International flavors top US snack preferences

September 30, 2019 by Springboard Brands
Credit: Taken

Dive Brief:

  • The majority of Americans are eager to try globally inspired flavors with more than two-thirds of respondents to the latest Frito-Lay U.S. Snack Index survey saying they eat foods with international flavors at least once a month. The poll was conducted by the PepsiCo company last month in partnership with Morning Consult, and includes responses from 2,200 adults nationwide.
  • Flavors from Latin America — a favorite for 26% — mainland Asia — preferred by 14% — and comfort foods that mix regional flavors are the most popular options.
  • Culinary palates in New York City, Houston and Atlanta are particularly adventurous when compared with the national average, and younger generations’ preferences are impacted by their location. About 84% of Generation Z respondents said where they lived influenced their choice in flavors, while only 57% of Baby Boomers felt that way.

Dive Insight:

As the American consumer base becomes more diverse with increasing Hispanic and Asian populations, the demand for new flavors is continually increasing. One-third of Americans eat ethnic food at least once a week, according to Technomic, and the U.S. is the No. 2 market for global flavors.

The proliferation of social media and continued expansion of the average consumers’ culinary horizons through travel — 44% of consumers surveyed said their flavor preferences were driven by travels — has brought the desire for global flavors into the mainstream.

The result is flavors like yogurt, hummus and tahini that were once considered exotic are being eclipsed by more regional flavors like Egyptian dukkah, Ethiopean berbere, Cantonese XO sauce and Javanese sambal oelek. According to Kerry’s 2019 Taste Chart, North and East African flavors, exotic fruits and herbs, as well as Korean staples and spices from Southeast Asia, are some of the latest trends emerging in the market.

The Frito-Lay survey also noted 48% of respondents said they usually discover new foods, cuisines, flavors or ingredients from their friends and family. This partially has to do with the fact that social media has expanded the reach of conventional word-of-mouth dissemination of information.

In response to this desire, companies are creating and supporting new flavors. Kraft Heinz has partnered with Momofuku Ssäm Sauce and revamped its classic Lunchables with flavors like Asian Style BBQ Chicken. The company also added spice to its portfolio with its Springboard program’s first incubator class, featuring an avocado sauce based on a popular Venezuelan condiment called Kumana and Ayoba-Yo, an African-spiced biltong jerky brand.

General Mills offers snack mixes with a blend of classic ingredients and more on-trend flavors like Jalapeño Cheddar Chex Mix, Sweet & Salty Churro Bugles and Sweet Sesame Ginger Chicken Bites from Epic. Conagra created Frontera Especial Tequila Borracha Salsa, an authentic sauce made with black garlic and chipotle.

While some companies are merely testing out new and bolder flavors, it may be time to invest more heavily. The trend for more variety is not a passing fad. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of products highlighting “American flavors” declined 7.2%. During the same time period, ethnic flavors grew 20%, according to research from Innova Market Insights.

In Frito-Lay’s survey, not only did three-quarters say they are willing to try new flavors, but 36% of adults claimed to be bolder in their food choices than five years ago. And these curious eaters are willing to pay for the taste. According to Technomic’s 2018 Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, 32% of customers would spend more for authentic food.

With consumers searching to travel through taste, more brands might want to commit to the bold new palate that Americans have, and authenticity could be key to success.