Much has changed during the pandemic, including consumer flavor preferences.

At the start of 2020, consumers reached for indulgent, comforting flavors to help them cope with stress brought on by the pandemic. Now, with restrictions lifting and case numbers at low levels, consumers – and manufacturers – are ready to become more adventurous with flavors.

Candy Industry recently spoke to Wouter Stomph, ofi’s North America head of cocoa product development and innovation, about evolving tastes and using whole, natural ingredients to enhance product flavor profiles.

CI: Which flavors have been popular over the last couple of years? Why?

WS: 2020 was a year of nostalgia for snacking, as the pandemic saw anxious consumers opting for comforting and familiar favorites rather than trying out adventurous flavor combinations. This had an impact on new product development, and we saw many of our customers choosing to expand their successful product lines and flavors into more formats, rather than taking risks on developing something new. 

Fast-forward two years. Pandemic restrictions have made consumers eager for a taste of adventure. Re-creating the excitement of discovering new tastes while traveling the world is central to this trend. For example, chocolatiers are introducing spices like chili and turmeric into recipes.

CI: Which flavors do you expect to be popular among manufacturers in 2022 and beyond?

WS: Exotic ingredients from around the world such as matcha are becoming more widely adopted in chocolate recipes in Western Europe and North America. Spices like chili and cardamom, as well as botanicals such as mint and coriander, which have a stronger and more distinct flavor profile, are also being introduced.

And we’re seeing mashups of classic flavors and formats, done differently. For example, fun fusion products like Oreo s’mores, chai-spiced apple pie, and pumpkin-spice churros gracing social feeds and shelves worldwide.

CI: Are manufacturers increasingly seeking natural flavors? If so, why do you think that is?

WS: It’s linked to growing demand from consumers for authenticity. Awareness of the environmental, social and health impact of our food means consumers increasingly want to know where it comes from and how it was produced. And they also want to understand the ingredients that are on the label. Natural flavors help add to that sense of authenticity and provenance consumers are looking for.

CI: What challenges are there to sourcing and using natural flavors? Is scaling a concern?

WS: The challenge for food and confectionery brands is how to create bold and adventurous flavors, while still using natural and recognizable ingredients. 

Cocoa is a perfect solution. Each cocoa powder, cocoa liquor and cocoa butter offers a unique taste profile that enhances the sensory experience of any given product. Cocoa powder, for example, is a great way to add flavors and colors to desserts without having to use artificial colors and unfamiliar ingredients that can be perceived by consumers to have adverse effects.

Cocoa powder comes in a range of colors, from vibrant reds to dark browns and blacks, and it can help to improve the flavor of products that use sugar alternatives – all helping to create a delicious product that appeals to the growing ranks of health-conscious consumers. 

CI: Has ofi made any advancements in natural flavors that you’d like to share?

WS: Darker cocoa powders can help add intense flavor and a rich, velvety dark color to recipes, but these powders are usually alkalized to achieve that dark color, meaning they have to be labeled as “cocoa processed with alkali” on the pack. 

We created deZaan TrueDark, the first-ever natural, non-alkalized dark cocoa powder that delivers a powerful cocoa taste and rich brown color with simple, consumer-friendly positioning. deZaan TrueDark can be listed on a pack simply as “cocoa powder” rather than “cocoa powder processed with alkali,” providing consumers with an easily recognizable list of ingredients.

CI: How can manufacturers use whole ingredients (nuts, spices, etc.) to enhance the flavor profile of their products?

WS: Whole ingredients like nuts and spices have huge potential to enhance a product’s flavor. It’s all about carefully matching flavor profiles to bring out the best of each ingredient. From pairing a fruity cocoa with freeze-dried raspberries to matching a more earthy cocoa with spices like ginger or turmeric, whole ingredients can help enhance the flavor of a product and help it shine. 

It’s something we’ve been working closely on with our colleagues here at ofi. Our cocoa ingredient development and innovation teams are increasingly collaborating with specialists in our other ofi ingredient teams, like Nuts and Spices, to develop enticing flavor combinations. From combining cocoa nibs with nuts or spices in a snack bar to bringing together cocoa powder and nut pastes to create an indulgent center-filled cookie with a premium mouthfeel.