A New World of Flavors:Let’s Get Real
Dr. Elizabeth Sloan
“The 50+ generation was raised on classic European cooking, like Julia Child and the Joy of Cooking,” Dr. A. Elizabeth Sloan, president, Sloan Trends, told attendees at the NAFFS 93rd Annual Convention. They are the No. 1 consumer of fish/seafood, duck, pork and veal and are most interested in American Regional cuisine. But they are not very interested in spicy, ethnic or gourmet foods, she noted. As soon as you go below this age group, you’ll start to see the Asian influence.
“Now if you ask kids today if they’ve had duck or veal, it just doesn’t happen. And if these younger people are going to be so prominent, you’re going to see a big flavor switch. Food companies are finally starting to get this. The brand managers are realizing it and that’s a big opportunity for the flavor world,” said Sloan.
“One of the biggest misconceptions I see is that ‘gourmets’ are my age,” said Sloan. It is the complete opposite, she said. The people who want to “eat gourmet every day,” according to Mintel, are the younger people. “That’s why the Subway sandwiches do so well. The Chipotle burger at McDonald’s was no accident,” Sloan said. “They went right after their target market – African Americans and 18-24 year olds. The Gen Yers are your adventurous eaters,” said Sloan. She said they prefer food with lots of spices, love to try new food and drinks and say they like to eat gourmet whenever possible. The 18-24 year-olds are the No. 1 buyer of specialty foods, followed by the 25-34 year old category. “In fact, if you go to the Fancy Food Show and look at the surveys from the show, these young guys are driving the gourmet business. They are the No. 1 natural food shopper. ‘Fresh’ is very important to this group.”
Identifying another growth opportunity for the flavor industry, Sloan said since the younger generation has discovered health, companies will need to mask a lot of new products to improve flavor and texture. “And it’s not the same kind of health like when you get older and have aches and pains and are worried about cholesterol, etc. It’s different with this group – it’s more about performance or weight or energy. If you look at the No. 1 functional food user, you’d think it would be the older crowd but it’s not. The young people are consuming energy beverages, smoothies and protein bars. Your demographic for a healthy snacker today is much younger than people realize.”
Highlighting another opportunity for flavor companies, Sloan said half the flavor profiles of today’s kids’ food aren’t sophisticated enough. Pointing to the evolution of kids’ foods, Sloan referenced what they are getting in schools: stir-fry, sushi, egg rolls quesadillas, spanikopita, hummus, jasmine rice, etc. Most parents, she said, let their children experiment and try new foods. “So we have a whole new generation for whom we could upgrade the flavor profiles in foods because they are already consuming more adventurous flavors,” she said. Among ethnic foods families eat regularly at home with their kids are: Italian - 73 percent, Mexican - 76 percent, Asian - 65 percent and Tex Mex – 24 percent.
“Let’s look at two places where there are opportunities that I don’t think we’re tapping into yet,” said Sloan. “One is the products that go into the home; the other is some of the interesting flavors offered in restaurants because even if we don’t go to restaurants as frequently, they are still setting the trends.
Americans are at an all-time high of eating 244 dinners at home in 2009 according to NPD, Sloan said. Therefore, we are close to a 25-year high in terms of cooking in the home. Sloan predicts it’s going to stay that way. “We’re finding that as people stay in more and cook at home, they like it because they can spend more time with their families.”
There is a giant jump in cooking from scratch, Sloan said. “First of all, it’s fun. Next, people are foodies. And, of course, the economy has forced them to do that more. But it’s true of all incomes. Thirty-three percent of the people in the highest income bracket (more than $150,000) were cooking from scratch more at home last year. This trend crosses all age brackets. From 18 right on through over 65 years of age, all segments are up significantly in at-home cooking from scratch.
“So where are the flavored basics like in Europe? Where’s my vanilla sugar when I’m making a cake? Where are my flavored butters? They are not here in the list of basic ingredients people use in baking. You are missing a big opportunity to reach across all these age groups who consider themselves bakers. Where are the flavored ingredients? There’s also an opportunity for products that haven’t had such good sales – like bread crumbs that have been creeping along for a lot of years. Appeal to those adventurous palates.”
