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6 Millennial Flavor Trends to Watch
Young consumers have grown up with access to foods that reflect the influence of cuisines from around the world. They’ve graduated from a general preference for all things spicy to a more nuanced appreciation of the various seasonings and spices found in foods from Asia, Africa and the Americas. “This is a generation that looks for big and bold,” says Melina Romero, a trend associate at CCD Innovation, a food trends analysis and product development firm. Following are six millennial snack food flavor trends identified by CCD and other experts.
Southeast Asian Spices
These include the now ubiquitous sriracha, which can be found as a flavoring for potato chips and other snacks, as well as gochujang, the Korean hot pepper paste.
Sweet and Savory Mashups
Sweet treats are being infused with salty ingredients such as bacon or with spicy flavorings such as hot peppers. Think bacon donuts or jalapeño breakfast bars.
Flavors of India
From naan crisps to chutney bombs, myriad Indian-style snacks and their associated seasonings are making their way into the mainstream millennial diet.
Sour and Fermented Flavors
Drinking vinegar, kombucha, pickled beet chips, and kimchee are among the sour and fermented flavors making their way into snack food form.
Is this Tunisian spice blend “the next sriracha,” as some observers predict? It’s showing up in an increasing variety of applications, including as a popcorn flavoring.
Specific Pepper Flavors
The millennial snacker has a sophisticated palate and will distinguish among the flavors imbued through each of the different chili peppers, such as ancho, habanero and serrano.
When it comes to snacking, millennials have the whole world in their hands.
Young consumers raised in an era when global connectivity is the norm are seeking out bold and exotic flavors from the myriad cuisines of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.
As a generation that takes snacking very seriously, millennials are finding that handheld treats provide a perfect vehicle for sampling these regional flavors and sharing them with friends and family.
About two thirds — 67 percent — of millennial moms1 say they consider themselves to be “adventurous eaters,” according to research from CCD Innovation, a food trend research and product development firm based in Emeryville, California.
“This is a generation that looks for big and bold,” says Melina Romero, a trend associate at CCD Innovation. “They grew up with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and while they still want spicy, I think beyond that they have grown to become interested in flavors that are acquired — sour flavors and even funky flavors like fermented foods.”
Among the flavor trends featured in CCD Innovation’s 2016 “Top 10 Food Trends to Watch” report is the growth of savory and sour flavors as alternatives to sweetness, as evidenced by beverages such as drinking vinegars — also known as shrubs — and by snacks such as savory yogurts and doughnuts. The increased interest in pickling is another trend cited in the report that reflects this shift toward savory and sour flavors.
Today’s young foodies have sophisticated palates and have learned to appreciate gradations within the various flavor profiles, says Romero.
“Millennials have grown up having spicy flavors, but it has become much more nuanced, as seen in the many different chili pepper varieties,” she says. “They can even be broken up into things such as ‘earthy spicy,’ ‘smoky spicy’ and ‘sweet spicy’ — it’s that layering of flavors that makes it much more nuanced.”
The emergence of salted caramel as a popular snack food flavor in recent years heralded the blending of sweet and salty flavor profiles, and that trend has now exploded through other previously distinct flavors as well, says Christine Keller, director of the trend practice at CCD Innovation.
“It’s also about taking hot and spicy foods and making them sour, or getting spices into bitter foods or spices into sweet foods,” she says. “It’s not just straight on heat — it’s now sour heat or fermented heat or heat from a specific pepper.”
Christopher Warsow, corporate executive chef and manager of culinary applications at Bell Flavors & Fragrances, Northbrook, Illinois, agrees that sweet and savory flavor profiles “are married now.”
“The savory aspects of snacking are crossing over into the sweet side and vice versa,” he says. “We’ve seen chili chocolate, and we have jalapeño breakfast bars now. The line is being blurred.”
This trend can be seen in the proliferation of ethnically influenced sweet treats such as dessert empanadas and churro ice cream sandwiches. Churro Borough in Los Angeles, for example, blends spicy and sweet in “The Original” Churro Ice Cream Sandwich, which includes a house spiced sugar; in its house-made ice cream flavors, such as Spicy Hot Chocolate, and in some of its other desserts, including its Spicy Mango paleta (similar to a popsicle), made with ataulfo honey mango and taijin spices.
The relatively low retail price for snacks makes them an attractive vehicle for consumers to experiment with the tastes of cuisines from around the world, says Warsow.
“You don’t have to go to a restaurant and pay full price for a meal in order to experience some of these flavors,” he says. “You can spend a few dollars on a bag of snack chips.”
He points to India as a rich source of snack food flavors and ideas, with thousands of different snack types, often highly localized and highly seasoned.
“Showcasing these Indian snacks is a gateway to Indian cuisine as well,” says Warsow.
Quest for authenticity
Thomas “T.J.” Delle Donne, assistant dean of culinary relations and special projects at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, says millennials’ gravitation toward flavors from around the globe also reflects a quest for authenticity.
He eschews the term “melting pot” to refer to the use of these various flavors, saying it implies that the flavors have been “stewed down.”
“We’re really celebrating culture as opposed to blending it or mixing it together,” he says. “It’s really a cultural mosaic of the globe.”
This appreciation for global cuisines can be seen in the ethnic street foods found at foodservice outlets around the country, says Delle Donne.
He cites in particular the surge in the popularity of flavors from Southeast Asia such as sriracha and gochujang — the spicy, fermented Korean condiment — and the popularity of chilies and spices from Central and South America.
“Millennials have been exposed to global mashups in which condiments and flavors are layered onto condiments and flavors, with no gastronomic dissonance being too extreme,” says Michael Whiteman, president of the Baum+Whiteman restaurant consulting firm in New York. “We've become a nation of flavor junkies, barely caring whether the basis of a dish is a chicken, a piece of fish or a hunk of pork.”