At this point last year, no one could have foreseen that within a few short months we’d be facing a global pandemic.

Back in December, our beverage development experts predicted that 2020 would be a year focused on the fresh and functional. Now the world has taken to calling 2020, “The Year of the Lost Summer.” As we approach the halfway mark for this historic year, it makes sense to consider how current events have affected drink flavor trends and what that might mean for tomorrow.

At Flavorman, we formulate dozens of new and innovative drinks for clients every day, making our team a valuable resource for the latest flavor trends. As predicted, botanical flavors, ginger, citrus and exotics have remained on trend — but not for the reasons we originally anticipated.

Flavored for Wellness

To many consumers, what is perceived as “natural” is also considered to be healthy. If trends have shown us anything, it’s that this often points to simple, recognizable ingredients and fresh flavors. It also helps explain why globally between 2013 and 2019, new food and beverage products making a plant-based claim have increased 58%, according to Mintel.

Yes, health and wellness have always been important to consumers, but in the face of the current outbreak, that’s truer now than ever before. As the world grapples with the right way to deal with this global pandemic, consumers have found ways to take their health into their own hands — and stomachs.

While bright and refreshing flavors continue to draw consumers, it doesn’t seem to be just about “flavor over sweetness” anymore. Now, consumers are seeking flavors that emphasize what is natural and healthy, while highlighting the presence of functional ingredients.

For example, even though there’s no correlation indicating that vitamin C is an effective preventative or combatant against the symptoms of COVID-19, research does support that higher doses of vitamin C can decrease the length of other illnesses, like the common cold. Most consumers are aware that, as a class of ingredients, citrus fruits like orange, grapefruit, tangerine, and lemon are naturally rich in vitamin C content. It’s no surprise then that globally, we’ve experienced a sudden rise in citrus sales.

Extending beyond the produce aisle, consumers also seem to be reaching for citrus juices and, by association, citrus infused and flavored beverages. The Florida Department of Citrus reported that in April, retail orange juice sales shot up nearly 50% nationwide to a total of 44 million gallons as compared with the same 4-week period last year. Grapefruit juice also experienced a significant spike, according to the same report. This also reflects requests we’ve seen coming through our beverage development lab, where our experts create a variety of infused and flavored drinks — both alcoholic and non-alcoholic — based on our clients’ specifications.

While citrus has stolen the spotlight lately, that doesn’t mean other fresh flavors associated with wellness have fallen out of favor — as ingredients, many are also immunity boosters in their own right. The exotic flavors afforded by coconut, prickly pear, and dragon fruit not only pair well with citrus, but they can also provide creaminess or perceived sweetness — but without the added fat or sugar.

Likewise, the floral and herbal character of botanicals can be combined in various ways to create a depth of flavor across beverage types. Flavors that emphasize light, refreshing, and natural profiles (think mint, rosemary, lavender, juniper, and basil) are going to continue to be favorites for health-conscious consumers. Right now, that basically means all of us!

In our 2020 Flavor Trends lineup, we celebrated ginger specifically for its diverse profile and many beverage applications. From hot and spicy to sweet and warm, ginger maintains a freshness that works well in an assortment of flavor combinations and beverage types, especially health-forward drinks like seltzers, juices, teas, and kombucha.

We also predicted that CBD beverage development would continue to see growth through 2020, but the category has seen a slow down as brands continue to wait for guidance from regulating bodies. And it may be awhile before we get answers; as one beverage distributor told BEVNET, “The FDA has other priorities right now,” in reference to COVID-19. Despite delays, we anticipate a steady resurgence as consumers seek functional ingredients that support health and wellness during these stressful times.

Whatever a post-pandemic society looks like, expect flavors and ingredients from nature to continue to dominate the functional beverage space. They’ll also be used to enhance health and wellness in beverages marketed as sugar-free, fat free, low-calorie, and low-alcohol, as well as options that accommodate alternative diets (think keto, vegan, or diary-free).


Flavored for Comfort

The need for comfort has taken on a whole new meaning within the current climate. We originally anticipated that comfort would come in the form of familiar flavors paired with the less familiar, and for the most part that remains true.

Consumers continue to seek out new, sophisticated flavor combinations to dazzle their taste buds — but enjoy being grounded by flavors they recognize. For example, most consumers know and enjoy the taste of lemon, but substitute it with botanical alternatives such as bergamot or citron, then that similar profile can seem more exotic and, in some cases, even premium.

Pairings that strike this comfortable balance allow consumers to approach new flavors with an appropriate frame of reference. In tumultuous times like these, that kind of foundation is important — and it also doesn’t have to sacrifice on adventure.

This also reflects what we’re seeing come out of the Flavorman lab, where we’ve experienced an uptick in requests for trending flavor varietals like tangerine, yuzu, and meyer lemon, even while standards like grapefruit and ginger still hold a strong position on the market. These are being combined with botanicals of all kinds — from mint, orange blossom, and elderflower to cilantro, lavender, juniper, and more.

Considering current events, we expect more consumers to treat themselves with experiences through exciting food and drink as a form of comfort. According to Future Consumer Index data, that’s already happening, as consumers report they are now more willing to pay a premium for high-quality products including “luxury food and drink items” despite budgeting elsewhere.

In our 2020 Flavor Trends lineup, we also indicated that the “sober curious” trend would continue to remain important to consumers — and it has, but within its context. Because so much about drinking alcohol is about the social experience that comes with it, lower ABV and even alcohol-free cocktails have increased in popularity during recent years. However, to accommodate social distancing, we’re now much more limited in our opportunities for interaction and gathering.

As a response, many consumers have been reaching for higher proof spirits, turning to drinking at home for comfort. Whether drinking just provides something to do or serves as an attempt to add some structure back into the day, a recent Nielsen survey found the biggest uptick in off-premise alcohol sales has been in tequila, gin, and RTD cocktails, followed by wine and then beer. The majority of consumers (69%) also reported they have been buying brands they know and trust, however, many still report willingness to indulge in premium.

It’s worth noting that consumers aren’t necessarily buying more or spending more on alcohol during this time, but rather transferring purchases from the bars, restaurants, festivals, and baseball games they once frequented to off-premise sales that can be enjoyed at home.

Adventurous consumers haven’t gone away, but for now, they’re being forced in many ways to get that adventure elsewhere. Beverage brands continue to find ways to create just enough novelty to make a drink an experience. During a time when many experiences have been robbed from us, this is a welcome direction for beverage innovation.

Of course, if 2020 has taught us anything it’s that no one has a crystal ball. But with almost 30 years in the beverage business and over 61,000 formulations under our belt, we also know that experience still counts for something. Whatever the rest of this year brings, our beverage development team will be standing by to help you change what the world is drinking.

Ready to bring your dream drink to life? Partner with Flavorman to create the next set of flavor trends. Give us a call at (502) 273-5214 or contact our team through this webform.


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Written on July 22, 2020.