Highlighting what she said is a perfect storm for marketers in prepared foods for the younger generation, Sloan said 58 percent of Millennials prepared more meals at home than they did a year ago. And 60 percent of Gen Y restaurant visits were cut back for the “dinner” meal, which makes this opportunity even bigger for the flavor industry. The 18-34 year olds were also up 29 percent in cooking at home with some “pre-packaged/some preparation” foods. “This segment needs some help because they are not experienced in meal preparation. So kick it up a notch and get in there with some sexy flavor profiles because this group is looking for bold and exotic flavors,” said Sloan. Sloan cited products offered around the globe, such as BBQ flavored oil, vanilla-flavored sugar, brown sugar with chocolate tablets and tomato-flavored flour mix for muffins and bread.
Sloan said marinades have been and will continue to be a hot area for growth. “Young people – anything they touch, they want it marinated with some interesting flavors. Forty-three percent of Americans grill all year round. Young people are grilling now and look at what they’re grilling: roasts, pizza, birds and appetizers. Don’t be afraid to try new global flavors in your marinades.” People of all age groups are buying less expensive cuts of meat, according to Sloan. This trend doesn’t appear to be going away and it’s even more of a reason to offer exciting flavor profiles for marinades, sauces and rubs, she said.
Look at ethnic food opportunities as well, she said. “If you look online at websites like recipe.com, searches for take-out style Chinese dishes were up 200 percent last year and Indian cuisine up 93 percent. More and more people are going online to look up those types of recipes. That means there’s a demand that needs to be met.”
The marinade and ethnic trends combine to make a great opportunity when it comes to younger consumers, Sloan said. “Their No. 1 selection factor is ‘fresh.’ What they are looking for in preparation help is sauces. They want to be able to have flexible flavors so they can take a piece of chicken, put some curry sauce on it one night and serve it with some couscous. Then another night they can put some Italian sauce on chicken, serve it with pasta and have totally different meals. The younger generations are looking for marinating sauces, rubs/spice mixes, dinner mixes, stir-fry sauces and Mexican cooking spices to help them in their meal preparation. They prefer to have the ingredients, spices and sauces to take part in the preparation process over having a prepared meal with no preparation involved.”
Millennials, she said, are also much more likely to buy more exotic, high-taste, high-convenience meal kits such as Wanchai Ferry and Simply Asia. “If you ask the young people 18-24 what they want to cook at home, the No. 1 choice is Mexican, followed by regional Italian, seasoned/marinated meat, Spanish, Japanese, New Orleans, Thai, Greek and Indian cuisines. So you can see the type of hot, spicy and flavorful profiles they are interested in,” said Sloan. “If you are in the meal kit world, that’s where you need to go.
“We’re now even starting to see institutional food service starting to embrace these new flavors and cuisines,” said Sloan. Foodservice chefs at hospitals, schools, colleges, nursing homes, etc. were surveyed about what they were most likely to add to their menu in the next 12 months. Responses were: Thai (15 percent), Caribbean (14 percent), Cuban/ other Southeast Asian (13 percent each), Indian, Vietnamese and Neuvo Latino (12 percent each).
Restaurant chefs are identifying flavors they believe will be hot in the next couple years. The MenuMine, Food Research Institute, 2010 report shows teriyaki and ginger will have strong growth in the sauces category. Ginger has been linked to more than 50 flavor-pairings (Wasabi, Ponzu, Plum, etc.). Hoisin and peanut sauces will also be in high demand.
Talking about the evolution of snacks, the high end chefs say Asian and Mexican appetizers are a hot trend. The No. 1 appetizer ordered in restaurants is egg rolls. Quesadillas, Spring rolls and bruschetta follow. And half of young people are willing to pay more for flavorful dipping sauces.
