Foodservice flavors fueling retail innovation

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CHICAGO — Pink is a color that communicates fun, optimism and childhood comfort, according to Lizzy Freier, director-menu research and findings for Technomic, Chicago, a business unit of Winsight, LLC. It also is one of three flavor trends fueling menu innovation this year, which in turn should inspire consumer packaged goods manufacturers to follow suit in the months ahead.

What does pink taste like? Ms. Freier referenced bubble gum, maraschino cherry and everything in between. Pink ingredients she identified as being on the rise included strawberry puree, sriracha ranch, dragon fruit, berry sauce, pomegranate glaze, hibiscus, sockeye salmon, poke and sumac.

“In 2023, get ready to be tickled pink,” Ms. Freier said. “Lots of foods and drinks are being colored pink, both sweet and savory…fruits, proteins, condiments and spices.”

Think pink sea salt, pink pineapple and pink-eyed peas. Acai, beets, dragon fruit and radishes fall into the space. Some lesser-known pink fare includes car acara oranges, schisandra berries, bissap and watermelon radish.     

Starbucks is on it. Since the summer of 2017, the chain has had the Pink Drink on its menu, which is strawberry and acai with accents of passion fruit all combined with coconut milk. Some might attribute the growing trend to this beverage. It’s sort of what Starbucks did with the limited-time Unicorn Frappuccino that was introduced in April 2017. It was made with ice, milk, pink powder, sour blue powder, crème Frappuccino syrup, mango syrup and blue drizzle.

Just like unicorn — as well as confetti and birthday cake — the flavors made their way into retail packaged foods. It is predicted pink will trend, too. Pink makes the perfect limited-time offering (LTO) across many product categories.

Dave’s Gourmet LLC, San Francisco, has partnered with a Chef Pii, the creator of The Pink Sauce and a popular social media influencer, to commercialize the condiment. It is described as a sweeter version of ranch with a bit of heat.

“Our R&D team was able to reformulate the sauce to match Chef Pii’s exact color and flavor profile for the product and at the same time change some of the ingredients to make the sauce less complicated,” said David Neuman, president of Dave’s Gourmet’s. “The public will end up receiving a shelf-stable version of the sensational sauce that Chef Pii envisioned in her Miami kitchen.”

Jade Steger, marketing director for Dave’s Gourmet, said, “This product is not only a social media phenomenon but actually enhances the food it is used with as a condiment. People are intrigued by its bright pink color and unique taste. It can be paired with pretty much any savory food, creating a playful visual appeal and enhancing the flavor of the dish.”

Pink as a color and flavor is about fun. Soumya Nair, global consumer research and insights director, Kerry, Beloit, Wis., said when people are fraught with financial woes and health anxieties, food offers an opportunity for “delicious escapism.”

That’s what pink may do in 2023.

“While comfort will underpin all food and beverage experience in the upcoming recessionary outlook, there will be desire for ‘mini-escapes,’” Ms. Nair said. “Adventure and indulgence have taken on a new meaning in today’s uncertain economy. Consumers are seeking achievable adventures and playfulness via unlikely combinations, mashups of familiar food and drinks, fusion cuisines and unconventional flavor pairings.”

Further, social media is influencing food and beverage trends at a rapid pace. What happens in foodservice can make its debut in retail through the use of LTOs, which creates an urgency for consumers to purchase because of the short time the product will be available.

“New recipes, over the top food and beverage creations, dressed up with abundant inclusions and toppings, vibrant glitters and sprinkles that have an element of familiarity attract consumer curiosity,” Ms. Nair said. “’Eat with your eyes’ is truer this year than in the past. Visually vibrant food and beverages using ingredients such as beets, dragon fruit, matcha, sprinkles, luster dust, inspire not just beverages and cocktails, but also pasta and pies.”

What’s old is new

Sean McLendon, vice president of research and development, product development and innovation at Farmer Focus, Harrisonburg, Va., and a James Beard-nominated chef, agreed.

“You eat with your eyes first, and you taste with your senses,” Mr. McLendon said. “If you can see it, and it tells a story in the product name, consumers are drawn to the product.”

He believes in taking the familiar and adding a spin. That’s the goal of Farmer Focus’ pre-seasoned chicken products. The company takes cuts of chicken and adds a culinary twist. It’s about bringing the restaurant experience into the retail environment and communicating to the shopper through accentuating inclusions and seasonings.

The company is introducing three options for the Super Bowl, which will be held Feb. 12. There is honey jalapeño chicken party wings, black garlic ginger boneless skinless chicken thighs and Caribbean jerk seasoned boneless skinless chicken breast.

Pickling also is on the pink continuum, including the pickling of such fruits and vegetables as red onions, beets and watermelon spears.

“Pickling and fermenting preparations are having a moment,” Ms. Freier said. “Not only do the preparations promote preservation and health connotations, especially gut health, they also allow for a lot of unique culinary experimentation. We are expecting pickling to extend everywhere, from proteins to French fries to herbs, nuts and even pickles on pizza.”

The third flavor trending in foodservice, according to Ms. Freier, is an emphasis on the taste of grains. This compliments the evolving plant-forward trend towards minimally processed whole foods.

“Operators are going toward the grain,” she said. “They are game changers as a way to innovate without breaking the bank.”

Trending tastes include English muffin pizza and focaccia French toast. Ancient grains also are being served in new ways for all dayparts, including desserts and breakfast bowls. They are the focal point of the dish and contribute color, flavor, nutrition and texture.

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