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Spring is here, and it’s time to delve into flavor trends you can’t afford to overlook. Unless you want to risk being stuck in the bland lane, that is! As we venture into the realm of functional beverages, marketing and flavor exploration, we’re uncovering a myriad of exciting developments. From the surge in iced coffee and teas to the nuances of brand personalization, cognitive health and sugar reduction, the spring flavor landscape is brimming with innovation! Expect to encounter trends like mocktail bars, sustainability initiatives, the burgeoning cannabis scene, indulgent treats, unique flavor combinations and functional hydration options. The forecast for the upcoming season promises a treasure trove of novel ways to savor favorite products.

Health and wellness professionals need to stay updated on new food and beverage products, flavor trends and seasonal offerings to provide accurate and relevant nutritional advice to their clients. Clients often inquire about trendy food and beverage items. By staying informed about products like Starbucks’ spring beverages and Peeps’ Easter candy collection, dietitians can educate their clients on how these items fit into a balanced diet, potential allergens and how to make healthier choices. Additionally, staying abreast of food trends, product launches and industry developments is essential for health and wellness professionals to maintain their professional competence and credibility.

While sipping on elderflower and gooseberry sounds like it came from a secret recipe of a wizard’s brew, experimentation with novel tastes is an important trend! Limited edition offerings provide a platform for showcasing unconventional flavors, enticing consumers with the allure of novelty. From exotic fruits to herbal infusions, the possibilities are endless for brands willing to push the boundaries of flavor innovation. For decades, the market has been inundated with timeless flavors such as orange, raspberry, fruit punch, vanilla and chocolate, but fresh and innovative flavors are emerging. Flavor and aroma brand Sensapure Flavors predicts prickly pear, gooseberry, passionfruit, basil, yuzu and elderflower as top flavors.

Several prominent brands have unveiled spring flavors as well. Take Peeps, for example, which in its 2024 Easter candy collection introduced four new marshmallow creations: Rice Krispies Treats, ICEE blue raspberry, sour strawberry and s’mores. Starbucks recently released the iced lavender cream oatmilk matcha and the iced lavender oatmilk latte to usher in spring. The idea with lavender was to use its delicate sweetness and floral essence to symbolize the transition from winter to spring, evoking feelings of rejuvenation. Red Bull additionally launched a spring flavor, wild berry, in Germany. The summer edition is expected to be curuba-elderflower.

“Each season has some flavors,” said Kären Olson, director of sales and marketing at Parker Flavors, a company that provides flavor solutions for several categories, including health and wellness products. “You aren’t really thinking about lemonade in November. I’d expect to go back to pumpkin spice and more heartier flavors at that time.”

Olson highlighted some brands such as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and M&M candies, which started off as one flavor, one color, one size and then began branching out. Baskin Robbins has rotating seasonal flavors of the month and 7-Eleven has limited edition doughnuts.

“Forty percent of folks want to try something new and different,” Olson said. “But how much ‘new’ is really there? If there’s something unique and different, the larger question is whether or not it’s going to stay.”

Hitchcock Farms presents 25 spring recipes aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle. It highlights the abundance of fresh produce available during spring and provides a variety of recipes for appetizers, salads, dinners, sides, desserts and beverages. These recipes include innovative dishes like fresh broccoli crostini bites, rice noodles with pork and napa cabbage, lemony roasted asparagus, strawberry lemonade layered cake and sugar snap pea cocktail.

Cold energy is additionally a phenomenon that’s rapidly gaining traction as a top flavor trend, says Sensapure, the innovative flavor company. With caffeine reigning supreme as the world’s favorite stimulant, there’s a notable shift towards enjoying it in chilled formats. Whether it’s iced cold brews or chilled teas, consumers are embracing the refreshing allure of cold energy beverages, even amidst the chill of winter. This trend is fueled by several key factors: 

  • In an age where convenience is king, particularly among the Gen Z demographic, the appeal of efficiency reigns supreme! While traditional hot beverages require a waiting period to cool down, iced coffee offers instant gratification, catering to the fast-paced lifestyle of modern consumers. 
  • Beyond mere temperature variance, the disparity between cold and hot brewing methods extends to taste and acidity levels. Cold brews boast a smoother, less bitter profile, making them an option for aficionados seeking a milder caffeine fix. 

