CHICAGO — The American palate has become well traveled. As consumers show greater interest in global cuisines, foreign flavors are flooding the marketplace in such familiar formats as snacks, sauces, meal kits and more.
“When we look across our consumer data, we have a very clear-cut group of consumers who are very interested in those even more exotic flavors and getting even more adventurous,” said Jenny Zegler, global trends analyst for Mintel, during a presentation at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition held July 11-13 in Chicago.
Unsurprisingly, Italian and Hispanic cuisines are the most common choices for consumers dining out or cooking at home, according to Mintel research.
“Consumers are a little more familiar with taco nights, spaghetti, that type of thing,” Ms. Zegler noted. “But we are seeing a move toward more hybrid or fusion cuisines as well as spicy flavors.”
A taste for adventure and authenticity is driving demand for exotic dishes. A visit to a particular country or region spurs interest in international cuisine for a fifth of U.S. consumers who eat ethnic foods.
But many more consumers discover dishes from distant lands on restaurant menus, and food manufacturers are tapping into this trend with the introduction of ethnic meal kits, such as Old El Paso Restaurante soft taco dinner kit and Tai Pei seasoned chicken for lettuce wraps.
“This is helping consumers recreate that dish at home,” Ms. Zegler said. “It’s really giving consumers that shortcut to those ethnic flavors, which is important, especially for those cuisines that consumers may not be all that familiar with every ingredient that goes into it.”
Mintel also noted a surge of international inspiration in new sauces, seasonings, snacks and sweets.
|Jenny Zegler, global trends analyst for Mintel.|
“Sauces are a really easy option that consumers can just top their products with to try something out, and they know they can use it in a number of different ways,” Ms. Zegler said. “For those consumers who are really comfortable with those ethnic flavors, seasonings are that next step. These are consumers who are going to be cooking at home with these products and want to be able to mix and match the flavors and be able to customize it.
“(The opportunity with) snacks is consumers can’t get enough of snacking… and snacking is something that can introduce them to these new flavors, we have popcorn and potato chips and naan chips and pumpkin seeds that really are brining in these different flavors.”
Beverages are another avenue for global flavors and ingredients, as seen in such examples as Dahlicious Lassi organic Alfonso mango-flavored cultured milk, Califia Farms kiwi cactus lemonade, and Taste Nirvana coconut water with Thai chili extract.
A growing trend in globally inspired food products are hybrids and fusions, such as Lean Cuisine’s garlic chicken spring rolls, which combines Italian flavors in an Asian format, or EVOL’s Korean barbecue street-style tacos.
Tying product development to current events presents another opportunity. A number of European snack launches last year, for example, featured Brazilian flavors to capitalize on the excitement of the World Cup.
“There really is a world of opportunity,” she said. “Consumers are interested in a whole bunch of different regions.”
Here are six emerging sources of international flavor inspiration.