Identifying another trend which can convert to new business opportunities, Sloan said ethnic hand-helds are another hot menu area. Sandwiches are now offered with unusual sauces or condiments, such as teriyaki, avocado spread, sun-dried tomatoes, chipotle, pesto and basil parmesan. These small, hand-held sandwiches are bursting with flavor and gaining immense popularity. “If you are supplying any of these restaurant chains, this is a huge opportunity for flavor companies,” said Sloan.
All this doesn’t mean consumers are looking only at ethnic foods, Sloan said. “This whole idea of American Regional cuisines is off the charts,” said Sloan. “This is undoubtedly going to be one of the strongest trends in the next 10 years.
We’ve heard all about superfruits. So where are the American super foods? Well, start looking for Texas beef, Wisconsin cheese, Michigan tart cherries and Alaskan seafood. Right behind Chinese cuisine in purchases of intenational or ethnic foods by age, you see regional American. Top American descriptors on menus include Texas, New York-style, Southwestern, Southern-style, California, New England, Cajun-style, Boston-style, Santa Fe and American.”
In the breakfast area, Sloan cited a recent study by Technomic which showed hot trends included ethnic items, chorizo, Asian syrups, fresh fruit and seafood items. People are ordering crab cakes on their breakfast sandwich instead of sausage. “If you go to Einstein Bagels’ web site, you’ll see they offer a variety of flavored breakfast choices, such as a Southwestern paninis and spicy flavored bagels. It’s a whole new world out there for breakfast and it’s just waiting for some more creative flavors,” said Sloan.
Touching on beverage trends, flavoring of iced tea is hot with chefs, said Sloan. The top non-alcoholic beverage in NRA/ACF’s “What’s Hot 2010?” report was specialty iced tea (e.g. Thai-style, Southern/sweet, flavored). And non-traditional liquors (e.g. soju/sochu, cachaca) are a growing trend in the alcohol and cocktails category. “We have 80 million boomers and look at the drinking that’s going on,” said Sloan. “Once the kids leave the house, look at the increase in spirits & wine purchases in this demographic – another opportunity for flavor companies.”
“Natural” and “fresh” continue to be popular in foods and beverages, Sloan said. “Products that have a claim on them stating ‘no preservatives’ have gone through the roof despite a bad economy. This is a huge opportunity for ingredient manufacturers. There was a big jump in avoiding chemical additives and preservatives.” She cited a 2009 Hartman Group study that said one in five people avoid natural sweeteners other than sugar. Expanding on natural, Sloan noted gluten-free products were up 16 percent in a bad economy. However, she doesn’t anticipate this trend to stick around more than the next two years for those not affected by the condition.
“The news is that it’s all about natural and not so much about organic,” said Sloan. “Organic was way down last year and it pulled itself back up at the end of the year to a 5.1 percent growth – the slowest growth in its history. If you ask consumers to define natural and organic, you’ll get the same answer. And since they think they’re the same, consumers aren’t willing to pay more for organic products.
“And here is another sleeper sitting right here,” said Sloan. “Safety - if your flavor is made in the U.S.A., it is huge!” Ninety percent of consumers are “very” or “somewhat” comfortable if their food product was grown or produced in the U.S.A. Even packaging was a concern – the No. 1 most important attribute about packaging was that it was made in the U.S.A.”
Sloan closed by addressing healthy foods. “This is huge. Don’t think low fat has gone away. The reason it’s down 3 percent is because of the price of milk. It was up 12 percent last year and 9 percent the year before. Reduced calorie items were up 6 percent in a lousy economy, Omega claims were up 42 percent and antioxidant-claim products were up 29 percent.”
Sloan said the younger generation’s definition of healthy eating is different than from prior generations. “While eating lots of fruits & veggies made the list, a diet with a lot of protein is significant to this segment.” Sloan highlighted the rapid growth in vitamins and minerals with this segment when it comes to factors influencing snack selection. “It’s no accident that Quiznos’ bread is fortified with essential vitamins, antioxidants and minerals,” said Sloan. “There are huge opportunities right here and the food industry is just starting to sort through this. And this is the group who can help them do just that!”