What matters most to food and beverage consumers?
According to Innova Market Insights, around ⅓ (30%) of consumers believe that affordability should be the primary driver of food and beverage development–but surprisingly, this wasn’t the number one answer. Of the consumers surveyed, 41% felt that health needs to be the primary consideration for new product development.
These aren’t isolated numbers, either. Deloitte Insights “Fresh Food Survey” found that 55% of respondents would be willing to pay a premium for foods that contributed to their health and wellness.
Anne Marie Butler, Global Director of Strategy & Innovation at Edlong, has noticed this growing consumer-driven trend and the market’s response, “Post Covid-19, we saw a major growth in awareness for food as medicine and a need for healthier lifestyles and this has not disappeared and has in fact grown further and is reflected in the NPD space. According to Innova in the last 6 months alone for North America there has been nearly 14,000 new products with health claims launched, while in Western EU this figure is nearly 30,000.”
No matter how eager you are to meet this increasing demand for healthier foods, you can’t forget one thing–if they aren’t delicious, no one cares how nutritious they are.
At the end of the day, for consumers, taste will always be king, and texture the queen.
The truth is, any changes you make to improve nutrition, whether it’s through a reduction of unwanted ingredients or adding nutrients through fortification, can adversely affect the balance of your product.
Building better tasting, better-for-you products starts with understanding the relationship between taste and texture in your product, and the role flavor can play to help bring back the balance your customers expect.
Balancing Act: Taste, Texture, & the Role of Flavor in Better-For-You Products
Changes to taste or texture must be done with the other in mind. This is because each ingredient’s unique properties introduce a wide range of variables that can help or harm both. From the solubility of proteins to the melting point of different fats, even the percentages of each component play a role in the success or failure of balancing your product.
It’s a balancing act, and it’s not always easy, especially with better-for-you products.
Flavor is one of the best tools for helping bring balance back into foods. It can often be the piece needed to fill in the gaps and bring taste and depth, as well as elements of perceived texture, back in line with expectations.
However, even with added flavor, your choice of ingredients can affect not only texture and mouthfeel but also the perception of flavor and even how it is released. For example, when using plant-based fats you must consider the melting point as well as the amount of fat being used. Too high of a melting point and you will slow the release of taste in the mouth, while too low and the food may be melted before it can even be savored. Fat is critical to texture and flavor.
Understanding these relationships is necessary for developing delicious better-for-you products. Especially when it comes to reductions and fortifications.
Improving nutrition by reducing ingredients can cause your product to change and not meet the taste and texture expectations of your consumers.
Let’s say you want to reduce the fat of a sour cream. Losing that fat can also cause you to lose that fatty mouthfeel; it just doesn’t seem as creamy. On top of this, the cream and cultured flavors and pleasant cling-in-your-mouth sensation of the full-fat product might get replaced by a more pronounced and less-pleasant astringency or an unexpected drying effect.
The role of flavors is to help. Adding flavor will not only boost the characterizing cream & cultured notes but can also introduce a perceived fatty mouthfeel that brings back some of that richness you lost in the process. Even just the flavor of cream can trick your mind into feeling like it is fattier and more indulgent than the label would suggest.
We see the same effect with sugar. For example, taking the sugar out of an iced tea. You lose some of those solids that gave you a mouthfeel perception of being a little bit thicker and fuller with sweetness that might cling a little bit more. When you take that out it the tea will seem to have a thinner viscosity that loses that mouthfeel. Our flavors can bring that back as well. Perceived thickness.
Analytical measures might not be able to pick up on this perceived textural impact, but consumers sure will.
Where reductions are looking to make products healthier by taking something out, fortifications strive to do the same by adding ingredients instead.
In addition to vitamins and minerals, Butler sees consumers demanding, above all, more protein, “protein as we know supports satiety and is at the forefront of what most consumers look for in terms of claims. Add to this everyone on social media touting the benefits of a high protein diet and it is clear to see why so many consumers crave protein.”
Whether it is an animal-based protein like whey or any number of plant-based ingredients, balancing taste and texture can be challenging.
Whey, for example, can introduce unpleasant off-notes and textures. Despite its added nutritional value, it often has an off-note similar to the smell of wet dog hair, not exactly what most people would want from their protein shake.
Fixing taste and texture in isolation is not always the solution and can produce even more pronounced flavor or texture issues.
Restoring balance to the taste and texture of your product needs to be done in tandem. A combination of masking and characterizing flavors can simultaneously assist in both by rebuilding the creamy mouthfeel and recreating the freshness of the original. This is why the role of flavor is key at the moment of developing products.
However, more than just addressing nutrition is needed; we must think holistically about how a product will be received.
Consumers are all that Matter
What successful balance looks like for your product depends on what your consumer is looking for.
It’s really easy to get into the nitty-gritty of how you perceive a taste and texture, but the reality is, from a consumer perspective, they often just think, “Do I like it or not?” Sometimes they will be able to tell why, but others, it might just come down to “no, I don’t like it” or “yes, I do.”
Getting more “yes, I do’s” starts with learning how to leverage the balance of taste & texture and incorporate flavor to get it over the top. If done well, you can stock the shelves with better-tasting, better-for-you products that your consumers can’t get enough of.
Don’t miss our How Flavors can Provide Value webinar recording featuring industry experts from Ingredion, Bunge, Mattson CO, and Edlong to hear more insights on how the role of flavors, textures, ingredients, and collaboration can help reduce costs.
About the Authors:
Julie Drainville, Sensory Manager
Julie Drainville leads all sensory functions for Edlong globally, maintaining a trained employee panel for sensory testing, and also collaborating with applications scientists and customers to run testing to meet project needs. Julie has an extensive background in food science including over 15 years in the sensory field, a degree from Purdue University in Foods, Nutrition and Business/Dietetics, a Master of Science in Nutrition Education from Rosalind Franklin University, and completion of the UC Davis Applied Sensory and Consumer Science Certificate Program.
Anne Marie Butler, Edlong Global Director, Innovation and Commercial Development
I help food stakeholders from startups to CPGs solve complex flavor problems and accelerate innovation within the food space. Through my 15+ years of experience, I’ve gained skills as a food technologist, thought partner, and leader. My clients and team appreciate my collaborative, humanistic approach to problem solving. In an increasingly tech-centric world, I think that human connection is the source of innovation. Through my work, I’ve realized how important it is to be more proactive about inviting stakeholders into conversations around flavor innovation. I’m not working alone, and I don’t want to be thinking alone either.