“We are seeing creative takes on everything from bagel and doughnut shops to Korean cuisine as well as classic diner food all influencing the baking and snack categories,” said Melissa Abbott, vice president, retainer services, The Hartman Group Inc. “Skilled chefs are scaling back on costs and opening spots that are lower in overhead but big on quality and flavor.”
Collaborative dining experiences such as family-style meals at restaurants in the past couple of years have allowed consumers to branch out and try new things, said John Stephanian, vice president, global culinary and innovation, ADM.
“Consumers are definitely more engaged with some of the ingredients that are more progressive and willing to try new things,” he said. “It’s just access and the versatility of menus and chefs that are penetrating the suburbs.”
Consumers want a wide variety of items from their foods, including seeking new experiences while clinging to nostalgic favorites and demanding health and wellness benefits as well as deliciously indulgent treats.
“All the popular health trends or diets have a hand in influencing new products in both snacks and bakery,” said Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insight, food and drink, Mintel. “At the same time, however, when talking about wellness, one also has to factor in mental and emotional wellness. Consumers are looking for products that make them feel good physically as well as mentally. For mental wellness, you have to think of indulgent foods. … Balancing indulgence for mental well-being with foods that fit our needs for physical well-being is how many consumers are thinking about the way they eat now.”
Expanding regional, global flavors
Regions in North America and around the world are showing up in all types of cuisine, from Southern favorites to Asian and Latin American flavors.
“We are indeed seeing some really strong growth across the regional and global flavors, specifically Cajun, Creole, barbecue sauces and even curry and Mediterranean foods have grown as consumers seek global experiences,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, IRI executive vice president and practice leader, client insights. “We see some large increases in Cajun sauces or Creole seasoning or Louisiana-style barbecue, really calling that out specifically.”
Global influence is a key driver for flavors and formats, with Middle Eastern and Jap-anese among the trendiest, said Claire Conaghan, associate director, content, Datassential. She said matcha, rose and tahini have all recently gained traction with mainstream consumers.
“Mexican bakery continues to grow after years of Mexican cuisine outside of the bakery being a source of inspiration,” Ms. Conaghan said. “We now see things like churros — even used as a flavor — mangonada, again as a flavor, and item types like concha growing. Also growing in bakery are Chinese items with many food-forward consumers learning of such flavors from new cookbooks or learning of new holidays such as increased awareness of things like moon cakes.”
She added that in the snack industry, Japanese and Mexican influences are strong, especially chili lime flavors, but so are other Asian cuisines. Ms. Conaghan also mentioned the continued strong influences of the South.
“Beignets and red velvet remain strong but lesser-known items like hummingbird cake and chess pie are gaining familiarity,” she said. “Other regional items ripe for broader adoption include Michigan pasties, Texas kolaches and East Coast whoopie pies, which experience small increases in trendiness every few years and are heading in that direction again.”
St. Louis gooey butter cake has been showing up on more menus, and Ohio Buckeyes are a great flavor option, Ms. Conaghan added.
Breads from various cultures are on the rise, such as naan and paratha from India, and an increase in demand for the equipment needed to produce them authentically, such as a tortilla press, Ms. Mogelonsky said. Asian flavors matcha, yuzu and dragon fruit and Latin American flavors of horchata and a range of chilis are growing, she added, and snacks and desserts reflect a wide range of other global influences.
“From the Middle East, for example, products flavored with rosewater, or incorporating date syrup or tahini are becoming more popular,” she said. “From India, there are more desserts, breads and snacks that are being used in the US, along with typical Indian flavor notes such as curry and ginger.”
Jasmine Weiser, executive chef at Edwards Dessert Kitchen, Minneapolis, is seeing massive growth in Asian flavors, particularly those from the South Pacific, Japan and Thailand.
“One of the most exciting parts of my job is combining global flavors with forms and desserts from other regions of the world,” she said. “I love using Asian flavors in desserts like a tres leches cake to create new, interesting desserts that consumers may not have tasted before.”
Colors, cocktails and combos
Influences pop up from many different sources and take bakery and snack items in all kinds of directions. Bright colors are resonating with many consumers these days.
“Colors are making a big impact in the way people are eating,” Mr. Stephanian said. “That could be influenced by social media. Just having some things that are very vibrant. There’s kind of a health and wellness connection to that, too. For a while, people said eat the rainbow and try to add all of these colors to your diet, and I’m definitely seeing a resurgence when it comes to colors specifically.”
He also said that over-the-top colorful baked goods and desserts such as macarons and mochi will be showing up. Charcuterie boards and new iterations of that like butter and dessert boards are full of bright hues.
Ms. Conaghan said the popularity of Filipino food is on the rise, and part of its appeal is its many vibrant colors.
“Many flavors from Filipino cuisine are closely related to more known flavors and also have highly social media-worthy color palettes: think green pandan, bright purple ube, the entire dish of halo-halo and bibingka.”
Mr. Stephanian also mentioned he’s seeing desserts inspired by cocktails with flavors used in interesting new ways in the baking and snack space.
“At a base level, we’re seeing classic flavor profiles, like that from margaritas, incorporated into simple sugar cookies,” he said. “Think tequila, lime, salt and cilantro. On the horizon are next level, sophisticated options, pulling in the bitter sweetness of negroni or Sazerac cocktails into crème brulée and profiteroles.”
