As a busy executive and mom, Clara Paye, chief executive officer of UNiTE Food, Yorba Linda, Calif., relied on protein bars to get her through the day. However, she noticed most protein bars only offered such basic flavors as chocolate, peanut butter and vanilla.

“That’s when I had a realization, wellness shouldn’t be exclusive,” Ms. Paye said. “Everyone should be invited to the table, no matter their background or culture. That’s why UNiTE Food Bars was created with a mission to offer unique and inclusive flavors that celebrate different cultures and cuisine.

The line includes baklava, bubble tea, churro, Mexican hot chocolate, and peanut butter and jelly. The bars contain, on average, 10 grams of protein from nuts, seeds and whey. The churro variety includes a blend of cinnamon and sugar, reminiscent of the fried dough dessert from Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. Churro was also one of the most popular flavors at the 2023 Sweets and Snacks Expo held May 22-25 in Chicago.

Global flavors appeal to what Toya Mitchell, cultural and inclusive insights manager, Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., refers to as “flavor chasers.” The majority of flavor chasers are multicultural and part of the Gen Z demographic.

Diversification of flavors — including global flavors — also provides enticement for snacking during different times throughout the day, said Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader, Circana, Chicago. Circana’s 2023 Snacking survey revealed that 49% of consumers snack more than three times a day. Younger consumers, many of whom are multicultural, are driving the increase in snacking, with many opting to snack rather than eat a meal.

Morning snack flavors — and products — are not the same as ones craved before bed. Caffeine-centric flavors, for example, provide a jolt of energy on the drive to work. Nostalgic, and comforting snack flavors, help with relaxing in the evening.

Ms. Mitchell, along with Chelsea Jenkins, director of cultural and inclusive marketing at Kellogg, discussed how to market to a multicultural (Asian, Black and Hispanic) America. Providing bold, spicy and global flavors is key to this growing demographic. But understanding the challenges and hurdles during different times of day must also be factored into innovation.

“Chaos in the morning looks very different in a Hispanic household than it does in a Black household,” Ms. Jenkins said. “Products need to be developed for the community, by the community.   

“By 2040, half of the US will be multicultural. If the US multicultural market were a country, it would be the fourth largest economy with a combined purchasing power of $4 trillion, equivalent to Japan’s.”

It’s no wonder why companies such as UNiTE Food are being creative with internationally inspired flavors. The products invite consumers to try a familiar food in an adventurous flavor, said Ms. Paye, who said the company is always crowdsourcing new ideas and welcoming input from the community to create even more diverse options.

That is something The Hershey Co., Hershey, Pa., is doing with this summer’s limited-edition Churro Kit Kat bar. The treat features churro-flavored creme with sugar mixed between the brand’s wafer cookies. The new product will be on shelves nationwide in early June.

General Mills, Minneapolis, offers a churro variety in its new Old El Paso Fiesta Twists line, a sweet spin to airy, crunchy corn puffs that typically come in savory flavors. The other two varieties are ranch and queso. Goya Foods Inc., Angola, NY, has partnered with Hippeas, New York, to introduce chickpea puffs in churro, elote (Mexican street corn) and chile limon varieties. The latter is part of the “swicy” trend that also is showing up in all food and even some beverage.

Swicy is a combination of sweet and spicy, also known as sweet heat. Flavor varieties may include hot honey and chiles with citrus. Its origins are in Korean cuisine, which has been growing in popularity the past few years and is fueling flavor innovation in both the salty snack and candy aisles. Many new entries were named winners at this year’s Sweets and Snacks Expo.

Mexican Hot Cocoa Bites from Kopper’s Chocolate, Cranford, NJ, was recognized as the most innovative chocolate product for 2023. The products are sweet chunks of marshmallow dough smothered in dark chocolate infused with chili, then dusted with cinnamon and sugar.

Henrietta Said Ancho Kimchi Flavored Peanuts from Truly Good Foods, Charlotte, NC, was deemed the best savory snack. The line also includes Buffalo, lemon pepper and Nashville hot chicken with pickle flavors.

“Henrietta Said is a nod to our Southern heritage and the fact that we’re proudly women owned,” said Lisa Smith, director of marketing. “And the ‘hen’ in Henrietta is a subtle allusion to our chicken wing flavors.

“The brand was created from the concept of a vegan chicken wing and the desire to take a familiar ingredient everyone loves — peanuts — and experiment with unique and exciting flavors,” Ms. Smith said. “Taking global flavors like kimchi and making them more approachable on a peanut is our recipe for success. Our innovation pipeline for future flavors is smoking hot.”

Bringing new life to old brands

Co-branding and licensing are trending in the flavor innovation space, said Ms. Lyons Wyatt. It helps keep iconic brands relevant by showing that the company is paying attention to the current trends.

PepsiCo, Purchase, NY, partnered with Jack Link’s Protein Snacks, Minong, Wis., to introduce Jack Link’s Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili Flavored Beef Jerky. The product received top honors in the meat snack category during the Sweets and Snacks Expo.

Utz Brands Inc., Hanover, Pa., and Mike’s Hot Honey, Brooklyn, NY, are offering limited-edition co-branded potato chips this summer. Utz Original potato chips are covered with a powdered version of Mike’s Hot Honey flavor for a sweet, salty crunch that finishes with a kick of heat.

Staying relevant also may be achieved through some out-of-the-box thinking. Or for Nustef Baking Ltd., Mississauga, Ont., it’s by adding trendy flavors to the traditional Italian pizzelle cookie.

Nustef Baking’s pizzelles start with waffle batter that is baked until golden brown in a hot cast-iron griddle. That’s when it gets fun, said Steven Grossman, CEO.

