of a number of factors, including climate change, geopolitics such as war, and drought. Product producers need to prepare backup supplier sources in case their primary farmers have supply troubles, either temporary or long term.” For instance, Perrin notes, “In citrus, greening disease is a big challenge that will be a problem for years and which may hamper the sourcing of citrus flavors for brands. It’s important to ensure alternate sources and also to support your citrus suppliers.” Perrin also suggests that manufacturers using sunflower oil and lecithin in their beverages and foods look for backup suppliers, because Ukraine and Russia account for more than 50% of global sunflower seed and oil production.

Consider alternatives.“We have witnessed a tremendous increase in the price of sugar across the globe as a result of the shortage of the raw material. This pushes the industry to formulate recipes with less sugar or sugar alternatives,” explains Perrin. “It’s also useful to look for other ways to lower costs. For instance, our Kerry dairy taste solutions can help reduce dairy costs in recipes by up to 30% while still maintaining the great taste of dairy.” Hernandez notes that vanilla, cocoa, coffee and dairy supplies are likely to be directly impacted by global warming and migration, so it’s wise to work toward developing more than one route to achieve the end result of your signature flavor profile. For instance, experimenting with vanilla extract or natural vanilla flavor to achieve the same ice cream.

“Consumers are demanding reduced salt, sodium, sugar and fat, but they also demand the flavor, taste, texture and mouthfeel these ingredients provide.”

–Coralie Garcia Perrin, Kerry