WGSN | Intelligence: Flavour Futures
The consumer driver around flavour has escalated following a period of lockdown, a heightened awareness of our senses and an increased understanding of wellness. We highlight the innovators and disruptors pushing the boundaries, and the next generation of flavours to impact product development
Jennifer Creevy
04.26.21 · 6 minutes
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Alchemist
Executive summary

With the pandemic stifling new experiences for many across the globe, the rise of the Sensory Seekers will force new flavour explosions. Innovators are gearing up to deliver flavour sensations to thrill and delight.

Flavour, combining taste (including texture) and smell, is the essence of any product. While taste discerns between sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami, smell delivers the melody and the subtleties. Flavour is the overall experience and as consumers seek out new experiences, we highlight the innovations set to change the future of flavour:

  • Chef creations: pushing the boundaries of flavour, chefs are using new techniques to stretch their skills
  • Drinks makers experimenting: disrupting age-old processes and techniques is delivering thrilling flavour results
  • Agricultural flavour preservation: innovators are exploring, researching and preserving some of our forgotten species
  • Tech advances: AI is powering flavour combinations and helping to create new flavours
  • Scientific breakthroughs: molecular processes, gene editing and cultured fats are all delivering flavour boosts
  • Digital and gaming developments: from gaming opportunities to the Internet of Senses, flavour is key
  • A space terroir: as investment piles into space advancements, a new space terroir is emerging to rival Earth's menus
  • Next-gen multisensory dining: enhanced eating both at home and out of home is emerging to wow diners
Orbital Assembly

California-based Orbital Assembly has said the first-ever space hotel, Voyager Station, will open for guests in 2027. Its restaurant is poised to deliver classics such as freeze-dried ice cream and Tang, and will "rival the best venues on Earth"

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Analysis

Flavour, the finely harmonised duet of taste and smell, has never been more important. With awareness around Covid-19 sensory loss propelling taste and smell into the consumer psyche, alongside chefs and makers expanding their research, the next generation of flavours are being born.

While flavour has always been centre stage for chefs and makers – according to IHT, global sales of flavours top $40bn annually – it has escalated as a consumer need as new experiences have been dampened by lockdown. The rise of Sensory Seekers will see a cohort seeking out new flavour experiences. Additionally, Covid-19 sensory loss has made all consumers more appreciative of flavour, even inspiring a new cookbook for parosmia sufferers.

This enhanced consumer driver is backed up by American science and food expert, Harold McGee, in his new book, Nose Dive. He focuses on how scents such as cooking, smoking or fermenting enrich the osmocosm and deepen our gustatory pleasures.

Flavour is also a key factor in wellness, tapping into the rise of Rooted Transcendents. English Professor Charles Spence, an expert in multisensory perception, argues in his new book, Sensehacking, that people who lose their sense of smell often report a profound decline in wellbeing compared to those that lose their sight, as while you can still imagine things if you lose your sight, there is nothing left to replace a loss of smell.

What does this mean for you?

Chefs, makers and innovators are racing ahead on the future of flavour. Tapping into these areas will set you up for the next few years on flavour inspiration.
Sugar and Space

India-based Sugar & Space created an at-home kit of its experiential dining concept, Eat Mondrian. Using the Dutch artist's philosophy of colour, composition and contrast as a foundation, the experience uses flavour to play with our preconceptions of colour and food

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“It is only by recognising the unique capacities of each and every one of our senses, and by acknowledging the predictable ways in which they interact to guide our feelings and behaviours, that we can hope to hack our own sensory experience most effectively. By so doing, we can all start to improve the quality of life of those we care about, starting with ourselves”

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Drinks makers experimenting

Drinks makers are reinventing age-old processes and techniques, partly for environmental reasons, but also to create new flavours for beverages such as wines, spirits and coffee.

The wine industry is seeing a flurry of creativity, such as underwater and coastal ageing. In Argentina, winery Wapisa has just brought up bottles of Malbec that were submerged for nine months. When compared to those aged in a cellar, the flavours were said to be rounder, more elegant and with fresher fruit. Also in Argentina, Bahia Bustamante Lodge's first micro-vinification, having buried grapes on the beach, resulted in wine with characters of salt and algae.

Spirit-making techniques are also being challenged. Alongside molecular techniques, experimental makers such as Empirical Spirits (Denmark) are also introducing new global ingredients such as herbs from Zimbabwe or pushing fermenting techniques even further.

Coffee disruptors are also altering and unlocking new flavours by intervening at various stages in the life of the coffee bean, including plant level or when the coffee cherry is ready to be pulped, or at the drying and roasting stages. In India, Maverick & Farmer imparted a smoky flavour into its coffee by smoking the beans with fruit trees in a room for 13-14 hours, while Dope Coffee Roasters uses whisky barrels to imbibe flavours such as oak, caramel and vanilla.

How you can action this: link up with disruptive makers to deliver products with distinct, delicious and unusual flavours, and strong sustainability links. Trial products in convenient formats for early adopters and include clear narration about flavour origins.

@bodegatapiz

Wapisa’s Coastal Terroir project has seen it submerge a second lot of bottles in February 2021. The bottles are in newly improved cages that will allow sea water to circulate through them. When retrieved, Wapisa will encourage consumers to taste the difference

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Digital and gaming developments

The blurring of digital and physical is already in play, and new sensory experiences are being created. Innovation will advance further with the emergence of digital flavours and being able 'to taste' our screens.

Gaming and the rise of the metaverse presents huge opportunities for brands. Early adopter Riot Games tested the blurring of physical and digital by creating a real-life version of its League of Legends in-game fruit, the Honeyfruit, to promote the mobile version in Thailand.

Further ahead, Ericsson Consumer Lab is predicting the emergence of the Internet of Senses, whereby digital and games go beyond sight and sound and incorporate all our senses. With the rise of XR and maturing of 5G, Ericsson sees tech advances and consumer demand creating a world where you can taste digital food, enabling us to eat healthily, but taste anything we like. In an early adopter survey, Ericsson found 44% expected the Internet of Senses to be possible by 2030, a further 44% expected to be able to taste memories such as food from parties or holidays, and four in 10 thought online shopping would be revolutionised as we gain the ability to digitally taste samples.

Taking a step towards the Internet of Senses is Japanese scientist Homei Miyashita. His Taste Display invention, which can be worn as part of a VR system, comprises five different gels relating to the five tastes, each containing an electrolyte solution that causes the tongue to serve as one of the flavours, delivering any taste. Other creations he is working on include a lickable mobile phone screen.

How you can action this: the gaming world can provide huge inspiration for new products as well as just for marketing purposes. Use digital as a discovery tool for new products IRL.

Ericsson Consumer Lab

Ericsson Consumer Lab says the Internet of Senses could be a reality by 2030. Its early adopter consumer panel believes we’ll be able to digitally visit places such as forests and smell the trees, and devices for your mouth will enable you to taste any food you like

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