Adventure Through Flavor

March 22, 2021
Consumer Ingredients Trends Innovation
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Traveling vicariously at a time where many consumers are travel-wary has led to a boom in adventurous eating. While some consumers look to familiar flavors and dishes for comfort in stressful times, others’ hunger for international flavors has been amplified in recent months. In a search for exotic cuisines and global flavors, the availability of global ingredients and the inventive use of those flavors in a range of food and beverage products and menu items is providing new roadmaps to product development. Adventurous eating and familiar comfort foods are two sides of the same coin in today’s market. Let’s take a look and see where your brand fits in.

The Tourist Groups

Younger consumers are driving many of the adventurous eating trends, in part because of their curious palate and in part because of their interest in global living and touring. Keep in mind that Gen Z and Millennials may be flavor tour leaders, but they are distinct in their own right.

Older generations may be slightly less adventurous when it comes to trying global flavors and cuisine, but by balancing familiarity and adventure, developers can find much opportunity in this demographic.

Young Culinary Travelers

  • 77% of Millennial leisure travelers said (pre-pandemic) that they like taking trips “to enjoy memorable eating and drinking experiences.”
  • Gen Z consider themselves foodies and are digital natives who know more about other cultures and foods, based on their digital experiences.
  • When asked about future trips to Europe, 75% of Gen Z poll respondents said that trying locally-produced food and drinks is their top priority
  • Gen Z looks for bold flavor profiles and authentic but slightly less adventurous flavor combinations than Millennials.

Seasoned Tour Guides

  • Before pandemic-related travel restrictions, Baby Boomers planned an average of 4 to 5 leisure trips a year and half said they planned to travel abroad.
  • Gen Xers spends the most on housing, clothing, dining and entertaining and value work-life balance.
  • 66% of baby boomers like to explore new flavors but prefer to try them in familiar formats, according to Technomic’s 2019 Generational Consumer Trend Report.


“When we look at it generationally, we know that Millennials and Gen Z tend to gravitate toward more bold flavors. It is a reflection of the multicultural makeup of their demographic.” - The NPD Group

The Shutdown Effect

Spending more time at home has spurred experimentation with global flavors, in a “if-you-can’t go-bring-it-home” kind of way. Reinvented foodservice and retail industries helped opened up new avenues for adventurous eating, too, with creative offerings ordered through ghost kitchens and digital-enabled delivery.
  • 65% of consumers said that travel restrictions have made them more interested in trying new cultural foods from their homes.
  • 38% of U.S. adults report that they regularly ate foreign cuisine during the pandemic, compared to 33% before the outbreak began.

But despite innovative introductions that help consumers travel vicariously through flavor, they still look forward to traveling in real life soon.
  • 100% of respondents between the ages of 18 to 25 declared in a recent survey that they are ready to travel, compared to 50% of those over age 40.
  • 63% of consumers between 18 and 35 said they plan to travel in 2021 and 71% say they would get the COVID-19 vaccine to be able to travel again.

“Brands and retailers can shake up these home-bound routines with budget-friendly inspiration and flavorful adventures. A range of solutions will help consumers as they seek to balance time-savings with creativity as well as food and drink for health or indulgence.” - Mintel

Destination: Flavor

Although there is overall interest in global flavors among consumers who are virtually traveling through food and drink, some pockets of culinary tourism are emerging as hotspots.

Southeast Asia: Flavors and foods of Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia are influencing menus and products. In addition to use in dishes like pho soup and banh mi, chefs and product developers are working with Vietnamese flavors in other authentic recipes, utilizing lemongrass,  nuoc mam (fish sauce), Saigon cinnamon and ginger, among other flavors.

North Africa: Innovative flavors from North African nations and regions have increased interest.  Moroccan flavors and dishes are one example, providing new taste experiences while still featuring familiar ingredients like garlic, citrus, onions, figs, cumin and cinnamon.
  • Mentions of Moroccan food on menus rose 15% from 2017 to 2020.

Caribbean: Many people recognize and enjoy Jamaican jerk flavor, with ingredients like scotch bonnet peppers, pimento, nutmeg, thyme and scallions, and there are opportunities to expose people to different flavors from this part of the world, like traditional green seasoning or a Caribbean curry.
  • 23% of U.S. consumers in a recent survey reported that they had eaten Caribbean cuisine in the last three months.

Products of Note

Swanson Sipping Bone Broth Chicken with Moroccan Spice is a 100% natural, microwaveable and heat, sip and go product that contains natural collagen, is made from chicken with no antibiotics ever, and is non-GMO.

42% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Copper Cow Coffee Churro Latte Vietnamese Coffee Pour Over Set is made with coffee in filters and sweetened condensed milk with cinnamon-infused notes and a spicy, smooth pick-me-up flavor.

19% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Good & Gather Pho Soup Starter Beef-Flavored Broth comprises hints of ginger, anise and cardamom for Vietnamese style cooking. The microwaveable, ready to use product can be prepared by adding noodle, beef and vegetables.

45% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Old El Paso World Taco Kit Caribbean Inspired Jerk Kit includes medium pineapple pepper sauce, mild jerk seasoning mix and 10 flour tortillas. The microwavable product can be prepared by adding meat and toppings.

