16 December 2021, 07:50 AM
  • What are the trending flavours that will take over our shelves in 2022? Wouter Stomph, head of North America cocoa ingredient development and innovation at OFI, reveals his top picks

There is no denying that the seismic events of the last eighteen months have dramatically shifted consumer behaviours and preferences. Flavour trends are no exception. Lockdowns led to a resurgence in nostalgic flavours as consumers sought out familiar comforts, but as the world emerges from the pandemic, we can expect consumers to step outside of their usual go-to foods and experiment with different flavour combinations.

At the same time, demand is growing for snacks that not only taste great, but also provide health benefits. Snacking, which was once considered a bad habit that health-conscious consumers should aim to break, has transformed into an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Consumers are now turning to snacks to top up on essential nutrients throughout the day. Consequently, we have seen a surge in snacks offering high protein, fibre, or other health claims. This presents a great opportunity for traditionally ‘indulgent’ snacks to innovate. 

Cocoa’s versatility means it easily works with other ingredients in order to meet these new expectations. Increasingly, we’re seeing unusual combinations such as chilli or chai tea flavour chocolate bars entering the market and giving consumers their adventurous fix. 

An interesting observation is that new product launches always ensure a sense of familiarity. Novel snack bases, like chick pea or amaranth, have fairly basic seasoning, e.g. salt & pepper. Conventional snack bases, potato chips and popcorn, have the most exotic flavours. Serving both to our appetite for novelty and our hunger for familiarity. Cocoa satisfies both. 

Savoury and sweet flavour combinations

In an increasingly connected world, flavour trends travel across borders like never before. Wider trends emerging in different markets across the globe are inspiring different textures and innovative flavour combinations. For example, the sweet and savoury trend which has dominated in recent years has seen previously exotic treats become mainstream, from wasabi-based ice cream in Asia, to bacon pancakes in Europe and North America. 

With a presence in all major markets, we can work with our ingredient development teams across the globe to identify wider food and drink trends and how these might eventually translate to cocoa products. The trend for sweet and savoury, for example, has now crossed over to the cocoa world and produced innovation in places such as Korea and Japan, where we are experimenting with the application of cocoa powder or cocoa liquor in local curry powders to help create a richer, more intense flavour. 

The Asian market is not only bringing us wasabi-based ice cream and chocolate-based curries, but other exciting products such as miso chocolate, which will inevitably make its way to Europe, the US and eventually around the globe. We’ve seen this already with lychee and yuzu-flavoured products crossing into the mainstream, so should expect a similar pattern in cocoa and wider confectionery. These unique flavours provide consumers with a sweet yet intense flavour, hence their popularity. 

As the demand for sweet and savoury continues to grow and as confectioners aim to reach health-conscious buyers, we expect to see the development of products such as spice-flavoured granola bars. Products like this can be further improved by cocoa, with a chocolate layer providing an alternative texture and flavour for consumers to enjoy. 

Spices and botanicals

Sweet and savoury isn’t the only way adventurous flavours coming into play. Novel flavour pairings such as spice, herbal and botanical notes are on the rise, and are particularly popular among younger Gen Y and Gen Z consumers who engage in a healthier lifestyle. The strong flavour that these ingredients bring offer consumers the intense flavours that they crave, without the need for lots of added sugar or additives, helping confectioners to remove sugar without impacting the overall taste.

Take chilli chocolate. The spice of the chilli distracts from the bitter notes that sweeteners or reduced sugar can create, but also makes for a more interesting taste that consumers won’t associate with over-indulgence. Particularly with chilis, as they have become more mainstream, the different types are now used as a point of differentiation: Ancho chili chocolate brownies, Guajillo and sea salt ganache, Chipotle spiced hot cocoa. 

Consumers are continuing to shift away from sugar and seek stress-free indulgence. This is where spices and botanicals play a vital role. Incorporating botanicals into cocoa products such as lavender, ginger and rose gives people a taste of something new whilst reassuring them that the product is natural and helping support health claims.

Although the pandemic saw a lot of people returning to nostalgic flavours and recipes for a sense of comfort during an uncertain time, as we come out of restrictions people are looking to be much more adventurous and try flavours that they have never experienced before. As consumers around the world experiment with new tastes and textures, we can expect new frontiers in flavour to open up, bringing with them new possibilities for snacks and confectionery.