Flavors and colors are important attributes in foods and beverages. The appearance and color help establish consumers’ expectations of the product and the flavor helps deliver the sensory experience. Consumers are still seeking new flavor experiences while at times also looking for comfort and nostalgia.

In some cases, flavor trends can start in foodservice/restaurants. Those that are adopted trickle down to retail and broad market dissemination. However, the snack aisle may be a great place to introduce new emerging flavors. John Kaufmann, snacking senior business development director of Kerry explains, “Over the years, what our continuing Kerry research into new and emerging flavors for foodservice and restaurant new menu items has found is that new risky flavors are often commercialized first in the snack section as that is a less expensive way to move forward. Snack developers are always looking for new tastes and are able to commercialize new products quickly. Success for a new flavor in the snack aisle provides evidence that the flavor will have an increased chance of success in a new meal.”  

New colors and flavors 

Flavorchem develops and launches new flavor collections every quarter to align with the latest trends. Rebecca Shurhay, Flavorchem’s senior marketing specialist, shares highlights from the latest collections:

  • Global Flavor Fest: a collection of six signature seasonings inspired by cuisines from around the world that can be optimized in an assortment of salty snack categories (i.e., nuts, pretzels, chips, and popcorn). The collection includes Mexican Elote, Classic Guacamole, Korean Gochujang, Sichuan Style Kung Pao, Mild Indian Curry, and Madras Hot Curry.
  • Breakfast All Day: six comforting and morning-inspired flavors for anytime snacking; featured flavors include Apricot Jam, Blueberry Muffin, Café Mocha, Cinnamon Raisin, Fruity Cereal Milk, and Maple French Toast. These flavors can be used in many applications including snack bars, muffins, cakes, and candy
  • Elevate: contains flavors inspired by the top trends of 2023. Flavors in this collection can be optimized in bakery products ranging from cookies and doughnuts to gummies and ice cream and include Tres Leches, Coconut Ube, Hot Honey, Vanilla Affogato, and Watermelon Hibiscus

All the flavors in the collections are non-GMO, Kosher, and can be labeled as natural on an ingredient statement

Sensient Flavors & Extracts recently launched SensaMelt, a solution designed to deliver impactful flavor and color in high heat systems. Sydney Byrne, marketing specialist, Sensient Flavors & Extracts, explains, “The solution works by encapsulating ingredients in a fat-based system for flavor retention and isolation of compounds that could negatively impact fermentation. It provides post-bake shelf stability and offers bakers the flexibility to add particulates (i.e., pretzel or graham fines) for layers of texture in the final product.” SensaMelt is available in a variety of flavors and colors and is gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan, and works in almost every baked goods application.

ADM’s most recent flavor innovation is TasteSpark Mouthfeel flavor modulation technology, which can help build back mouthfeel and flavor profiles in dairy and vegan formats that may be lost in reformulated sugar-, fat-, or dairy-reduced systems. Another advantage of this new ingredient is it can also mask potential off-notes in dairy or vegan creams or icings that include plant-based proteins sources such as soy, pea, chickpea, and other alternative ingredients.  

spirulina extract as a natural blue color in snack seasonings
Courtesy of GNT USA

Jeannette O’Brien, vice president of GNT USA, shares that the company has recently received FDA approval to utilize spirulina extract as a natural blue color in snack seasonings and other product categories. “This presents a valuable opening for snack manufacturers to incorporate spirulina, an on-trend ingredient, into fresh product ideas,” she explains. With the regulatory approval, spirulina can be applied to snack seasoning blends resulting in an array of colors such as blue, violet, pitaya pink, and green.

The company has also launched a new collection of EXBERRY organic powders.   These powders offer an extension to the organic liquid products that are already available. “Prior to this launch, certain applications were out of scope for certified organic colors. Now that we have powders, it is particularly relevant for organic snack and bakery manufacturers since the powders enable colors for snack seasonings, bakery and dessert mixes, and other applications where powder format is needed,” states O’Brien. The range of color hues available include: yellow, pinks, reds, blue, and green.  

Snack trends for 2023

According to Jennifer Zhou, global director of product marketing, flavors, ADM, the theme for 2023 is saturated colors and bold flavors. “We are seeing tortilla and veggie-based chips in whimsical blue shades and fantastical flavor profiles like ‘blue heat’ or ‘blue moon’ appealing to kids of all ages,” she explains. “Fiery reds, oranges, and yellows signal crackers and pretzels with baked-in cheesy goodness or experiential spicy flavors, like chili.   Additionally, vivid green extruded snacks and popcorn can suggest a range of taste sensations from cool avocado and crispy green beans to sweet peapods and herby pesto.”  

Another trend Zhou noted is elevating everyday snacks with exotic flavors. Regional spices and savory blends particularly those originating from South and East Asia and Africa as well as the Middle East have a transportive quality and allow consumers the opportunity to explore these cuisines from the comfort of their homes. Some of the flavors that are taking off in the snack aisle are gochujang, za’atar, sumac, shishito peppers, fish sauce, seaweed, and black garlic.

Byrne states Korean and North African profiles are continuing to gain popularity due to their bold and aromatic seasoning. Younger generations are familiar with these cuisines and demand products with greater authenticity. Korean BBQ-inspired flavors have made their way to packaged snacks with items such as Kimchi BBQ pork rinds, and Korean BBQ trail mix. She advises to expect more of this as kimchi gains traction as a Korean superfood and gochujang becomes more commonplace as an ingredient in snack food recipes (i.e., gochujang candied nuts, gochujang lime popcorn, etc.)  

