Blurring the sweet-savoury flavour boundaries

Recent snack innovation is blurring the boundaries of sweet and savoury, as dessert-inspired potato chips and spicy nutrition bars debut from the market’s top players in the US.

Frito-Lay in February, for example, introduced Cheetos Sweetos, a cinnamon-sugar dusted puff snack, as the brand’s first sweet variety in its 67-year history. The limited-edition offering follows last year’s launches of Lay’s cappuccino potato chips, and milk chocolate flavoured Pringles from the Kellogg. (The variety was part of a seasonal lineup that also included cinnamon sugar tortilla chips, as well as potato chips in cinnamon sugar, pecan pie and white chocolate flavours.) And a limited-edition lineup of Thanksgiving-themed kettle-cooked potato chips from Boulder Canyon last year included a pumpkin pie variety.
On the flip side, manufacturers of traditionally sugared snacks, such as yoghurt and nutrition bars, are developing savoury additions. Clif Bar & Co in February announced the launch of Clif Organic Energy Food sports performance gels, featuring pizza margherita and sweet potato and sea salt flavours — a strategic departure from the category’s typical fruit or chocolate mainstays.

The company said its sponsored athletes have reported that savoury flavours help satisfy cravings for salty comfort foods and real food textures in a portable format.

These category-crossover products have been a long time coming, said Eric Huang, the food blogger behind and a co-host of “The Nosh Show” podcast.

“With more and more entrepreneurism occurring in the food industry, larger companies are starting to take notice of the bold, experimental choices smaller companies are willing to explore, and they want a piece of that pie, too,” Huang told Food Business News.

For example, Blue Hill Yogurt, a New York startup, debuted a range of savoury yoghurts, featuring carrot, sweet potato, beet, butternut squash, tomato and parsnip varieties at the end of 2013. Distribution for the products has steadily grown as the unconventional concept catches on.

In the energy bar category, Kind Healthy Snacks last year rolled out Strong and Kind, a line of protein bars in such flavours as hickory smoked, roasted jalapeño, honey smoked barbecue, Thai sweet chili and honey mustard. Mediterra, maker of such savoury energy bars as sundried tomato and basil and black olives and walnuts recently gained distribution in select Target stores.

“As consumers across the board become more educated about the mixtures of sweet and salty, sweet and savoury, they’re going to be more willing to try crossover products like these,” Huang said. “It makes sense that a food company would want to get out ahead of the curve.”
These non-traditional newcomers may expand a brand’s day parts, too. Take the new cinnamon sugar pretzel sticks from Snyder’s of Hanover, for example. The variety, along with new raspberry crème-filled pretzel sandwiches from Snyder’s-Lance, extend the product line’s reach into morning and dessert occasions.

Similarly, Mars in January added two sweet varieties to its conventionally salty Combos product line with the introduction of vanilla frosting- and caramel crème-filled pretzels. The company said the products were developed to lure new consumers to the brand.

“The millennials, whom I think of as the target audience for these new pairings, are an adventurous group,” said Julie Clarkson, senior research chef from the savoury flavours division at Sensient flavours. “So taking it to the next step is right on track with their lifestyles. From an acceptability/flavour point of view it makes sense; the concept of sweet and savoury complement each other very well, so with the right pairings come great tastes.”

The fusion of sweet in a savoury item or savoury in a sweet item is a natural progression, she added. Chicken and waffles and salted caramel are flavour pairings that have recently gone mainstream, setting the stage for more sweet, salty and spicy combinations from large and small players alike.

“As more and more large companies like Frito-Lay and Nabisco start introducing more crossover products to consumers, they’ll have a heightened awareness and will be willing to try even more experimental flavours in the future, whether it is from the large companies or not,” Huang said.

But not all food categories lend themselves to a crossover….. Read the full article