Maple beverage, Flavorman
Maple has been identified as an up and coming flavor in 2018.

Maple and honey trending

When it comes to beverage flavors in both packaged and food service beverages, David Dafoe, founder, Flavorman, Louisville, Ky., a custom beverage development company, said there is a definite trend toward earthy and familiar, which is reflective of the current state of affairs in the United States. For example, indulgent, rich caramel concepts are being replaced by simple, from Mother Nature maple and closely related honey profiles.

“Maple, the sweet sign of spring and uniquely North American ingredient, is the top trending flavor for the upcoming year,” Mr. Dafoe said. “It is famous for its complex sweetness and unmatched flavor. More recently, it is front and center for its role as an alternative sweetener and health and nutritional benefits.”

Both maple and honey are anything but simple, which is why they also increasingly are being used as non-characterizing ingredients. Possessing many varied flavors and aromas, maple and honey complement everything from citrus to chocolate.

“Some maples have roasted coffee notes while others have hints of hazelnut and cinnamon,” Mr. Dafoe said. “There are around 300 varieties of honey, all with unique flavor profiles, from light and mild to robust and strong.”

Joia grapefruit soda
Sour citrus flavors such as grapefruit are trending.

On the fruit side, sour citrus flavors are trending, either alone or with other flavors. This includes everything from premium lemonades to sparkling grapefruit.

“Grapefruit is a versatile flavor that packs a powerful punch,” Mr. Dafoe said. “The unique combination of sweet and tart creates an aromatic, distinctive flavor that is driving the popularity of grapefruit-inspired drinks.”

An unexpected fruit gaining traction in the juice segment is watermelon. In June 2014, Keenes, Ill.-based Frey Farms introduced a premium bottled watermelon juice branded Tsamma (pronounced sah-mah). It happened at a time when coconut water entered the limelight for its natural hydration properties, while at the same time kale-containing juices and smoothies were rising in popularity. Watermelon juice is gaining traction for its health and wellness benefits and naturally sweet taste. Sarah Frey, president of Frey Farms and founder of Tsamma Watermelon Juice, said the beverage has the potential to be the next coconut water in the United States.

Tsamma watermelon juice
Frey Farms is marketing Tsamma watermelon juice as a "seed-to-bottle story."

“It speaks to today’s consumers’ desire to know more about their food and their quest for local sourcing, as Tsamma is grown, made and bottled by watermelon farmers across the U.S.,” Ms. Frey said. “It also has health and wellness benefits. Watermelon juice has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect on muscles, reduce risk of dehydration, combat indigestion and lower risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Watermelon is delicate, and juicing it requires a lot of control. The watermelons are harvested and selected. There is a testing and grading process for sugar content (Brix), overall taste, flavor and more.

“The melons are hand cut, and after the end of the testing process, if the fruit doesn’t meet our criteria, it’s not used for Tsamma juice,” Ms. Frey said. “Each watermelon undergoes a proprietary process that uses minimal processing techniques to cold extract the juice and chill it to near freezing within minutes. This innovative process helps to maintain superior flavor while retaining its natural color, as well as nutrients.”

In 2017, the company launched a watermelon juice and coconut water blend. Ms. Frey said watermelon juice readily blends with other flavors, including other fruits and teas.