“What’s classic is new again,” said Emmanuel Butstraen, president of Firmenich Flavors.
“With blueberry we celebrate a flavor that is timeless and enduring, but also increasingly relevant. Blueberry has been a beloved flavor for centuries in many markets and today, with our increasing focus on health and wellness, blueberries are being rediscovered and growing to be one of the most relevant flavors in many categories.”
As superfood fads come and go, blueberries have held their spot as an antioxidant powerhouse in consumers' eyes. According to a recent Firmenich social media study of online discussions of superfoods, berries were the #1 food mentioned, and blueberry was the #1 berry mentioned.
Blueberries have strong ties to happiness for consumers
Consumers are also taking a renewed interest in blueberries due to their familiarity with the fruit as well as its flavor and nutrient profile. This signals a larger trend of comfort-seeking taking place in the food and beverage industry, noted Firmenich.
“This choice of a more traditional flavor as our ‘flavor of the year’ actually represents a more significant shift in the food industry toward more intentional and emotional design,” said Jeffrey Schmoyer, VP global insights for Firmenich.
“Consumers are more inclined to try something unfamiliar to them, such as kombucha or a cashew yogurt, if it’s flavored in a way they can connect with on an emotional level. We see blueberry playing a bigger role in the coming years in helping product developers introduce new food concepts around the world.”
“As consumers are being introduced to an expanded offering of choices, more traditional flavors like blueberry are being used to help them experience these new food trends, as they evoke positive feelings at a time in history when we crave optimism,” said Mikel Cirkus, global creative director foresight & trends for Firmenich.
In a recent survey across 16 countries conducted with nearly 5,000 consumers, Firmenich found that the top emotion associated with blueberry was happiness, followed by a sense of comfort.
'Classic blueberry' falls in line with Pantone's Color of the Year for 2020: 'Classic blue', which Pantone says will rise in popularity next year because it's long been seen as "solid and dependable."
Blueberry enters the savory spotlight
As a flavor used in new product development, blueberry has seen 101% growth over the past 10 years globally, according to Mintel. Blueberry has seen growth in nearly all of the food and beverage categories tracked by Mintel, with particularly strong 10-year growth in baby foods (700%), snacks (255%), special drinks (224%), breakfast cereals (145%), dairy (143%), sports & energy drinks (127%), and alcoholic drinks (100%).
"In the culinary world, long gone are the days when berries were relegated to supporting roles in salads or dressings," said Firmenich. Today, blueberries can be found in a variety of savory items, including pizzas, grain bowls, and meat dishes.
Outside of its popularity as a fresh, standalone snack, blueberries have vast applications as a food and beverage ingredient, pairing easily with other flavors while also standing on its own as a single ingredient, according to Firmenich.
“Classic blueberry is a fantastic flavor to work with because it’s robust and multi-faceted,” said Eric Tang, a flavorist at Firmenich. “Blueberry has stand out floral notes and distinct tanginess, with fresh green and sweet elements woven in. Besides the classic pairings you find with blueberry, I’m also drawn to pairing it with less obvious matches, such as black tea or habanero.”
"Blueberries can even be used in noodles as a good source of vitamin C and for color,” added Oana Ocico, VP of Firmenich’s global savory business.
Enduring appeal of blueberry
At the same time, production of blueberries in the US has increased fivefold since 2007, according to USDA UN FAO data. In a recent report, Rabobank named blueberries one of the most dynamic fruits in terms of consumption growth with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 12%.
"Trend forecasting is often associated with discovering what is on the fringes; shedding light on ideas that have yet to be incorporated into the mainstream. Yet as a new decade begins, and after years of the food and beverage industry being fascinated by what is 'the next thing', Firmenich is comfortable placing its bets on something that has been here all along, which is a novel idea indeed," the company added.