Novel flavors draw shoppers attention in grocery stores, but their appeal is also rooted in societal and demographic change, according to Rudy Roeskin, general manager, corporate vice-president of food ingredients, QualiTech, Chaska, MN. He answers questions about savory flavors for baked foods and snacks and why these are getting such attention today.

Baking & Snack: What consumer trends favor the use of savory flavors in baked foods and snacks where they previously have not been applied?

The reason that savory flavors are finding their way into the baking segment is a convergence of multiple food, societal and demographic trends.

Americans are becoming more adventurous with their eating. This behavior is driven by two trends. First, Americans are embracing ethnic foods more than ever before and realizing that they enjoy flavors outside of their time-tested comfort zone. Additionally and not entirely unrelated, the “foodie” community has taken a cue from the celebrity chefs and is embracing new and unexpected flavor profiles; it’s become cool to substitute savory for sweet. But it’s also cool to combine savory and sweet. (QualiTech is working on a bacon-and-peach bit and a caramel-and-sea-salt bit.)

Americans are becoming more conscious about what they eat. Not only are they seeking to satisfy their palates, but they are also seeking satisfy their soul. This means consumers are seeking to indulge with snacks that are either healthier, produced locally or both. The evolution of savory snacks leaves this evolving consumer satisfied on all levels.

Novel flavors draw customers’ attention in a crowded grocery market. By incorporating savory flavors into food categories that traditionally use sweet ingredients, food makers have exponential options in product development.

What are the most significant savory flavors for the baking and snack categories?

Complex spice. Gone are the days when snack foods came in just two savory flavors: nacho cheese and barbecue. Today, potato chips have moved beyond even salt-and-vinegar to include hot wings, chipotle barbecue, jalapeno, steak and onion, parmesan and garlic. The crunchy snack segment is literally overrun with umami flavors.

In baking, we are seeing a big shift toward herbs and spices, a development that relates to the societal trends mentioned earlier. In conjunction with the rapid growth that the artisan bread market has seen over the past 10 years, herbs and spices are finding their way beyond bread to chips, nutrition bars and even cakes.

What about bacon? It’s getting a lot of buzz in the consumer press.

Bacon makes everything better! (We have a kosher parve bacon inclusion with a much lower sodium content than the actual thing, with no trans fat, and we can manipulate the intensity of the flavor.) Bacon is a way to introduce salt into a sweet application. What consumers like is that it adds richness. If you add that fatty salty characteristic, you’re developing a much more complicated food product, which is satisfying.

Savory and sweet combinations are nothing new. Think of Cracker Jacks or Junior Mints in your popcorn at the movie theater, chicken and waffles … and bacon. Bacon is a leading savory ingredient in baked goods for good reason. It is the least scary way to induce people to eat savory ingredients with their baked goods. Once again, the celebrity chef may have jump-started this trend by applying bacon to everything from ice cream and foie gras to meat and potatoes; the baking segment just made sense given bacon’s ability to pair so well with sweet.

Where are trends or new concepts in savory flavors coming from?

Demographic trends including ethnic and aging populations. Two-thirds of households don’t have kids, so they have more freedom to eat beyond the classic kid-friendly flavors. But many foods available to the older population are bland. To make up for that, sometimes sodium is added. But by using savory flavors, you can add flavor and negate the need to add sodium. That’s why these unique hot and impact flavor profiles are getting attention. It’s a strong surge of flavor and satisfies them.

The healthy and natural trend. Sweet is associated with unhealthy. Americans are seeking healthier options in snacking, but they don’t want to sacrifice on flavor, even though in theory, they do like the idea of less salt and sugar. Savory ingredients have the ability to ramp up the taste profile of snacks or breads or cupcakes in a way that seems better for you than sweets.

Artificial ingredients that drive flavor profiles scare off consumers who seek new products. Savory flavors add taste without the use of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other additives that consumers are looking to avoid or decrease in their diets.

What new products are being introduced? Are there particular segments of the food industry that generate more items using savory flavors than others?

Ethnic food targeted at non-native populations. Mexican, Indian, Caribbean and Asian flavors are driving the new product launches in the savory realm. From rice mixes to fully prepared frozen meals, the ethnic food section of the typical American grocery has gone from half an aisle in the back of the store to influencing every section of the store — not just snacks.

Popcorn launched more savory line extensions in 2010 than any other segment (147% increase in product launches). Processed snacks were a big mover too (86% increase in product launches). Potato chips had a 76% increase in product launches. Nuts and seeds had a 10% increase, and savory energy bars is something new that we are seeing.

What additional factors are involved?

Much of what we provided above addresses the flavor side, yet inclusions can play an important role as well. One added benefit of inclusions used along with other savory products is that you get to see it before you taste it. When you see something, you taste it better. You also have the benefit of feeling it in your mouth, which also affects the experience.