Ms. Mogelonsky said she’s seeing intriguing new combinations involving texture.
“Textural experimentation is seen in snacks and bakery that use more than one texture for an exciting bite, such as mixing crunchy with creamy or brittle with soft textures,” she said.
Mr. Stephanian is also seeing different herbs and spices popping up in both snacks and bakery items.
“Recently, I just made a banana bread with miso,” he said. “Not a ton where it’s overly savory, but it had a little of that depth and complexity in the background that made it unique, kind of like a brown butter. I’m definitely seeing a lot of things in the savory space.”
He also mentioned that food trucks on the West Coast are experimenting with various cuisines and fusing them in new ways.
“You kind of have this mishmash of different regions in Asia being influenced by regions of Mexico, so you’re getting these mashups that organically make sense, like poke tacos making their way onto these food trucks,” Mr. Stephanian said. “It’s being done very purposefully, and it’s not as clunky as some fusion food in the past. People are more in tune with cultures and trying to respect the cuisine in that sense. It’s a respectful fusion.”
Healthier people and planet
There’s always been a certain number of consumers who have sought out foods that help them reach their health goals, but the COVID-19 pandemic has kick-started that journey for a wider population. It used to be one in five people understood the role food plays in staying healthy, but that has risen in the past two years, Ms. Lyons Wyatt said.
“Consumers are continuing to look for ways to assist them on their wellness journey so they can minimize getting sick,” she said. “Part of that is all the macroeconomic things going on. All of our pocketbooks are strained, so if we can stay well, we can avoid having to go to the doctor and having another bill to pay. What we’ve seen is this boost with immunity or gut health. Even vision and eye health — we’ve seen some interesting trends in regards to that as well.”
She’s also seeing foods offering more than one benefit.
“In the past, it might be low fat, low salt, low sugar,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt noted. “Those still are there, but we’ve seen more of this compounded need for ‘Maybe I want low salt and immunity or low sugar and eye vision health.’ They’re looking for this combination of assets from their snacks and bakery.”
While some consumers are cutting back on sugar overall, others are watching their sugar intake to save up those calories for later, Ms. Abbott said.
“Consumers will continue to pay homage to wellness as immunity continues to play a significant role in wellness. However, consumers can be found cutting back on sugars in everyday foods to save up for the real thing and feel satisfied with treating themselves to a proper dessert,” she said.
Consumers are seeking options that support the planet in addition to their personal health.
“Citrus, among other fresh fruits, vegetables, botanicals and herbs check this box due to consumers’ perception of flavors derived from these sources as being closer-to-nature,” Mr. Stephanian said. “As such, we’ll see combinations of mandarin with basil, pink grapefruit with rosemary, finger lime with mint, yuzu with lavender and more spreading from culinary dishes to bakery and snack categories.”
In addition to seeking out plant-based foods that serve as dairy alternatives and using plants as base ingredients, such as chickpea flour or cassava, bakers and snack makers are considering sustainability in several ingredient choices.
“Sustainability is apparent in packaging, but it is also turning up in foods, such as in bakery or snacks that use upcycled ingredients,” Ms. Mogelonsky said.
Bakers and snack makers are taking their products in many different directions, fulfilling the needs of consumers while experimenting with the myriad trends available. Whether people are interested in indulgence or wellness or — in many cases, both — consumers are well situated to find what they’re seeking.
The rise of nostalgia and convenience
Many have enjoyed revisiting their younger days through food. It was a trend at the start of the pandemic when consumers needed to be comforted, and it continues today.
“Nostalgic desserts, baked goods and snacks will always be important to the US consumers’ repertoire,” said Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insight, food and drink, Mintel. “Popular treats such as s’mores have even moved beyond the ‘good old’ to become flavor notes on their own. S’mores ice cream and biscuits, for example, are appearing, as are other baked goods and snacks that have their origins in familiar, nostalgic treats.”
Moreover, trends tend to return every couple of decades.
“I feel like we’ve seen it all at this point,” said John Stephanian, vice president, global culinary and innovation, ADM. “Just like any other trend — fashion, music, whatnot — things kind of circle back every 20 years. I do see that happening in food. Espresso martinis were huge over the past year, and I feel like growing up, I saw that in the ’90s and the ’80s.”
Jasmine Weiser, executive chef at Edwards Dessert Kitchen, Minneapolis, said she sees customers drawn to traditional flavors when the weather turns colder.
“Of course, flavors like pumpkin and spices are always popular this time of year, and at Edwards Dessert Kitchen, we try to incorporate more savory elements like sage in our holiday desserts,” she said. “Desserts that may have taken a back seat for years, like cream pies, are also regaining popularity as consumers are drawn to more traditional recipes and forms.”
Convenience is more important than ever to consumers and is being redefined, said Sally Lyons Wyatt, IRI executive vice president and practice leader, client insights.
“We now have seen convenience bifurcated into not only on-the-go but at-home convenience because most of us are tethered to our computers through the day,” she explained. “You’re looking for something you can grab and eat at home as well. Convenience has become huge.”
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