Hot and spicy type flavors are performing well in the snack aisle, especially among Gen-Z, since they offer unexpected taste profiles and are considered more adventurous, notes Shurhay. Varieties like siracha, spicy cool ranch, Korean BBQ, and spicy queso are appearing in salty snacks along with more comforting and familiar flavors like pickle, white cheddar, pizza, and everything bagel.  

Kerry has released their Global Taste and Nutrition Charts for 2023.  The company derives their insights by tracking menu trends, product launches, and ingredient labels; listening to consumer preferences; scanning social media chatter; conducting proprietary research; and analyzing new product launches the company is supporting across the globe. 

flavor trends
Courtesy of Virginia Dare

Kaufmann shares the evolution of flavor trends within the snack category: “Over the past few years, we have seen regional specificity turning up more frequently in the Taste Charts from a savory snack perspective. A great example is the growing regionality of BBQ and the flavors associated with cooking over fire. In addition to Hickory or Mesquite, we are now zoning in on BBQ flavors from Kansas, North Carolina, or South Carolina.”

Tastes created from BBQ /cooking with fire are popular in chips, and in the past year there have been many new launches and growth in rice crackers and non-potato formats. The company also notes seeing a surge in spice forward flavors such as Mexican street corn (also cooking with fire), spicy ranch, spicy dill, and more versions of nacho flavors.  

Bakery trends in 2023

Philip Caputo, marketing and consumer insights manager, Virginia Dare, shares the flavor forecast for sweet baked goods: 

  • Elevated Classics: “It’s no secret we think vanilla is one of the best foundational flavors for sweet baked goods. However, we also think it’s one of the best complementary flavors to add some intrigue and differentiation to your application. Elevating a classic flavor like vanilla adds a sophisticated twist (i.e., vanilla anise, vanilla bean white chocolate). Other flavors ripe for this trend include chocolate, strawberry, banana, and coffee.”
  • Sweet Spices: “The love of everything-spiced is bringing about new ways of adding what have historically been fall and winter flavors to applications all year round. Flavors like apple cider chai, Cinna-citrus peel, cardamom fog, maple-spiced matcha, and spiced fig honey are some flavor concepts we think can spice up the sweet baked goods market.”
  • Nostalgic Flavors: “Flavors like fruity cereal milk, gummy bear, and rainbow sherbet can deliver a sense of happiness and childhood bliss to your customers. The company has developed an entire flavor line, Forever Young, focused on these nostalgic memories.” Here are a few examples:
    • Cereal Milk:  i.e., Fruity Loops Cereal Milk
    • Carnival Ride:  i.e., Caramel Apple, Funnel Cake, Pralines
    • Nostalgic & Popular Sweet Flavors i.e., Blueberry Bramble Crisp, Bananas Foster Brulee, Snickerdoodle Cake
Bombay snack mix
Courtesy of Flavorchem

Over-the-top and unique items are trending in the bakery space, notes Zhou. “Viva Magenta was named Pantone’s 2023 Color of the Year, described as ‘encouraging experimentation and self-expression without restraint’” she points out. “As such, eye-catching pinks and purples in fruit-forward baked goods are giving consumers a sense of optimism and excitement. Imagine decadent ube custard-filled doughnuts in tints of violet or fierce watermelon pink petit fours.”

However, nostalgic treats continue to have staying power, as consumers still want to feel more relaxed shares Zhou. Flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter, caramel, and cinnamon are classic flavor profiles with endless possibilities. Botanicals like lavender, chamomile, and lemon balm are also gaining popularity, as they can evoke calm feelings.

Shurhay concurs that nostalgic and seasonal flavors are performing well across bakery since they provide consumers sense of excitement and familiarity. Examples include winter flavors such as Peppermint, Red Velvet, and Salted Caramel and springtime flavors like Lemon Pistachio, Key Lime Pie, and S’mores.

Kaufmann notes seeing mash ups and cross over dessert flavors trending in sweet baked goods.  He shares a few examples:

  • Cakes and cupcake can achieve new dimensions with flavors such as orange cremesicle, churro, and strawberry milkshake
  • Cookies mingle with brownies, hazelnut butter, latte/cappuccino, and honey bun flavors are leading ideas for both in-store bakery and retail
  • Doughnuts are popular with flavors of hot cinnamon, cookie dough, maple, cereal milk, cheesecake, and carrot cake.

According to O’Brien, consumers want colorful products that send a message of fun and vitality. Vibrantly colored baked goods offer a significant opportunity for brands seeking to connect with consumers on an emotional level. Deeply saturated baked goods in attention-grabbing shades of the rainbow capture the optimism and joyfulness that consumers want to express.

In the bakery category there is a growing trend in which color is added to the components rather than the entire application, notes O’Brien. For example, highly pigmented ingredients/seasoning like colored sugar or decorative coatings for cookies and other baked goods, variegates for cakes, and fillings for doughnuts are a visually appealing/stunning way to introduce a burst of color in the product without coloring the entire item. O’Brien also noted we are also seeing non-uniform swirls of color or layering of color into sweet baked goods. Croissants, crackers, and breads featuring vivid streaks of color take advantage of the contrasts, resulting in a more brilliant and captivating appearance.

Flavors and colors create an opportunity for innovation and differentiation for snack and bakery manufacturers. As consumers continue to travel and explore new places, tastes, and cuisines, it opens up endless possibilities.