50% of consumers that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Regional Food Cultures

One doesn’t have to go across the world for an adventure – even via food and drink. In countries with defined regions and many cultures, including the U.S., there are opportunities to experience new domestic flavors and cuisines.
  • 25% of U.S. consumers want to know from which region within a country a recipe comes.

The Rise of Black Foodways

Increasingly, regional flavors that celebrate Black culture and flavor are being respectfully celebrated and enjoyed. Black foodways and heritage cooking were named by chefs as top trends for the coming months and year in a recent survey conducted by Food & Wine magazine.

Products of Note

Glory Foods, a Black-owned brand, offers Southern-style vegetables including green beans and black eye peas, among other products.

Kingsford Pollo Desmenuzado con Salsa BBQ (Pulled Chicken with Sweet & Smoky Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce) is free from gluten, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, and is naturally smoked and seasoned.

Luke's Maine Lobster Bisque with Knuckle & Claw Meat features a recipe comprised of pureed lobster, cream, sweet potato and onion, finished with chunks of sweet lobster knuckle and claw meat.

28% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Authentic Motor City Pizza Co. Supreme Detroit-Style Deep Dish Pizza is described as an authentic pizza with a thick, crispy, airy, buttery flavored crust with crunchy, caramelized edges, topped edge to edge with mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, sausage, bell peppers and red onion.

29% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.
“Regional flavors have more potential than is being realized. While products have looked to regional barbecue styles and are currently exploring regional pizza, there are many product categories that are yet untapped for regional exploration.”- Mintel

The Itinerary

There is a tendency to automatically associate adventurous eating with bold flavors, and that’s true to some extent. Adventure also includes novel or as-yet-unfamiliar flavors to consumers who are trying something new for the first time. In the contemporary backdrop, it’s about discovery and unique experiences with global origins.

“Increased globalization and the advent of social media has led consumers of all ages to become more knowledgeable of other cultures. This has led to food and flavor trends travelling faster than ever in today’s connected world.” -Innova Market Insights

Start with Authenticity

Authenticity has long been at the core of adventurous eating and includes flavors used in original cuisines as well as the way those ingredients are sourced and used. As heritage cooking is embraced, look for a greater emphasis on authenticity in preparation methods as well as flavors.

Products of Note:

Ka-me Oyster Sauce is described as a classic Asian sauce made using a traditional recipe and suitable as a marinade, on vegetables or in stir-fries for an authentic Chinese flavor.

30% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Tres Latin Foods Pupusas Kale & Pinto Beans Salvadoran Stuffed Corn Tortillas are made with organic and non-GMO corn masa. The vegan product is described as authentic and delicious natural Latin cuisine.

27% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

Engage with Storytelling and Sensory Experiences

Of course, a sense of adventure is delivered through the flavor in a food or drink. Beyond taste, people want to know the story behind what they are enjoying, including the culture and history behind a globally-inspired dish. In today’s marketplace, ingredients aren’t just part of a list on a package or menu – they are part of the narrative.

Just as flavor-seekers appreciate a compelling story, many of them also seek a sensory experience from food that lends to the fun nature of noshing. This is where multisensory attributes and layers of flavor, like smokey cocktails and dishes with a combination of intriguing textures, come into play.

Products of Note:

Polar Black Garlic Heat-Aged Super Food is an easy peel, ready to eat, and all natural healthy snack, chosen from a rare variety of premium single head bulbs grown in the Yunnan Highlands. It can be used in dressings, dips, sauces, spread or as a secret ingredient for gourmet cuisines. It features a sweet and savory umami taste with hints of balsamic vinegar and garlicy notes, and a melt-in-the-mouth texture.

Oreo Lady Gaga Pink Colored Golden Sandwich Cookies with Green Creme are a limited-edition product inspired by Lady Gaga and Chromatica. The product is kosher certified and retails in a 12.2-oz. pack featuring a QR code that can be scanned to unlock a fun experience.


Twist On Tradition

Coming off a time when comfort food has reigned, some people aren’t ready to go all out on bold new food adventure. For these consumers, adventure comes in the form of new flavorful twists on classic dishes, like a mac-and-cheese flavored with kimchi and pumpkin or a Malaysian chicken noodle soup with chili-soy sauce and Asian greens.

Products of Note:

El Monterey Signature Mexican Style Beef Mac'n Cheese is made with seasoned beef and pasta shells in a creamy three cheese sauce.

34% of consumers responded that they likely or definitely would buy this product.

The Takeaways

Culinary tourism continues and, along with it, consumers’ taste for adventurous flavors. In fact, 65% of consumers say they’re now more interested in trying new cultural foods from their homes. And with global culinary hotspots revealing the clamor for authenticity and diversity in food and beverage, product developers can capitalize on the experimentation and exploration that started in restaurants before the pandemic and continue with at-home meals, snacks and drinks. Even as borders open, border-less foods offer a world of flavor – and opportunity.

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Let FONA’s market insight and research experts get to work for you. Translate these trends into bold new ideas for your brand. Increase market share and get to your “what’s next.” Our technical flavor and product development experts are also at your service to help meet the labeling and flavor profile needs for your products to capitalize on this consumer trend. Let’s mesh the complexities of flavor with your brand development, technical requirements and regulatory needs to deliver a complete taste solution.

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Sources in full report