The triggering events of 2020 – a global pandemic, widespread civil rights protests, and a divisive presidential election – created the “perfect storm” of fear, anxiety, and insecurity for consumers. Almost overnight, Comfort and Hope became key emotional drivers as consumers struggled to adapt to change. Brands who, whether by coincidence or quick pivoting, had products to address these emotional needs were wildly successful. As we enter 2021, understanding the connection between comfort and hope, and two of the world’s favorite flavors that embody their ethos, is vital to identifying opportunities for food and beverage innovation in the months ahead. It’s time to take a fresh look at Vanilla and Citrus.
Vanilla is the world’s favorite flavor.1 Everyone knows that vanilla is the star player in some of our most comforting foods – ice cream, cupcakes, cookies, and confections – and the supporting element in many, many more. The increasing use of vanilla extract in retail, food service, and other industries is driving the growth of the vanilla market across the globe, with the US market forecasting a strong 5.5% CAGR from 2020 to 2023.2 When the pandemic hit, consumers hit the stores and stocked up on ingredients to make enough sweet treats for a bake sale or ten. Twelve percent (12%) of today’s trending recipes would have been non-starters without a bottle of vanilla extract on the spice rack.3
What is it about vanilla that makes us feel so warm and cozy? Even in infancy, babies recognize and respond positively to vanilla – a flavor transferred through breast milk from their mothers’ diets.4 There are many polarizing flavors in the world, but vanilla isn’t one of them. In fact, vanilla flavor is one of the few universally “pleasant” flavors, appreciated across the majority of cultures.5 Perhaps it is the synergy of vanilla with sugar – its ability to potentiate, or increase, sweetness perception in food and beverage – that has made it an indispensable ingredient in our favorite comfort foods. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that through its connection to satisfying and indulgent taste experiences, vanilla is indelibly connected to the consumer need for comfort.
Fresh Takes on a Classic Comfort Flavor
While the majority of products labeled as vanilla fall into the sweet, creamy, and indulgent (aka “Comfort Foods”) category, there is opportunity to leverage vanilla’s familiar nuances in refreshing and savory applications as well. When paired with citrus, vanilla adds a creamy quality that softens sharp citrus oil edges, mellowing out the profile and extending the delivery for a prolonged flavor experience. Social conversations mentioning citrus and vanilla together are trending, with consumer functions of Soothing, Comfort, and Energy Boost driving the biggest growth in online discussions.6 When it comes to savory foods, vanilla can lend a hint of the unexpected and exotic in spicy steak rubs, smoky barbeque sauces, and zesty citrus marinades. At the restaurant level, where flavor innovation often precedes at-home trends, we are seeing an increase in vanilla savory use, especially in steak and cured meats.7 Who wouldn’t love the aroma of vanilla bean and black pepper bacon sizzling in a skillet?
Vanilla beans are a naturally fermented product, so combining pure vanilla extract with other fermented food or beverage products is a great way to match like flavor compounds produced through the fermentation processes. For example, two common natural fermented food pairings are vanilla and coffee or chocolate. Some more adventurous (and equally delicious!) fermentation pairings are vanilla and miso, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, or kombucha.
By taking vanilla outside of its comfort zone, so-to-speak, developers can create exciting flavor experiences that resonate with consumers on a subliminal, but exceptionally strong, level.
Hope: A New Vision for Vanilla
Vanilla has an opportunity to be part of the hope story, too. As society increases its focus on sustainability of natural resources and the advancement of human rights, consumers are adjusting their spending habits to be more in line with their values. Unfortunately, the food and beverage industry has been slow to adjust to this consumer need, as Forbes so blisteringly called out in their October 2020 analysis of the Wall Street Journal Sustainability Study.8 Due to its global popularity and importance to local farming communities, vanilla has great potential for driving change in the flavor industry. The progressive policies we see evolving in the vanilla value chain give us hope that together, we can create positive change for people and the planet.
In January 2021, Blue Pacific introduced Kilimanjaro VanillaTM, a sustainably sourced premium vanilla extract grown and processed in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Our consistent commitment to responsible sourcing and sustainability led a path to a partnership with Natural Extracts Industries (NEI) to put programs in place to help improve quality of life for farmers, and drive sustainable agricultural practices in the Kilimanjaro growing region. Blue Pacific and NEI share a common goal of reintroducing premium, natural vanilla to the world while supporting a sustainable future for the people and wildlife of Tanzania. Operating a social enterprise that educates Tanzanian farmers on vanilla agriculture, champions fair trade wages, and provides full traceability, we are working to empower local communities towards sustainable success. The partnership also provides improved financial security for farmers, and incentive to follow strict quality standards that help to ensure that Kilimanjaro VanillaTM retains its unrivaled flavor and quality.
