Our beverage experts formulate dozens of new and innovative drinks for clients every day, making them a valuable resource on the latest flavor trends. After a particularly turbulent year, our team got together to share their insights on the top flavors we expect to take over the beverage industry in the New Year.

Driven by the long-term effects of an on-going pandemic, this year’s forecast is shaping up to be focused on creating experiences in a socially distant landscape. Here are the 2021 flavor trends to watch out for:

Flavors That Tingle

During a time when we’ve had to go without so many experiences, beverages continue to entertain us with flavors— and sensations.

Burning, cooling, or otherwise tingling their way across our tongues, drinks with flavors and ingredients that stimulate unique sensory experiences are set to become more prominent in 2021. This reflects the types of projects we’ve seen coming through our beverage development lab, where our experts create drinks of all types based on our clients’ specifications.

“We’ve had a considerable uptick in client requests for flavors that deliver varying degrees and styles of heat, smoke, and spice,” says Chief Flavorist, Tom Gibson. “But we’ve also seen an increase in requests for flavors with that fresh, cooling rush you’d get from chewing a stick of mint gum.”

2021 flavor trends

Flavors like Ancho chile, red hot cinnamon, habanero, and Indian peppercorn are expected to make their way into everything from Ready-to-Drink (RTD) cocktails to tea and lemonade. Meanwhile, menthol-heavy pairings— think cucumber-lime mint, peppermint-mocha cream, and lemon-coconut eucalyptus— will contribute a cooling, tingling element to seltzers, premium coffee and juice drinks, and more.

“Another interesting request we’ve been getting more of in recent months has been for alcohol flavors of all kinds— whiskey, gin, rum, tequila, you name it,” says Gibson. “This is a major signal to us that even while consumers may be reaching for low- to no-ABV beverages, they still expect the same alcohol burn they’d get from a regular cocktail.”

“Hot” and “cold” profiles will be used in combination with other flavors which enhance the perceived texture and mouthfeel of our favorite drinks, allowing beverage consumers to experience a whole new dimension of flavor.

Flavors That Comfort

The need for comfort has taken on a whole new meaning within the current social and political climate. But even as our routines and go-to activities are dismantled and reconstructed to fit the limitations of this “new normal,” flavors continue to provide a soothing constant.

In the New Year, consumers will seek out comfort by falling back on flavors that are familiar, but with just enough novelty to still make it feel like an experience.

By now everyone’s got a grapefruit, lemon, or lime flavor, and their popularity isn’t waning anytime soon. To stand out against the masses, brands have been working with our lab to develop flavors that hyper target specific regional profiles— think Texas ruby red grapefruit, Sicilian lemon, or Persian lime.

2021 flavor trends

“Tracing flavors to a specific region creates a transportive experience that helps differentiate an otherwise standard flavor,” says Kristen Wemer, Director of Beverage Development. “As the market continues to saturate with the usual essentials, consumers can expect more diversity and premiumization through varietals of familiar flavors.”

Delivering on consumer cravings for nostalgia and indulgence, 2021 will also see the return of classic favorites, but in unexpected forms.

“When you think about childhood flavors re-imagined for premium applications, you get something like a smokey vanilla cold brew, bubble gum seltzer, or a fruit punch gin cocktail,” says Wemer. “We’re experiencing a renaissance of these nostalgic flavors— peanut butter, orange creamsicle, grape cotton candy— in concepts like hard coffee, energy drinks, and craft soda.”

Our beverage experts predict that 2021 will see the debut of a new generation of these decadently flavored drinks as consumers seek comfort in sophisticated, indulgent experiences.

Flavors That Function

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 a global pandemic, consumers have found ways to take their health into their own hands— and stomachs.

In last year’s Flavor Trends lineup, we introduced the concept of “Functional Plus;” consumers aren’t just looking for healthier alternatives with a single star ingredient, but rather drinks that they can sip to maximize on benefits.

In 2021, beverages will continue to trend beyond simply fulfilling consumer demands for “natural” and “clean label” products. As brands seek ways to stand out among the competition, drinks that taste great while delivering on a range of wellness and performance benefits— specifically immunity, mood-enhancement, and cognitive function— will dominate.

As this trajectory continues, it follows that flavors emphasizing the presence of functional ingredients will continue to play a significant role in shaping a holistic experience. Fresh, fragrant flavors like hibiscus, orchid, elderflower, lavender, and orange blossom will be combined with other berry, botanical, and citrus elements in functional, naturally positioned teas, enhanced waters, flavored kombucha, and more.

2021 flavor trends

But as brands continue to pack their drinks full of functional ingredients, beverage builders have their work cut out for them to ensure these beverages can also achieve a desired mouthfeel and flavor profile while delivering on anticipated benefits.

“The functional beverage category has become increasingly complex over the last several years,” says Wemer. “Beverage developers are being asked to formulate drinks loaded with beneficial ingredients, each of which come with their own set of formulation challenges.”

“At Flavorman, we custom create our clients’ beverages, including each flavor that goes into their drink,” says Gibson. “As a flavorist, I work alongside the beverage development team to create flavors that taste great while being compatible with trending ingredients like CBD, vitamin C, MCT oil, and reishi mushrooms.”

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 nearly 70,000 formulations under our belt, we also know that experience still counts for something. Whatever 2021 brings, our beverage development team will be standing by to help you change what the world is drinking.


See how last year’s Flavor Trends compare.

Have a drink idea that you think will dominate 2021? Flavorman can help you bring it to life. Give us a call at (502) 273-5214 or contact our team through this webform.

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Written on December 8, 2020.