Dr. Kantha Shelke
Some 70 years ago the food industry woke up to the need to please consumers. It was no longer a situation of “make it and they will come.” People had to LIKE what they were buying.
The tingling sweet refreshment of an orange soda on a hot summer day, cheesy potato chips and tangy dips and salad dressings – people crave these flavors and keep coming back for more. The orange soda does not taste like a real orange and there is no cheese that resembles the potato chip…but their power over shoppers is real and remarkable and is the reason why some brands are popular over others.
The addition of flavors to foods is not a new concept. Humans have added herbs and spices to make their foods tastier for centuries. Early Egyptians were extraordinarily advanced in the science of flavor extraction. They used extracts from plants and herbs for pharmaceutical purposes. In the medieval ages, monks pioneered the art of capturing natural essences and transforming them into substances to flavor food. These were terrific in liqueurs for enjoyment and health. The industrial production of flavors, however, began only in the last century. Initially, in the 1950s, food companies invested in describing the sensations produced by a food. They hoped that the sensations would make their products a success. But, product development has become more sophisticated today and takes into consideration factors such as consumer desires and needs …elements that influence purchase.
And time and time again, one thing is apparent: if a food or drink doesn’t taste good, then people will not return for more. Now, the science of taste is fairly well understood. We know that our tongues detect taste which is neatly categorized into sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami. But food is not experienced only as taste. Taste is only one facet of the complex thing we call flavor.
Behind every tasty food or beverage is an abundance of food science and flavor chemistry that ensure their success with consumers. Hard work and ingenuity among the country's leading ingredient suppliers, ranging from simple spice houses and importers, to crafty flavor extractors and advanced chemical houses are largely responsible for the grand success of many brands. Innovative flavors not only attract consumers and delight them but also drive loyalty.
Perhaps the craftiest use of flavor to expand the category’s geography is by the dairy industry. Look at the variety of dairy beverages and yogurts we have when there were just two or three types within each type of dairy product, just a decade or so ago. Coffee and tea in the “warm beverage aisle” would have been only a fraction of what it is these days if it wasn’t for flavors. The power of hazelnut or Earl Grey to beckon shoppers to add another coffee or tea into their shopping basket is simply magical.
Flavor can effectively differentiate within the category and even lift an entire category's sales. Look at the expansion and excitement caused by flavors in vodka, ice creams, yogurt, potato chips, and even toothpaste.
Breakfast cereal makers have adopted flavors to ensure their products' nutritional profile will work. Flavored sweeteners are the main reason for the success of cereals that boast being an excellent source of fiber and whole grains. Nutrition is an important issue among Americans. But people are hesitant to try healthful products because of their poor taste implications.
Fats and sugars impart a creamy richness and lingering taste. This is why foods and beverages that have been stripped of their fats and sugars taste watery or like cardboard. Fortunately, there is a new flavor in town. It is a mouthfeel flavor technology that can optimize the taste profile and flavor perception of reduced calorie sweets and dairy products and recreate the sensory experience of rich fatty desserts without the guilt.
For private label, the application of flavor principles can broaden the 'geography' of categories within the store. Just the addition of ethnic flavors has transformed some retailers into destination stops for discerning world-travelers. Flavor matters: packaging and price can get you a purchase for a private label food or beverage, but it is flavor that keeps them coming back.
This is Dr. Kantha Shelke for PLMALive!
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Dr. Kantha Shelke