Citrus varietals broaden menu, market trends

by Allison Gibeson
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An orange is no longer just an orange. Today consumers are looking more specifically for different types of orange flavors, including Mandarin oranges and blood oranges. As such, varietals are becoming increasingly popular and important when it comes to citrus flavors.

“Citrus-flavored products have historically been widely popular in the U.S. and most all global markets,” said Norm Matella, manager of beverage solutions for Sensient Flavors L.L.C., Indianapolis. “As we see these global markets converge in our global economy, people are becoming more exposed to exotic flavors, including citrus varietals. As a result, we are seeing a strong trend of citrus varietals blended with other familiar fruits.”

Lemon and orange traditionally have topped the list as the most popular citrus flavors. Mandarin orange and blood orange are among the most popular varietals, and Mayer lemon flavors are becoming increasingly interesting to consumers, Mr. Matella said.

“Consumers are mostly looking for varietals such as a Mandarin orange or a blood orange rather than just a regular orange,” Mr. Matella said. “And they want those to be called out on the product description.”

When it comes to global flavors, there are many ethnic products being introduced in the category. Yuzu and kumquat are moving up the ladder of popularity. Yuzu is citrus traditionally found in Japan, still fairly niche and found primarily in fine dining. Kumquat, a fruit native to China, has a unique edible skin, and Kaffir Lime is from Indonesia. Quince is one of the earliest known fruits and is a close relative of the apple and pear.

Mr. Matella said varietals allow manufacturers to make providence and simple label claims. He added that simple label claims are becoming a requirement for manufacturers due to changing regulations and the need to create a more natural product to meet consumer demand. He said citrus products that allow manufacturers to make such claims will remain popular.

“They (varietals) offer an aura of authenticity to the product,” Mr. Matella said. “They almost establish the product as more premium. Consumers may have a sense of identification with that particular profile or varietal.”

Citrus flavors and ingredients also may be used to mask negative off-notes in various food and beverages such as vitamin-fortified products, said Joe Raimondo, president of Artiste Flavor/Essence, Waldwick, N.J.

“Inherent in (vitamin fortification) is that you get an off-note or an off-flavor in that beverage,” Mr. Raimondo said. “I’m not saying citrus is the single component that will mask that, but citrus has historically shown that it goes a long way to masking those particular flavors and provides you a pleasing taste.”

When it comes to new products and innovation in the citrus flavor category, the focus is on developing new ways to use familiar flavors and ingredients.

“We have to combine the new — the functional, the vitamin-fortified, the energy — with the traditional — the general lemon flavor, orange flavor, grapefruit flavor — types of products,” Mr. Raimondo said.

Beverage is the category that uses the greatest volume of citrus products, but with the variety of ethnic products being introduced, citrus is playing a role in marinades and sauces as well as to add accents to numerous savory dishes.

“It’s not so much the innovation as it is the range of applications that are now available for the citrus product in the marketplace,” Mr. Raimondo said.

Mr. Raimondo said he sees citrus flavors being used in every category, including confectionery and bakery. He said citrus is so widely used and has so many applications it may be used across the board.

While the new varietals are popular and gaining interest among consumers, Mr. Raimondo said he still sees the traditional citrus flavors continuing in their primary dominance in popularity and role as the drivers of the market, but different varietals still will have their role.

“People are stretching beyond the typical lemon, orange and grapefruit to use products such as blood orange in new product developments that are being influenced by what is going on around the world,” Mr. Raimondo said.

According to Mintel International, Chicago, the top five North American retail categories featuring citrus flavors during the last three years are non-alcoholic beverages, sugar and gum confectionery, health care, bakery, and desserts and ice cream. Also during the last three years, citrus flavors grew 21% on restaurant menus.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, during that same period about 4,300 new products were introduced with citrus flavors in North America, 218 of those being introduced in first quarter of 2010 alone. The top citrus flavors in 2009 were orange, lemon, lime, citrus and tangerine.

“Citrus flavors and citrus fruits are really a culinary gem,” said Maria Caranfa, director of Mintel Menu Insights. “They add acidity to different foods … and brighten up food and beverages and enhance other flavors within foods and beverages. So the applications for citrus fruits are really limitless.”

Ms. Caranfa said orange ingredients have been included more on menus through the addition of Asian salads and side dishes for children. She said ethnic dishes are becoming more authentic in restaurants as restaurants serve more citrus fruits with their items and work to follow in the traditions of how foods are typically served in their country of origin. Citrus flavors also are being paired frequently with seafood dishes, and Ms. Caranfa said key lime pie is being featured more on menus.

She said in citrus flavors consumers are looking for a refreshing clean flavor and variety in ingredients. In the future, Ms. Caranfa said it is likely to see some of the citrus flavors available in their more whole fruit and natural form. She said citrus fruits are a great way to help move menus and products to a fresher, more natural form as the current trend is dictating.

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