Flavor and color are important attributes when it comes to snack and bakery products. Taste is the top driver of purchase decisions for food and beverages and has been for the past decade according to the 2020 IFIC “Food & Health” survey.

“Colors of snack and bakery products play a key role in consumers purchasing behaviors as many of us tend to eat with our eyes first. According to Emerald Insights, 90 percent of shoppers decide whether or not to buy a product based on color and perceived taste, so it should be of no surprise that colors play an important role in product appeal,” shares Rebecca Shurhay, marketing analyst, Flavorchem, Downers Grove, IL.

The pandemic has certainly had an impact on the flavors and colors that are resonating with consumers. Consumers have a heightened in interest in holistic health and wellness and immunity. There is also a dichotomy—many consumers are seeking the comfort that familiar flavors and warming colors provide. However, as we slowly emerge from the grips of the pandemic, consumers are interested in exploring new bright and bold colors and flavors. In fact, Pantone has named “Illuminating” as one of the two colors of the year for 2021. The company says the color is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power.

It is important that snack and bakery R&D teams also address consumer demand for clean-label flavors and colors made with natural ingredients. In research shared by GNT USA, Tarrytown, NY, the data showed nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of shoppers worldwide are concerned about ingredients that have “chemical” names.


Eye-catching colors

GNT USA has recently expanded its line of EXBERRY colors derived from fruit, vegetables, and other plants. They can be declared on the label as “fruit and/or vegetable juice (color)” or “spirulina extract (color).” These products can be used to create a rainbow of colors. The company recently added new powdered and oil-dispersible formats of the vegetable-based Brilliant Orange shade, which was already available as a liquid. In addition, a powder format was added to the EXBERRY Shade Yellow Cloudy to complement the existing liquid format.

“EXBERRY liquids typically provide the ideal solution for bakery and savory applications. Our powders are designed for cases where moisture content needs to be limited, which can include bakery applications, as well as dry mixes for brioches and biscuits. The oil-dispersible products are specifically designed for fat-based applications, including compound coating for cereals and cookies, fat filling for biscuits, and seasoning mixes for savory snacks,” shares Jeannette O’Brien, vice president, GNT USA.

“GNT USA has named red as 2021’s top food and beverage color trend. It’s a powerful, exciting color that’s associated with strong emotions and can make a real impact in a vast range of products. For example, red can provide striking visual twists in sweet baked goods such as red velvet brownies, and research has found that it can enhance perception of these products’ sweetness, too. It’s also a great way to add to the sense of adventure in snacks such as chili chips,” states O’Brien.

While color is an important attribute, it can also present performance and stability challenges considering the high temperatures products are exposed to during baking. “This may affect the intensity and stability of the chromophores. Plus, certain colors used in oil applications may bleed and stain. To ensure the proper natural color is used for a snack item or baked good, manufacturers must consider factors such as solubility needs, pH levels, processing conditions, shelf life, cost, and potential non-GMO or allergen-free label positioning. Additionally, product developers should consider how they incorporate color to their formulation. For instance, encapsulated color systems and emulsions can improve performance in various applications,” explains Emina Goodman, senior director, colors, ADM. ADM offers Colors from Nature, which leverages its proprietary and patented color emulsion platform. The colors provide stability, ease-of-use, and a clean taste across all color shades.

Darker shades have sometimes posed increased difficulty for natural-oriented snack and bakery formulations. “Sethness Roquette’s fastest-growing offering is our Non-GMO Project Verified SB245,” says Brian Sethness, executive VP, sales and marketing, Americas, Sethness Roquette, Skokie, IL. “This Class I, Prop. 65 friendly powder offers a light-brown shade where a typical Class I has a reddish tone. Recently, Sethness Roquette decided to develop a less-costly version of the SB245, which is our HP247. This new Class I powder is not Non-GMO Project Verified and is manufactured with a less-costly raw material. HP247 offers the same color strength as the SB245 while also being Prop. 65 friendly.”

SB245 is manufactured from non-GMO cane sucrose, notes Sethness. “It is low in sulfite, kosher, gluten-free, and no 4-MeI is created during its production. With a tinctorial power of 0.235 to 0.265, this unique caramel color is significantly darker than traditional Class I powders.”


2021 flavor forecast

Flavors and colors that address consumer desire for ingredients that target their health and wellness goals are trending.

“Health-signaling flavors may include the use of cherry or cranberry, which are common ingredients in snack bars and trail mixes. Other berry ingredients like blackcurrant, maqui berry, and elderberry have become very popular in 2020, signaling wellness benefits and providing a natural color source for rich, bold shades of red and purple. Similarly, exotic citrus flavors such as blood orange, clementine, yuzu, or key lime are closely associated with vitamin C and antioxidants that consumers associate with immune system support. Additionally, botanical and herbal flavors like mint, elderflower, lavender, and hibiscus are at the forefront as consumer-preferred flavor options that signal physical, mental, and emotional wellness due to their health-focused, calming, or mentally stimulating qualities,” notes Marie Wright, president of creation, design, and development, chief global flavorist, ADM.