The company is introducing single-serve packets of Reko pizzelles in a vanilla flavor, along with cinnamon and dulce de leche. There’s also new Tea Fusions Waffle Cookies in black tea current, chai apple, earl grey passionfruit and white tea peach flavors.

The company is riding the coattails of the popularity of stroopwafels, which are thin, round waffle cookies made from two layers of sweet baked dough held together by caramel filling. Marketers have developed many variations of the traditional Dutch treat. GU Energy Labs, Berkeley, Calif., for example, offers Energy Stroopwafel as a pre-workout or during-activity snack. Flavors include caramel coffee, coconut, hot chocolate, gingerade and s’mores.

Crunchies and chewies

Two of the most innovative snack categories are tortilla chips and non-chocolate candy. Marketers are pushing the limits to appeal to flavor chasers.

Tortilla innovations are as much about topical flavors as they are about the base chip. While corn remains the most popular, legumes are gaining traction. They add a healthy halo to the segment with protein content claims along with other buzzwords such as grain free, keto and low carbohydrate.

Snack Innovations, Piscataway, NJ, now offers Natural Endurance plant-based protein tortilla chips made with peas, soy and lentils, as well as avocado oil. The popped chips come in sweet and savory flavors, including sweet chili and birthday cake, another flavor that is appearing in unlikely places like coated pretzels, protein bars and rice cakes.

Iya Foods LLC, Naperville, Ill., has a new grain-free snack line described as “a chip in a cracker.” Chipers come in fiery red chili, four cheese Tigernut, honey kombucha, original sea salt and sweet moringa Parmesan.

Swicy may be leading the Asian flavor trend, but boba tea and mochi are gaining traction. The newest jelly bean collection from the Jelly Belly Candy Co., Fairfield, Calif., was inspired by boba milk tea, a popular cold beverage among Gen Z made with brewed tea, milk and tapioca pearls. Jelly Belly’s take on it comes in five milk tea flavors: mango, matcha, strawberry, taro and Thai.

Cal Marketing, Lincolnton, NC, formulated mochi soft candies in boba tea milk flavors, such as brown sugar, black sesame, crème brulee, durian, red bean and matcha. Each mochi has a boba pearl center. Taiwan Smile Food Co. imports Pop Smile popcorn into the States. Its latest flavor innovation is brown sugar with milk tea flavor.

The products complement the non-chocolate candy craze, which is dominated by gummies. And it should be no surprise that Gen Z, which grew up eating fruit snacks and other non-chocolate chewies, is fueling flavor innovation.

While classic fruity flavors still control about half of the category, younger shoppers gravitate toward unique flavors, said Anne Marie Roerink, principal, 210 Analytics, San Antonio.

Chomis Gomis, Sylmar, Calif., now offers a line of chamoy (pickled fruit) gummies that combine the heat of chiles with the sweetness of fruit. Varieties include mango, pineapple, strawberry, watermelon and an extreme hot watermelon. Century Snacks, Commerce, Calif., is introducing Snak Club Tajin Gummy Bears. The product comes in apple, lemon, orange, pineapple and strawberry flavors, all sprinkled with Tajin brand chili and lime seasoning.

While trendy flavors are booming in gummies, some are showing up in chocolate, often with an additional spin or two. Niagara Chocolate Co., Niagara Falls, NY, developed the Crafters Café line described as it “fills your mug with perfectly roasted, blended and brewed indulgence.” Varieties include churro and hot chocolate clusters, jasmine vanilla matcha cups and vanilla sweet cream cold brew cups.

Mars Wrigley, Chicago, has added M&M’s Caramel Cold Brew to its lineup. The company cites Nielsen data showing cold brew is Gen Z’s most purchased coffee drink.

Cold brew, coffee and tea ingredients are being formulated into all types of snacks, often promoting the caffeine content and playing into the energy trend. ONE Brands, Charlotte, NC, developed ONE Coffee Shop Bars, which are formulated with 20 grams of protein, an espresso-size shot of caffeine and 1 gram of sugar. Flavors include caramel macchiato and vanilla latte.

Predicting snack flavor trends

What’s next in flavor innovations for snacks? Kerry, Beloit, Wis., recently published its 2023 Taste Charts that show consumers continuing to seek new combinations of traditional tastes. Younger consumers are seeking unconventional mashups they grew up with in combination with emerging flavors from other regions. The research also showed global authentic flavors and ingredients, like Mexican and Asian flavors, will continue to trend. Key flavors include churro, dulce de leche, turmeric and Korean BBQ. On the fruit side, guava is gaining traction.

“The taste of guava, or guayaba as we call it, brings me back to my childhood in South America, where guava is used extensively in beverages, sweets, ice cream and pastries,” said Patricio Lozano, director of taste creation for Kerry North America. “As a flavorist, recreating the taste experience of guava is about balancing the fruity, fleshy, pear-like and floral components with some sulfur and sweet and creamy notes.”

Isabelle Lesschaeve, global head of sensory science for Kerry, said, “I think the appeal of dulce de leche comes from its duality of being novel and exotic by its name while being familiar and comforting by its taste. I’ve begun to see it in yogurts and ice creams and sweets, but as it gains recognition it will be interesting to see how else it is used.”

Bell Flavors & Fragrances Inc., Northbrook, Ill., shared some flavor projections during a presentation at the Sweets and Snacks Expo. The company uses the Bell Spark platform to track global macro trends, which are curated into microtrends that help the company identify up-and-coming flavor profiles.

Prototypes sampled at the event included a dark chocolate Himalayan five-spice cluster, which was a crunchy, dark chocolate bark — with an element of heat — containing quinoa crisps, almonds and pistachios. There was a savory snack mix featuring Lambic and honey flavors, and two adaptogen gummies — kiwi twist and blackberry lavender — containing lion’s mane, reishi and chaga mushroom powders for functional benefits.