Tahini. Seaweed. Turmeric. These aren't your grandparents' flavour preferences, are they? But, increasingly, they may be yours.
The recent Frito-Lay U.S. Snack Index survey1 revealed the majority of U.S. consumers are demanding more variety – in flavours, especially – from their snacks and other food items. Indeed, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of respondents say they indulge on globally inspired foods and flavours at least once a month; and more than three-fourths (76 percent) agree that they like to try flavours from places and cultures that are not their own.
More than any single seasonal flavour trend, it's really the overarching globalisation of flavour that is turning the food industry upside down, ushering in a whole new approach to meeting consumer demand.
"What Americans choose to eat has become a complex mishmash of cultures and spices well beyond ethnic or traditional silos," said Dr. Christine Cioffe, senior vice president, research and development, PepsiCo. "That's why we maintain a proprietary database of more than 1,000 global flavour variants and employ hundreds of culinary experts and scientists dedicated to exploring new tastes and flavours."
The Index also found:
- Seventy-four (74) percent of Americans say they are willing to try new types and flavours rather than only purchase snacks they have tried previously.
- Further, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of respondents prefer a lot of flavour options, 30 percent prefer a few and just two percent desire only one option.
While food and flavour choices are becoming more diverse, Americans rely on some conventional sources to inspire them – with nearly half (48 percent) saying they usually discover new foods, cuisines, flavours or ingredients from their friends and family.
However, 44 percent are curiosity seekers, whose current flavour preferences are driven by where in the world they have traveled. Plus, 38 percent first sampled new culinary options because they saw them in a local store or restaurant.
Flavour Precision Through Technology
To address these evolving flavour trends, many of which can be confined to small enclaves within a larger community, food companies are turning to high-tech advancements to ensure products that have been created with curated flavours are matched with the preferences of a particular group or geography.
"It's given us a 'tasty' challenge – to predict, respond and adapt to rapidly expanding consumer preferences with speed and agility by leveraging technology to ensure we can get consumers exactly the snacks they want exactly where they want to buy them," said Michael Lindsey, chief transformation & strategy officer, Frito-Lay North America. "We believe it's our job to develop and deliver snacks that equally delight a niche community as well as a mass crowd."
Frito-Lay is using AI technology to continually analyse millions of data points that identify micro-markets for a flavour or product that might otherwise be missed. Recently, AI unveiled small market segments in the eastern U.S. that sought hot and spicy flavours, although most in the macro market surrounding it had a more classic flavour palate. They then used AI to reshape their distribution to ensure that precisely the right products were available in each local point of sale based on local shopper demographics.
Demographic Differences, Adventurous Areas
Some of the nation's more adventurous cities, culinary-wise, are in the South or Southwest.
Over one-third (36 percent) of adults nationwide say they are more adventurous with the foods they eat compared to five years ago – with more than half of the residents of Atlanta (53 percent) and Houston (51 percent) showing they are much more adventurous than the national average.
Not surprisingly, so, too, is the cultural melting pot of New York City. More than three-fourths of Big Apple respondents (78 percent) often or sometimes have globally inspired foods, cuisines, flavours or ingredients, compared to the national average of 68 percent.
Similarly, three in five (63 percent) of Americans feel their current flavour preferences are driven by where they have lived. But the influence is especially pronounced in younger respondents: 84 percent of Generation Z respondents are influenced, flavour-wise, by where they have lived; versus just 57 percent of Baby Boomers.
While Americans are willing and eager to sample flavours from geographic locales far and wide, they do have their favourite regions with respect to food and flavours:
- Latin America (26 percent): Mole, chimichurri and all things spicy like cayenne peppers show up for this category. When it comes to the snack shelf, Frito-Lay has spicy snacks across its portfolio to meet consumers' growing demand for spicy snacks.
- Cross Culture Comfort (18 percent): From pickled peppers, to hot honey, to various cheeses, to ranch, this category is described as those flavours associated with comfort foods identified within specific cultural cuisines. While cheesy snacks have been a mainstay for snacks, Frito-Lay has even developed comfort food classics like fried pickles and ranch in the form of a chip.
- Mainland Asia (14 percent): Asian flavours have gone from the restaurant to the snack shelf inspired from sauces, red curry coconut, Himalayan salt and sweet chilli, among other flavours.
Frito-Lay's U.S. Snack Index is a national survey that reveals how different generations, regions and cities snack. For more information, visit: FritoLay.com/SnackIndex.
Frito-Lay North America partnered with Morning Consult to field the Frito-Lay North America U.S. Snack Index nationally. This poll was conducted between Aug. 13-15, 2019, among a national sample of 2,200 adults. The interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample based on age, race/ethnicity, gender, educational attainment and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.