KANSAS CITY, MO — So far, 2022 has bestowed polarizing politics, post-pandemic alterations, skyrocketing inflation rates, supply chain disruption and a war with a ripple effect on virtually every business sector. It’s a difficult time for consumers to settle into a routine in this undulating climate, and it’s even harder for brands to understand — let alone predict — buying behavior as they estimate costs and potential innovation during a time of unprecedented social, political and economic change.

People have turned to food as an outlet.

It serves as a source of comfort, a medium for exploration and a means for change. They’ve looked outward in their search for new and exotic flavors as they seek out lesser-known international cuisines.

But they have also looked inward as they uncover how their food choices impact their health — mental and physical. This is an exciting time for flavor innovation as consumers seek to discover all they can about food, demanding authenticity through nuanced, unique flavors.

Before one can interpret and identify flavor trends, it is essential to understand modern consumer behavior. Why are consumers becoming more adventurous? What is behind health-conscious buying habits? And how are cost and supply chain issues influencing these behaviors?

One dominant behavior is health-conscious consumption and a trend toward healthy lifestyles. However, the focus is not on diet trends. In fact, only one in four American adults claim to be on a diet, as reported by The NPD Group, a global market ­information company.


“Consumers are putting a greater emphasis on a holistic approach to food and using it as a way to express themselves,” said Kathy Sheehan, SVP of trend research firm Cassandra. The focus is not only on what’s good for their physical health but also what’s good for their mental health … with an added benefit if it’s healthy for the planet, too.

Since the start of the pandemic, consumers gravitated toward indulgent foods as a form of comfort. But stress-driven comfort food purchases are not likely to sustain the same growth seen during the pandemic, as Mintel reported that 53% of consumers would like to take better care of their health moving forward.

A Dawn Foods 2021 Flavor Trends report found that in this post-pandemic world, “consumers are seeking out food and beverages that deliver both great taste and functional ingredients aimed at helping their overall health.”

And within the sweet baked goods sector, T. Hasegawa’s Food and Beverage Flavor Trends report found that 39% of consumers are motivated to buy because of healthier ingredients.

According to a Mintel study from 2021, nearly three in five (58%) moms — often known as the purchasing decision-makers — are seeking more snacks with functional benefits.

How does this impact flavor profile? Within the dessert and confection category, consumers want to see more naturally sweetened products with ingredients like real fruit, honey and agave. Additionally, consumer interest in baked desserts with lighter textures such as whipped and airy desserts vastly outweigh dense, thick-textured indulgences, indicating a trend away from the previously popular indulgent treat market. Seasonal fruit flavors and lighter citrus notes are also very popular.

Some examples of naturally sweetened, better-for-you baked goods on the market include Lenny & Larry’s Strawberry Shortcake Cookie, a vegan cookie packed with protein, fiber, non-GMO ingredients and natural sweeteners. This was quickly followed by the launch of Tastykake’s Banana Pudding Creme Glazed Pie, which takes a fruit-forward approach that merges classic flavors with banana and citrus.

“What our consumers appreciate is a more nuanced flavor. Not an overwhelming single flavor, but something that can pair well with other food.” — Karen Getz | founder and president | Maine Crisp


The pandemic caused many people to incorporate immunity-boosting nutrients into their daily intake. According to another Dawn Foods report, six out of 10 consumers are increasingly looking for foods to support their immune health. Ingredients like turmeric, citrus fruits and probiotics have been welcome additions to product profiles, lending dynamic flavor and nutritional benefits to baked goods.

This trend is taking form in products like Lenny & Larry’s The BOSS! Immunity Bar, full of plant protein and probiotics, as well as Smart Baking Company’s Smartcake, which has been recently reformulated to include 100% of the daily recommended vitamin C intake.

Consumers are seeking out tastes that intermingle sweet with unexpected flavors. McCormick’s latest Flavor Forecast predicts that as more consumers move away from overly sweet indulgences, experimentation will reshape the notion. People want a balance with savory, smokey and spicy that yields unique, innovative complexities within the baked goods market.

Karen Getz, founder and president of New England-based specialty cracker company Maine Crisp, described her success in layering sweet and savory.

“What our consumers appreciate is a more nuanced flavor,” she said. “Not an overwhelming single flavor, but something that can pair well with other food.” Maine Crisp’s most recent variety, Savory Fig and Thyme, was a result of customer demand for savory, dairy-free crisps. Today, it’s the company’s most popular flavor.


Unfamiliarity can be a barrier to new flavors, though. A study from T. Hasegawa noted that 45% of consumers will be more likely to try a new cuisine if it is similar to one, they’re familiar with. One way to encourage new flavor exploration is to present them through a recognizable medium. For example, healthier versions of chips are becoming increasingly popular, with variations such as Sea Salt & Lime Chickpea Tortilla Chips by Hippeas and Cassava Chips by Turbana.

This “familiar foods with a twist” trend saw dramatic growth at the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City, which highlighted tens of thousands of specialty food and beverage products.

This story has been adapted from the August | Q3 2022 issue of Commercial Baking. Read the full story in the digital edition here.