In the best possible taste

Despite an emphasis on health, flavour is the most important factor in consumers’ food choices. Brands need to experiment with increasingly exotic tastes to ensure they don’t slip from the menu

The growing influence of convenience and health means that hedonistic consumption, the most important trend associated with food, is often overlooked.

Indeed, attributes that maximise the hedonistic value of consumption are invariably the point of difference shaping consumer preferences. Product choice is determined by many factors, but consumers are most influenced by the taste, enjoyment and quality of food and drink – despite the increased importance attached to health benefits.

Therefore, the importance of offering the right flavour profile and range of flavours cannot be underestimated. Manufacturers must respond with a full range of tastes – as opposed to brands. Failure to do so will mean lost consumers in today’s environment of diminishing brand loyalty and heightened experimentation.

Current flavour trends reflect the increasing exposure to new regions and cultures. In fact, according to a report by independent market analyst Datamonitor, this is becoming increasingly important as consumers look for more excitement and sensation in life. And greater exposure to new regions and cultures means that diverse and exotic foods are being sampled with greater intensity than in previous generations.

Datamonitor interviewed a demographically representative sample of over 5,000 consumers from eight countries. This included over 500 consumers from France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK. More than 1,000 consumers were interviewed in the US.

The research company found that more frequent and diverse holiday experiences are resulting in shoppers trying to integrate cultures that they deem favourably into everyday life. Furthermore, immigration patterns are having a profound impact on food and beverage choices as migrant group preferences become normalised in the culture or country that they migrate to. The research found that 41% of European and US consumers have tried food with new and exotic flavours in the last 12 months.

The broadening of consumers’ palettes is a result of holidaying trends and migration patterns. People are being introduced to new foods with greater frequency. The groceries people discover are often associated with the positive experience of the holiday, and are therefore viewed in a favourable manner.

The holidaying trends are being driven by older consumers who are more adventurous and have a higher level of disposable income than previous generations. This is a factor behind why older consumers are embracing more exotic flavours. Certain countries are perceived in an extremely favourable manner and these attitudes and beliefs transform positively onto products and brands originating from these destinations. At a time when origin branding and provenance is coming to the fore, there are numerous opportunities for manufacturers and retailers.

Changing migration patterns are also resulting in ethnic foods, once confined to specialist stores, now featuring prominently in the aisles of supermarkets. Retail stores are increasingly recognising, and responding to, the potential spending power of migrant groups by stocking more varied ethnic dishes. Certain ethnic foods are being incorporated into a country’s staple diet.

However, that desire is being counteracted by a longing for more traditional and nostalgic flavours that are associated with safety and stability. This polarisation of flavour preference is emerging as consumers are seeking out comfort from the past, especially from their childhood. This is leading to a surge in demand in nostalgic groceries or “”retro food”“.

Datamonitor found that 20% of consumers had bought grocery items on the basis of their nostalgic appeal either “”slightly more”” or “”much more”” in the last year. Senior consumers in particular are driving this trend, seeking to recreate the “”good old days”” as a result of the rise of me-centric individualism.

But willingness to sample new and unique groceries is also influenced by the sensory appeal of a product. Attitudes towards food and drink are not influenced by taste alone. Indeed, the sight, texture and smell of a product all influence perceptions about how enjoyable a food will be.

Manufacturers are developing unique marketing campaigns to elicit an emotional response from consumers. Realising that the sense of smell is extremely important in shaping perceptions about the quality of goods, techniques such as “”scent-sory”” branding have been developed to engage with shoppers on a sensory level and encourage emotional buying.

Industry players are also using voices, music or functional sounds to distinguish a brand with greater regularity. The method, known as “”sonic branding”“, is designed to trigger an emotional response by linking a product with a happy memory. These marketing methods will become increasingly important as contemporary consumers seek higher levels of experiential pleasure and sensation from products.

Sensory branding, if executed in the right way, should result in deeper producer-consumer relationships because the senses are so closely connected with emotions.

Michael Hughes, Datamonitor consumer market analyst, contributed to this week’s Insight

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