ADM also anticipates consumers will continue to seek comforting experiences to relieve stress and anxiety related to COVID-19. “Our flavor and color forecasts suggest that comforting and nostalgic flavors and bright colors will be all the rage this year. Specific to snack and bakery products, comforting and familiar flavors like vanilla, chocolate, caramel, nutmeg, coffee, and tea can be paired with soothing, neutral tones. Vanilla is in particularly high demand, as it’s a key flavor in many comfort foods like cakes, cookies, and pastries,” shares Wright. The company offers responsibly sourced vanilla, offering a portfolio of pure vanilla extracts, cured vanilla beans, paste, and natural flavorings, in addition to a new fair trade Madagascar Vanilla Extract.

Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, NY, is seeing a lot of excitement for botanical flavors, such as lavender, lilac, and rose, in baked goods and snacks. “Bored with conventional fare, many consumers (especially millennials and onward) want an exciting consumption experience: unique flavors and texture, cultural varieties, exotic, novel, or unusual ingredients. Vivid colors or elevated presentation has also become essential: It better be Instagrammable and sharable. Florals and botanicals deliver on all these taste fronts—picture Meyer lemon lavender iced poppy cake or a cran-hibiscus muffin,” states Phillip Caputo, marketing and consumer insights manager.

Virginia Dare is also seeing excitement around nostalgia-inspired flavors and has created an entire flavor theme called Forever Young that focuses in delivering these nostalgic memories. “An extension of the nostalgic trend of the past decade, childhood favorites and child-adulthood hybrids are associated with good, simple times,” says Caputo. “Flavors like fruity cereal milk, churros, and funnel cake can deliver that same sense of happiness and childhood bliss to your customers. The positive emotions associated with these flavors can positively affect mood, thereby increasing motivation, energy, and confidence, which makes them particularly intriguing opportunities for snack and bakery products.”

Flavorchem is also seeing nostalgic flavors like birthday cake, salted caramel, cookie dough, and peanut butter becoming popular choices. “These reminiscent flavors of childhood evoke positive emotions and create a heightened sensory food experience. Limited-edition and seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice, peppermint, and mint also fuel consumer interest by associating these flavors with traditions,” shares Shurhay.

Consumer desire for health and wellness is driving manufacturers to incorporate more nutritional ingredients into their products. “According to Innova, 64 percent of global consumers say the products they buy are tailored to their individual style or specific needs as snack and bakery segments are becoming more personalized to varied lifestyles and dietary preferences. Functional products that promote immunity, gut, and cognitive health will expand into 2021 as consumers place a heavy emphasis on how products make them feel. Elderberry, turmeric, ginger, hibiscus, and honey are some of the more-popular flavors trending in immunity right now,” notes Shurhay.

Mother Murphy’s, Greensboro, NC, notes that health and wellness is still a growing trend. “Elderberry is one ingredient that has gained a lot of press for its immune-boosting properties, which has become even more in-demand due to the pandemic. Other trends in wellness are botanicals that can provide calmness, mood elevation, and help with oxidative stress, which can all be exacerbated during quarantine,” shares Suzanne Johnson, vice president, research and development, master flavor chemist. Utilizing these ingredients can create challenges for R&D since they can impart bitter or off flavors. Mother Murphy’s offers many different masking agents that can help mask the bitterness or off tastes from these ingredients and still deliver a great-tasting product.

Flavorchem notes that brands will continue to bring the heat and anticipates seeing an emergence of fiery flavor launches that will hit store shelves and menus in 2021. “Flavor mash-ups like spicy hot, savory, and sweet provide multidimensional heat as sweet heat climbs the ladder,” says Shurhay. Mintel reports that two-thirds of Americans have expressed interest in the spicy and sweet combination that includes profiles like honey siracha and mango habanero, she says. “From potato chips and puffs to Dunkin’s limited-edition Ghost Pepper doughnut, the spice is here to stay.”


All-in-one solutions

Freeze-dried fruits are a great way of adding natural, clean-label flavor and color to snack and bakery products. The freeze-drying process preserves the color and flavor of the fruit, as well as the nutritional value. Chaucer Foods, Hull, England, offer a broad range of freeze-dried fruits available in pieces, slices, or powders. Angela Lofthouse, global sales and R&D director, explains the applications that are best suited for each of the different formats. “In a powder form, freeze-dried fruit can be used to create colorful, fruity fillings and glazes for pastries, doughnuts, and other sweet baked goods. Additionally, because freeze-dried powders have low water activity, they can be used within dough or batter to create vibrantly colored cakes, muffins, and cupcakes. In snacks, freeze-dried fruits and vegetable ingredients can be used as an inclusion for bars or as a standalone piece for snack mixes. The melt-in-the-mouth texture provides an excellent contrast to crunchier ingredients or inclusions.”

Chaucer Foods is seeing bakery manufacturers experimenting with new adventurous flavors and colors. “Berries and tropical fruits are being used more often in buttercreams, curds, and jams for a pop of color and a unique flavor experience. Purple hues derived from wild blueberries, blackberries, or blackcurrant are also becoming more popular, as those fruits are associated with wellness,” shares Lofthouse.

From clean-label, natural ingredients delivering better-for-you benefits, comfort, and nostalgia to bold and bright options, flavors and colors create new sensory experiences and can evoke positive memories—something we can all use right now.