Additionally, Blue Pacific Flavors is committed to donating 3% of net sales of Kilimanjaro VanillaTM to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). Purchase of this product helps support AWF’s mission to ensure the continent’s wildlife and wild lands thrive in a modern Africa.
Opportunity Summary for 2021
Whether addressing comfort drivers through the innovative use of a favorite flavor, or creatively branding traditional indulgences from a place of empathy and emotion, vanilla has great potential to meet consumer needs in the year ahead. We are especially excited about how increased awareness around vanilla sustainability is galvanizing the food and beverage industry, and consumers, towards greater social responsibility – and Hope. Can a flavor that’s super familiar still be trendy? When it comes to this year’s key emotional drivers: Most definitely.
The Sunny Flavor of Hope
Anyone who has peeled a fresh orange and inhaled its sparkling aromatic mist can relate: Citrus is an uplifting flavor! Citrus is always bursting with zesty brightness, the flavor equivalent of sunshine breaking through clouds and kids jumping on trampolines. Citrus oils are used often in aromatherapy to energize and awaken the senses, and citrus flavors feature prominently in many of our favorite cold beverages. There is clear and consistent evidence that lemon oil inhalation enhances positive mood and also boosts norepinephrine release.9 Naturally, consumers have grown to associate citrus flavor with positivity and refreshment. Could two words define the emotional driver of hope any better?
Not long after the first pandemic lockdowns of March 2020, consumers turned to citrus in the hope that it would protect them and their families from infection. COVID-19 drove an interest and purchase spike in immunity-boosting products and content, leading to a 34% increase of people drinking orange juice. Of that group, 93% of consumers either plan to increase their consumption or continue drinking the same amount.10 Because of their exceptionally high Vitamin C content, and scientific data behind Vitamin C’s ability to support a positive immune response,10 citrus fruit became last year’s symbol of a hopeful “return to normal.” Tucking a tangerine into a child’s lunch or squeezing fresh lemon into a power greens smoothie became ways that consumers could feel good about their health future, while at the same time perking up palates fatigued by social distancing boredom.
Citrus flavors of all varieties enjoy the halo effect of the citrus fruit’s association with health and wellness. Incorporating a clean Meyer Lemon or juicy Blood Orange flavor into an immune support beverage or vitamin gummy application meets consumer expectations for a characterizing “healthy” flavor when the use of citrus juice is neither practical nor effective. Blue Pacific has seen significant growth in encapsulated flavors in the past few years because of the extended shelf life and more impactful sensory profile that encapsulation technology offers. Our lemon, lime, and grapefruit FlavorCell® encapsulated flavors have been very popular for delivering high impact flavor in instant immune support and electrolyte beverages.
Citrus, Comfort, and the Rise of the Home Chef
No matter where we call home, anyone who has been away from it understands the longing we feel for our comfort foods. While “exotic” to North American palates, world citrus flavors provide comfort to the many foreign-born consumers who miss experiencing the traditional flavors of home. Blue Pacific offers exciting world citrus flavors such as calamansi, yuzu, pomelo, dalandan, and kumquat, to name a few. Formulating products with exotic citrus flavors gives food and beverage processors the opportunity to delight and inspire more consumers. Additionally, these global citrus flavors invite conversation about fruit origin and story, feeding consumer needs for greater social responsibility, cultural relevancy, and connection. As we touched on in the vanilla section, this higher awareness of ingredient source is a major trend to address for the 2021 consumer.
What about the comfort of a home-cooked meal? Restaurants are beginning to open for on-premise dining, but we don’t expect the consumer home cooking trend of 2020 to end anytime soon. What was born out of necessity has now become habit: cooking meals at home is comforting, and dare we say cool again. As Americans adjusted to home confinement, their confidence in the kitchen soared, with over half (51%) saying they planned to continue their cooking habits after the world returns to a new normal.11
As employees gradually shift from a work-from-home to a modified work-from-office model, we expect to see a similar shift in demand for meal prep kits and time-shaving ingredients. Restaurant quality, homemade taste, convenience, and Instagram-worthy presentation will be important. One thing home cooks often struggle with (and every trained chef must master) is successfully balancing flavor and acid in a dish. Citrus flavored sauces, seasonings, marinades, syrups, dressings, soup bases, and dry mixes can fill the comfort need here as home cooks – who’ve spent the past 10 months mastering the art of armchair food blogging – look for easy tools to deliver restaurant quality taste at home.
