Pretty and powerful: Firmenich tips hibiscus as 2019’s “flavor of the year”


18 Dec 2018 --- Firmenich has tipped hibiscus as its “flavor of the year” for 2019 based on the growing appeal of florals and botanicals in food and beverages and the trend towards consumer curiosity in consumption. According to data from Innova Market Insights, there has been a 50 percent average annual growth of new product launches tracked with hibiscus flavor (Global, CAGR 2014-2018 YTD).

Hibiscus is a beautiful and tasty choice for 2019, according to Emmanuel Butstraen, President of Flavors at Firmenich. “It’s natural, floral and slightly tangy; and we know our customers will be delighted by this choice for the new year.” 

“This marks the seventh edition of our ‘flavor of the year’ tradition, eagerly awaited by our customers to inspire them in developing products consumers will love,” he adds.   

Click to EnlargePopular categories where hibiscus is often listed as an ingredient are tea, iced tea, drink concentrates and mixes, as well as juice and juice drinks.Hibiscus flavors are growing across many applications and this is evidenced in recent NPD. Data from Innova Market Insights highlights that hibiscus flavors are mainly applied in beverages. Popular categories where hibiscus is often listed as an ingredient are tea, iced tea, drink concentrates and mixes, as well as juice and juice drinks. In tea applications, there has been 55 percent growth in NPD (Global, CAGR 2014-2018 YTD) and in ice tea applications there has been 62 percent growth in NPD (Global, CAGR 2014-2018 YTD). 

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Mikel Cirkus, Global Director of Strategic Foresight, at Firmenich, says: “As consumers search for healthier and cleaner ingredients, utilizing botanicals creates a direct call back to nature. The vivacious, intriguing flavor of hibiscus calls to the consumer in a way that is both familiar and exotic all at once. The increase in botanicals, as seen around the world, has elevated hibiscus as a flavor.”

“While hibiscus works well across all applications, the categories in which the Firmenich marketing and insights teams saw the most hibiscus in 2018 were mixology and desserts. We also believe that hibiscus will continue its impact in related food and beverages, including hot and RTD teas,” he explains. 

“In the last year, Firmenich has been a part of the development of numerous successful, natural, hibiscus flavored product launches, in particular throughout the Latin American region.”

“Hibiscus is an animated flavor that plays well with all types of taste profiles. Some options include pineapple, chocolate, raspberry, caramel, apple and guava,” Cirkus adds. 

Pretty and powerful  
Hibiscus flowers are visually very beautiful and their “Instagrammable” nature has helped propel them onto the main stage along with their floral friends including lavender, elderflower, rose and violet, reports Firmenich. 

But hibiscus is more than just a beautiful flower. As with many popular flavors and ingredients today, hibiscus is touted as having numerous health benefits and has been used as a medicinal ingredient for centuries. Egyptians used hibiscus tea to lower body temperature and treat heart and nerve diseases. In African cultures, hibiscus tea was historically used to treat cold symptoms. In addition, pulp was made from the leaves and applied to the skin to heal wounds. Recent studies have also revealed great promise for both the tea and the hibiscus plant extract to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  

Click to EnlargeHibiscus flavors are growing across many applications and this is evidenced in recent NPD. Direct health benefits of a particular ingredient, as well as the overall trend toward healthier consumption habits, are also playing a role in the rise of hibiscus, according to Jeff Schmoyer, Vice President of Global Consumer Insights at Firmenich.

Schmoyer believes consumer desire for reduced sugar is also a factor. “A correlation we are making to explain the rise in hibiscus is between consumer awareness of sugar content – in particular in their beverages – and their desire to replace sweetness with other flavors that help deliver sensorial impact and provide interesting and novel taste experiences,” he explains. 

“Flavored water has become more mainstream, with traditional flavors such as lemon, lime and berry leading the way,” he continues. “But now, as people continue to demand healthier beverages, we expect more niche flavors, such as hibiscus that have historical and cultural associations with health, to also rise,” he comments.    

Beyond infusions   
To date, the most popular use of hibiscus has been as an infusion in beverages. However, according to Firmenich, the appeal is much broader. 

“Hibiscus is more than just a flower extract. It does have a strong floral aroma, with a woody-astringent character, but at the same time there is a subtle and delicate fruity undertone, even a hint of green, like freshly cut mint leaves,” notes Fausto Carriles, Senior Firmenich Flavorist in Latin America. 

“It is very versatile for beverages: it can be consumed cold in summer and also can be a great flavor modifier for winter hot fruit punches. Hibiscus is used all around the world in many cultures, from the simple street beverages up to sophisticated culinary sauces.”  

In Mexican cuisine, hibiscus has been used in savory applications for years, with many traditional ceviche recipes calling for the botanical ingredient. Firmenich trend experts found other menu items with hibiscus including enchiladas and dried hibiscus garlic chips. The company is confident that with its sharp and warm nature, product development chefs all over the world will soon be embracing hibiscus in their savory creations, reports the flavors company. 

Consumers continue to be curiou
Consumers continue to seek out new and authentic experiences in this fast-moving digital world. Last month, Innova Market Insights revealed its trends for the coming year, with “Discovery: The Adventurous Consumer” leading its list of the Top Ten Trends for 2019

Hibiscus meets the need for consumers’ desire to be connected with new unique experiences, yet not straying too far from their comfort zones. Hibiscus is unusual yet approachable; it is vibrant, yet mellow, cool but not elusive, notes Firmenich.

Linda Lakind, Marketing Director at Firmenich, also tells FoodIngredientsFirst: “What consumers are in search of today is experience-based eating and drinking. The bright color and flavor of hibiscus inherently imbues products with a lively zing that energizes and wows as an ingredient.” Click to Enlarge

“Gen Z and Millennials have proven to be the leading generations in acceptance of global cuisine flavors, such as hibiscus,” she adds. 

The trend of enabling connectivity is also seen in global color company Pantone’s selection for the Color of the Year for 2019: Living Coral, which, according to Pantone: embraces us with warmth and nourishment to provide comfort and buoyancy in our continually shifting environment. 

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Christian Benetka-Uher from natural ingredients supplier Döhler, says: “Consumers are increasingly looking for more natural beverages and food. This trend towards more naturalness is also reflected in the colours. More natural-looking products, for example, use gentle colour nuances in different opacities.” 

“We see a lot of mirroring this year between Pantone’s Color of the Year and our Flavor of the Year,” notes Cirkus.“This speaks to the increasing interconnectedness of our worlds, and the blurring of boundaries is demarcating where trends actually begin.”  

According to Firmenich, taste patterns are becoming ever-more important predictors of larger societal trends. Food is such a significant part our lives, and in today’s world, the choices are endless.

“It makes sense that what consumers gravitate towards is a reflection of the world around them, so here is to a beautiful and delicious 2019,” Cirkus concludes. 

By Elizabeth Green

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