ADM’s Zhou Reveals How Colors, Flavors Evoke Spirit Of The Season

ADM North America’s Jennifer Zhou looks into how colors, flavors, aromas and textures are part of the emotional experiences of consumers during the holidays.

Cleveland — Today’s consumers have high expectations about the snacks and treats they choose to purchase. They want the full sensory experience, including vibrant colors, intriguing flavors, enticing aromas and distinct textures. Consumer demand for the sensorial experiences of food and festivities is particularly evident as seasons change and the holidays arrive. Such events evoke specific moods, like feelings of hope, love, happiness and excitement. Food technologists can bring these emotions to life by using colors and flavors derived from nature in inspirational ways that provide festive seasonality or year-round success to their brands.

Delightfully Indulgent

Treats with rich flavors, nostalgic aromas and decadent textures are among life’s many pleasures. Given the prolonged experience of pandemic-induced uncertainty and stress, many consumers are creating occasions for joy and relief through snacking. In fact, 56 percent of global consumers have purchased comfort food regularly because of COVID-191.

As more people shift from impulsive to purposeful indulgences, there is growing demand for products that are “good for me” and “good for the earth.” For example, colors and flavors that tick the “clean-label” box are often responsibly sourced from closer-to-nature ingredients like herbs, fruits and vegetables, including carrots, beets, turmeric, citrus, acerola and green tea. While some hues are naturally vibrant, achieving colors such as blues, purples, greens and browns are challenging without the use of synthetic dyes. ADM unlocks this potential from nature through a patented process to obtain blue shades from juice of the Amazonian huito fruit. This “fruit juice blue” is acid-, light- and heat-stable, creating an unlimited palette of options.

Having access to a rainbow of vivid colors sourced from nature is crucial to creating consumer-preferred snacks and other goodies. During the winter holidays and colder months, people are drawn to warming spices like ginger, cinnamon and cardamom, as well as refreshing spearmint, cozy vanilla, calming botanicals and snacks both sweet and salty. Soothing colors like brown, cream and tan correspond to popcorn, crackers, pretzels and chocolate. Sunny shades of yellow, orange, pink and red pair well with citrus fruit flavors to brighten up frosted cakes and gummi candies. Cool blues and greens complement minty chewing gum, dessert-inspired bars and crispy candy coatings. Berry-stained reds and plum purples offer eye-catching indulgence from baked tarts to creamy sorbets.

Snacking for self-care is a consumer behavior that’s bound to persist and evolve. Shoppers frequently seek classic and nostalgic bites that support emotional wellness. At the same time, they are shifting toward more wholesome and global treats that offer functional nutritional benefits, which provide a counterbalance to more permissive indulgences.

Disciplined & Delicious

With a more proactive approach to holistic health, consumers are looking for foods that are perceived to support various aspects of well-being, including digestive health, sustained energy, weight management, immune function and mood. Research finds that 61 percent of global consumers say they are more conscious of the need to lead a healthy lifestyle due to the global pandemic2. Additionally, 44 percent of global consumers are more frequently choosing functional foods and beverages2.

Cold and flu season, on top of the coronavirus, is sharpening consumer focus on immunity. People associate citrus with vitamin C and immune support, and that is motivating new product launches featuring orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime flavors and colors such as orange, yellow and green. These health-signaling sensory aspects can enhance the taste and visual appeal of many snacks and sweets while elevating them into new categories. For example, active nutrition products are prime for sensory repositioning. High-fiber bars, gummy vitamins, postbiotic chocolates and protein-packed cookies are all well-suited to tart citrus flavors and bold colors.

There’s also a consumer trend of purchasing energy-forward products. Chilly, dreary days and long dark nights lull many people into more a sedentary lifestyle. The mental and physical boost consumers are looking for may originate from natural sources of caffeine, such as coffee, tea and yerba mate, and are often complemented by flavor offerings like mocha, peppermint and matcha. Citrus also plays well in this space as a flavor that is perceived to be invigorating and awakening.

Contemporary wellness increasingly includes a focus on the microbiome. A healthy gut can support digestion, aspects of metabolic health, immune function and perceived mental well-being. As such, consumers are prioritizing better-for-you ingredients like fiber, protein, biotics, vitamins and minerals in a variety of seasonal snack options. Fermented drinks like kombucha cocktails are fizzy and fun, while wholesome, plant-based ingredients including beans, nuts and seeds add crunch and nutrients to puffs, chips, biscuits and bars. Plus, certain flavors can bring a health halo to sweets and snacks. Think fresh, pickled and ground ginger, and citrus varietals such as yuzu, Sicilian lemon, finger lime, bitter orange and calamansi. These global and health-signaling flavors add excitement to many different types of products from snacking through to baking and confection.

With so many consumers eager to treat themselves during seasonal celebrations, the snack category is a perfect format for innovative flavors, textures and colors. Ethnic and global influences allow shoppers to travel through their tastebuds even when they are unable to visit faraway family and friends. Spices like harissa, za’atar, chile de árbol and baharat are heating up savory and sweet snacks. Crispy, crunchy, bubbly, gooey, chewy and other textures are enjoyable to eat. Non-traditional colors can also provide excitement, such as deep blue extruded puffs, lavender-tinted cookies and wasabi-green chocolates. Seasonal and limited-edition products invite exploration with less out-of-pocket risk for both brands and consumers.

Jennifer Zhou

Snacks and treats present a plethora of opportunities to tap into trending consumer behaviors and anticipate the next big thing. Developers can leverage all five senses to create fresh options that will surprise and delight shoppers all year long.

Contributor Info: Jennifer Zhou is senior director of product marketing for ADM’s Flavors and Colors business in North America. With more than 15 years in the flavor industry as a B2B marketer, she is passionate about innovation and the storytelling behind the flavors and ingredients that make products great.

1FMCG Gurus, Top Ten Trends for 2021, January 2021

2FMCG Gurus, How Has COVID-19 Changed Consumer Behavior, March 2021