Consumer food choices take taste, sustainability and health into consideration. Additionally, the flavor trend flourishes at global food industry events, on restaurant menus, in new cookbooks and media coverage. A closer look shows that taste is the primary purchase motivator among U.S. consumers (82%), followed by price, healthfulness, convenience and environmental sustainability.[1] 

A recent survey of European consumers also found that flexitarians rated taste and health as their top two drivers. Approximately 21% said they consumed tofu, tempeh or seitan at least one to three times a week; 28% consumed plant-based yogurt.[1] Soy foods made with sustainably grown U.S. Soy complement such trends, with a wide range of versatile ingredients that offer a variety of potential health benefits. Soybean oil, too, may lend itself to flavor infusions inspired by herbs and spices, or trendy botanical ingredients.

Exploring the Globe Via Flavor

Many consumers are experimenting with multicultural flavors or exploring their own heritage through cuisine. Others want to relive a favorite travel memory through food. These experimenters and taste adventurers are driving the demand for hybrid cuisines and global flavors[1] like Afro-Caribbean or New Wave Korean. In the U.S., 28% of consumers would like to try snacks that are popular in other regions, including Latin America, Asia and the Middle east.[2]

Examples of popular flavor inspirations this year include tropical fruits, Mexican comfort food and Modern Greek cuisine. Citrus flavors (think blood orange and yuzu), botanicals and rhubarb are also trending,[1] along with India-inspired spice blends like garam masala, the Moroccan ras el hanout blend and Middle Eastern baharat.

If you’re wondering about the difference between taste and flavor, taste generally refers to what our taste buds perceive— sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. Soy sauce and miso are classic examples of umami. Flavor, by contrast, is the richer, multi-sensory experience that incorporates not only taste, but also aroma and texture.

While tempeh, edamame and tofu are all made from soybeans, each of these soy foods has its own flavor and texture. Soy food textures range from crispy and crunchy snacks like bacon-barbecue flavored soy nuts, to creamy indulgences like soy-based ice cream sandwiches in cookies-and-cream flavor. Texture is a major food trend among Asian consumers, with more than 75% of consumers recently surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region saying they are interested in trying foods with new textures.[1]

Mindful Eating Redefines Snacking Habits

Approximately 80% of consumers worldwide say their definition of a snack has evolved over the last 3 years, and 85% report eating at least one indulgence snack a day.[1] However, mindful eating also comes into play for the 86% of consumers who believe in controlling their snack portion sizes and choosing snacks that offer ingredient transparency.[2] Adventurous flavors have been inspiring snack food product innovations. In a recent U.S. study, 36% of consumers reported wanting to see more authentic international flavors in the grocery store.[3] One way to do this is to infuse familiar foods like dips or tofu with international flavors such as aioli, gochujang or harissa.

Sweet Tastes Start the Day

Indulgent flavors commonly seen in desserts such as cakes, cookies and pies have splashed over into foods usually consumed at breakfast— cereals, cereal bars and energy bars. Milk chocolate is one of the top flavors in the category, along with cookie and brownie flavors.[1] Energy bars are nutritious snack bars with nutritional ingredients that boost energy and endurance. Energy bars made with soy protein come in a variety of flavors. Chocolate cupcake and chocolate chip cookie dough are among flavors sold in the U.S. In the UK, choices include birthday cake and s’mores flavors. These inspirations are hardly surprising. For sweet baked goods, 67% of consumers cite flavor as a key attribute.[2]

Plant-Based Yogurt Evolves

In part, the yogurt market is driven by health, with attributes that include digestive benefits, probiotics, and immune health.[1] Flavor choices represent an opportunity for innovative yogurt products in the nondairy category. Improved texture and new flavor combinations have inspired global launches of dessert-style plant-based yogurt products and even vegetable-flavored yogurts.[1] Recent examples include peach-mango flavored soy yogurt.

Protein Flavors Find Favor with Consumers

Plant proteins are evolving along with global food trends. In the U.S., 49% of consumers say flavor is a key attribute when purchasing proteins. Also, 57% seek unique marinade flavors or crunchy textures that make everyday proteins more exciting. Emerging flavors tend to reflect regional or global influences that add authenticity.[1]

Soy foods keep pace with current demands. The tofu industry, for example, addresses flavor trends with products like yuzu tofu, smoked tofu and ginger sesame tofu. Tempeh innovations combine flavor, format and texture. Marinated tempeh cubes are available in world cuisine flavors—tikka masala, Southwestern, curry and teriyaki, to name a few. Tempeh strips come in smoky or Buffalo sauce-flavored varieties.

This article was partially funded by U.S. Soy farmers, their checkoff and the soy value chain.