Personalization is also a driving force behind consumer preferences. The rise of iced beverages, with their transparent aesthetic canvas, offers a visually appealing platform for customization and self-expression. The trend towards personalization transcends iced drinks, permeating various aspects of consumer experiences. From music streaming platforms offering tailored playlists to brands embracing hyperlocal sourcing, customization is the cornerstone of modern marketing strategies. 

As consumer spending habits undergo a transformation, with an increasing emphasis on essential purchases, the allure of occasional indulgences looms large. Against a backdrop of financial prudence, occasional treats serve as fleeting escapes, offering a momentary reprieve from economic constraints. Understanding the psychology behind indulgence is crucial for brands seeking to capitalize on this trend. Strategies such as personalization, emotional appeal and utility can elevate products from commodities to coveted indulgences. 

Meanwhile, the quest for cognitive enhancement continues to gain momentum, with consumers turning to functional beverages to optimize mental acuity. While caffeine remains a staple ingredient in such formulations, there’s a growing demand for alternatives that offer sustained focus without the jitters. Incorporating low-caffeine alternatives such as Laurina coffee beans, yaupon and guayusa “super leaf” can satisfy this demand, catering to consumers’ desire for both functionality and flavor. Also, incorporating ingredients like adaptogens, nootropics, legumes, vegetables or fungi such as pinto beans, mushroom blends, botanicals or nervines can all offer nutritional and cognitive benefits to functional beverages. 

Emily Martino is the laboratory manager with Parker Development, Inc., a food and beverage development and testing lab. She said her company has had a couple clients in the wellness space requesting caffeine products and substitutes. She’s also worked with protein powders and especially plant-based protein powders. 

“We try to mask off the taste and make things taste good, but a lot of the challenge is creating something lower in sugar,” Martino said. 

The push for sugar reduction is reshaping the flavor landscape, with consumers prioritizing lower-sugar options over traditional counterparts. This shift underscores a broader societal trend towards health consciousness, wherein taste and flavor remain paramount considerations. Crafting reduced-sugar products that don’t compromise on taste requires innovative approaches, such as utilizing natural sweeteners and flavor enhancers to deliver a satisfying sensory experience. 

Sustainability remains a trend, permeating every aspect of production and consumption. From eco-friendly packaging to ethically-sourced ingredients, brands are under increasing pressure to minimize their environmental footprint. 

The cannabis craze continues, revolutionizing social gatherings with cannabis-infused beverages. Brands are tapping into this burgeoning market, offering a diverse array of products infused with CBD, THC or other cannabinoids. 

Olson said CBD products aren’t iterating too much at this point, as companies are going for more traditional candies or flavors, trying to nail down the basics before they start reiterating.  

“It’ll be interesting to see in the next year or two if they have the power to do that,” Olson said. “I think the other thing with CBD is you’re masking the flavor; that limits your ability at how creative you can be. You’re trying to overcome a bitterly flavored product, as it would be with other medicinal things, if you’re trying to flavor them.” 

Rounding out the list is the evolution of functional hydration, wherein beverages transcend their traditional role to offer a myriad of health benefits. Enhanced with vitamins, minerals and botanical extracts, these beverages promise to quench thirst while nourishing the body and mind. With flavors ranging from tropical fruits to zesty citruses, functional hydration represents a fusion of taste and functionality, catering to the diverse preferences of today’s consumers. 

“There’s definitely an explosion with botanicals and herbaceous things,” Martino said, adding she gets requests for lavender, ginger and turmeric, but there’s a huge swing towards citrus. “Especially in springtime, people associate that with vitamins and antioxidants, and being light and refreshing, so you’re going to have a lot of lemon, orange and grapefruit, as well as tropical flavors, like pineapple, passionfruit and grapefruit.” 

In conclusion, as spring blossoms, so do the flavor trends that shape our culinary experiences and beverage choices. From functional beverages to innovative flavor combinations, the landscape of spring flavors is rich with excitement and innovation! With the surge in iced beverages and mocktail bars, consumers are exploring new ways to indulge while maintaining health-conscious habits. Brands are responding with a plethora of offerings, enticing consumers with novel tastes and experiences. Health professionals, including dietitians, play a crucial role in guiding consumers through these flavor trends, providing education on how these products fit into a balanced diet. As we embrace the delights of spring, let’s savor the diverse and vibrant flavors that enrich our culinary journey!

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