Natural is a tried and true buzz word for food and beverage. Functional ingredients, wellness, clean labeling and convenience will continue to drive innovation in flavor and product development, paired with an increase in regulatory constraints to establish safety and transparency in consumer packaged foods.
According to Food Trending data, the natural flavor market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.2%. Key categories for the natural market include carbonated soft drinks, RTE meals and pizzas, packaged snacks, juice and water. Though the United States is leading the demand for natural flavors with $3,720 million, Asian markets are also on the rise. China’s natural market is estimated to be worth $1,540 million and Japan is worth approximately $840 million.
The largest natural flavor category, carbonated soft drinks, has in recent years tried to shake off its unhealthy reputation through low-sugar, zero calorie and fermented formulations; all requiring a closer look at sweetener alternatives. One of the largest beverage brands Coca-Cola rebranded its iconic Diet Coke in early 2018, in an attempt to redefine its look and formulations to appeal to more Millennials. Launching with flavors like Ginger Lime, Cherry, Zesty Blood Orange and Mango, the product line improved sales and grew Coca-Cola’s overall business. During the first quarter of 2018, Diet Coke sales volume grew in the United States and Canadian markets for the first time since late 2010, according to company financialsa. Around the same time, PepsiCo released its millennial-friendly bubly sparkling water line, formulated with no calories or sweeteners in lime, grapefruit, strawberry, lemon, orange, apple, mango and cherry flavors.
Though not as large as carbonated soft drinks, the natural juices, flavored water, sports and wine market (the fourth largest category according to Food Trending data) has seen a plethora of activity focused on lifestyle and functional benefits. Flavored water brand hellowater offers a line of fiber-infused beverages that encourages consumers to smile, laugh, love and dance. Created with natural flavors, the company offers a mixed berry, lemon-lime, pineapple coconut, cucumber lime and orange mango flavors. Water brand Hint Water provides a similar naturally flavored water beverage, available in watermelon, cherry, raspberry, blood orange, pomegranate, cucumber and other flavors.
Though beverages account for a large percentage of the natural flavor market, meals and pizza are also a growing segment worth an estimated $2,580 million. Brands like Freschetta offers a range of whole grain, gluten-free and brick oven pizza, created with natural flavors and promote its fresh and natural ingredients. Though known for its chain of restaurants, California Pizza Kitchen also offers a line of frozen pizzas. The brand offers a range of organic frozen pizzas created with natural flavors, which are available in either chicken fajita, chicken pesto, five cheese and tomato and mushroom and green onion options.
Along with the rise of natural flavors, there have been increased pressures from regulatory agencies and consumers to confirm safety testing in flavors. California’s Proposition 65, which blacklisted furfuryl alcohol, 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) and acrylamide, creates additional formulation challenges, but these regulations can also provide an opportunity to research and develop alternative solutions. This year, the EU ban of two grill flavors, Grillin’ 5078 and Grillin’ CB-200SF, due to inconclusive toxicity data, sparked Symrise’s R&D team to get an early start on developing compliant grill flavors, can also be labeled as natural. Similarly, this trend of increased regulatory and consumer pressure is expected to continue to drive business, as safety testing and transparency are balanced with providing exceptional flavor experiences that meet wellness expectations. But hey, who said growing up would be easy?