We all miss eating out, and we all have restaurants we love that won’t be reopening their doors. According to a December 2020 study by the National Restaurant Association on the industry impact of Covid-19, 17% of restaurants in the United States had already closed their doors permanently or indefinitely.12 This creates a compelling opportunity for food and beverage CPGs to collaborate with former restaurant owners, crafting RTU products showcasing the flavors of iconic restaurant dishes. If this can create new opportunities for unemployed Americans, while giving consumers back the flavors they’re missing, both hope and comfort needs can be met.
Opportunity Summary for 2021
As 2020 crossed into 2021, consumers mentally crossed into a new frame of mind about the struggles of the past year. Consumers are entering a much longer, much stronger season of hope. Food and beverage processors can continue to serve this need through energetic citrus flavor systems that connect with health narratives and inspire tired palates. At the same time, there are multiple opportunities to meet comfort needs through global citrus flavors and gourmet quality meal prep solutions. Whether it’s lemon, grapefruit, kumquat, or tangerine, citrus flavor will dominate new product introductions in the coming year.
One established trend that crosses both emotional drivers, and flavors, is Organic. Consumers turn to organic products for two primary reasons: to improve their health and to participate in a better future for the planet. When we buy organic food and beverages for our family, we feel comfort knowing that we’re giving them the cleanest nutrition available. We also feel hope for a more sustainable world by contributing to producers who are committed to sound environmental and socially responsible practices.
Blue Pacific has led the industry in Organic flavor certification for over 20 years and offers many USDA Certified Organic vanilla and citrus fruit flavors. These flavors are in high demand as consumer demand for organic continues its steady, uninterrupted rise. We have seen huge growth in the Organic food and beverage category as processors innovate in this space. In 2021, as consumers continue to reach for products that communicate security and serve a higher purpose, switching to and/or developing with certified Organic flavors will be critical.
In a time of strife, it’s critical to look at the emotional drivers guiding consumer behavior. Comfort shaped buying behavior in 2020, and the prospect of a Covid vaccine and positive social change ignites hope for 2021. The coming year will see a coalescence of these two key drivers – and opportunities for food and beverage processors to meet consumer needs through characterizing flavors. Vanilla and citrus are two major flavor families with authentic comfort and hope stories. A solid understanding of emotional drivers, and a fresh look at innovation within these flavors, will help food and beverage processors create unforgettable taste experiences in this unprecedented time.
If you’d like to learn more about our certified Organic flavors, sustainably sourced Kilimanjaro VanillaTM, exotic citrus flavors, FlavorCell® encapsulated flavors, or get expert help in your food and beverage applications, visit Blue Pacific Flavors or contact our Sensory & Consumer Insights Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Nethaji J. Gallage, B. L. (2018). Vanilla: The Most Popular Flavor. Biotechnology of Natural Products.
2 360 Research Reports. (2020). Vanilla Market 2020 : Industry Outlook with Top Countries Data, Market Share, Growth Analysis, Opportunities and Forecast To 2024. 360 Research Reports.
3 Tastewise. (January 29, 2021). Custom query: Vanilla mentions in online recipes.
4 Julia A. Mennella, G. K. (1996, January-March). The human infants’ response to vanilla flavors in mother’s milk and formula. Infant Behavior & Development, 19(1), 13-19.
5 John Prescott, G. B. (1995, June). Cross-cultural determinants of food acceptability: Recent research on sensory perceptions and preferences. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 6(6), 201-205.
6 Tastewise. (2021, January 29). Custom query: Citrus and vanilla social listening trends.
7 Tastewise. (2021, January 29). Custom query: Restaurant menu trends for vanilla savory applications.
8 Cardello, H. (2020, October 20). Food Industry Is A No-Show In New Sustainability Study. Retrieved January 2021, from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/hankcardello/2020/10/20/food-industry-is-a-no-show-in-new-sustainability-study/?sh=67ff0ab81c57
9 Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. E. (2008, April). Olfactory Influences on Mood and Autonomic, Endocrine, and Immune Function. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 33(3), 328-339.
10 Robinson, A. (2020, June 2). Covid-19 Impact on Orange Juice. Retrieved January 2021, from Citrus Industry Magazine: https://citrusindustry.net/2020/06/02/covid-19-impact-on-orange-juice/
11 Shoup, M. E. (2020, April 15). Survey: Cooking more at home could become the new normal post-pandemic. Retrieved January 2021, from Food Navigator: https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2020/04/15/Survey-Cooking-at-home-will-become-the-new-normal-post-pandemic
12 National Restaurant Association (2020, December 2). COVID-19 Restaurant Impact Survey V. Retrieved January 2021, from National Restaurant Association: https://restaurant.org/downloads/pdfs/advocacy/covid-19-restaurant-impact-survey-v-state-results.pdf