Flavor trends cater to today’s consumer cravings

Food and beverage brands can ease consumers’ stresses with flavors that imply indulgence and wellness

December 9, 2020

4 Min Read

COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of American life, from work to education to how we celebrate holidays and milestones. And it hasn’t been easy. The American Psychological Association’s most recent Stress in America survey revealed that the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress for nearly 8 in 10 adults, and 2 in 3 adults say they’ve experienced increased stress over the course of COVID-19[1]. Nearly half say their behavior has been affected by increased tension, anger and mood swings. So, it’s no surprise that the food and beverage industry has seen an uptick in consumer’s desire for products offering comforting solutions, from the health-focused to the indulgent.

Top flavor opportunities


Food and beverage brands have two distinct opportunities when it comes to providing stressed-out consumers the products they crave. The first is catering to proactive consumers who demand items bursting with health and nutritional attributes. The market is primed and ready for this, with ADM research showing that 31% of consumers are already purchasing more health and nutrition items, and 48% planning to up their consumption of these items in the next six months. Brands can meet this need with nutrient-rich foods and beverages to elevate mood, sustain energy and reduce stress, marked with health-signaling flavors like citrus.

The second significant way food brands can address elevated stress in America is by offering comforting flavors. “Our taste, smell and memories are deeply connected,” says Hélène Moeller, Head of Global Product Marketing, Flavors, “so flavors and aromas can evoke emotionally nostalgic moments.” The 2020 holiday season represents a huge opportunity, as consumers are especially keen to escape their stressors with comforting flavors like cinnamon and sugar or a turkey roasting in the oven. Compounding this opportunity is the fact that, this year, consumers are starting to indulge in traditional holiday flavors like pumpkin pie, sugar cookie and peppermint earlier than ever, in an attempt to find small moments of comfort and joy.

Trend alert: Flavors for fall and winter

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According to Hélène Moeller, in-demand flavor profiles heading into winter include chocolate, caramel, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, coffee and tea. But leading the way for COVID-era comfort-seekers is vanilla, especially as consumers stuck indoors turn to baking for stress relief and tasty treats. “Vanilla is one of the most popular flavors in the world,” Moeller adds, “and vanilla extract serves as a key ingredient in comfort foods and baked goods like cakes, cookies, ice cream and more.” At ADM, direct-to-farmer partnerships ensure traceability and quality alongside the comforting and authentic vanilla flavor consumers crave.

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Also trending as we head into winter is citrus, since it carries connotations of health, wellness and supporting the immune system. According to ADM Outside VoiceSM research, 57% of global consumers report being more concerned about their immune systems during COVID-19, and around 60% of American consumers prefer citrus ingredients for their immune-boosting properties. That’s why flavor creation teams worldwide depend on ADM’s in-house citrus ingredient toolbox, which boasts over 800 materials for unlimited citrus flavor opportunities that are true-to-fruit and traceable. In fact, ADM is home to the industry’s largest distillation and storage capacity for citrus ingredients and utilizes a unique non-thermal extraction process that makes customized, authentic citrus taste possible. And, says Moeller, since ADM is one of the world’s largest players in the citrus supply market, the team can react quickly and strategically in response to raw material fluctuations and shortages.

Choosing the right partner

One of the biggest challenges facing flavor teams today is delivering a superior sensory experience, while also ensuring consumer-friendly labels and meaningful nutrition. “We begin every formulation with the consumer in mind and determine a gold standard for the finished product encompassing sensory attributes like flavor, texture, color and aroma,” says Moeller. “All of these elements must work in balance to create a successful product.”

ADM’s Sensory & Consumer Insights team works closely with product developers every step of the way to identify and achieve the prominent taste and texture characteristics needed for the finished product. “Today, demand for authenticity—products that closely resemble the real thing—is much more prominent than in the past,” says Moeller. And with COVID-19 driving consumers towards indulgent and health-forward flavors, ADM is poised to deliver great tasting, authentic solutions without compromise for brands seeking success in this difficult market environment.


[1] https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report-october

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