A recent Wall Street Journal article, “A Taste for Hotter, Mintier, Fruitier” points to a growing trend among American consumers. Food companies that are looking for ways to appeal to changing consumer tastes have hit on a winning idea: bolder, more intense flavor profiles. They’re going into the lab to develop for increasingly sophisticated tastes—literally and figuratively speaking.

The goal is the  Japanese concept of “umami”—not only flavor, but an “explosion of flavor” that leads to a much deeper, more memorable experience.

Americans have been more experimental food-wise, craving more boldness and much less blandness. An influx of ethnically diverse people, international cuisines and The Food Network, and other influences, continue to expose consumers to exciting new options—and they’re eating it up. Pun intended.

A few examples:
• Frito-Lay’s new Doritos chips flavors (First, Second and Third-Degree Burn) offer jalapeño, buffalo and habanero flavors.
• McCormick & Co. offers more exotic spices  now, such as dried lemongrass, roasted garlic, smoked paprika and sea salt. The company says that Americans now keep 40 spices on hand on average. Asian and Caribbean spices, blends and marinades are now available in every supermarket.
• Wrigley, long known for its staid Doublemint, Spearmint and Juicy Fruit gum, has been introducing a dozen new flavors per year. The fall of 2010 will see the launch of Extra gum in dessert flavors like key lime pie and strawberry shortcake.
• Dr Pepper Snapple has added Latin-inspired fruit punch and mango flavors to its Venom energy drink line.

As with everything else, this trend has implications.
• Will consumers be satisfied or will they continue to crave ever bolder food and beverage choices?
• Will continued exposure to such strong flavors dull our taste buds to simple, natural flavors like those of fruits and vegetables?
• Will we seek balance—as Asian cuisines do—between sweet, sour, salty, bitter, hot/pungent? Or will we overpower in one way or another?

So what do you think?
• Do you believe food/beverage companies are going too far?
• In their haste to drive new products to market, are they pushing too fast with too many new items to try to outdo each other? To achieve differentiation?
• Are their innovations creating exciting new options, or too many confusing choices for consumers?

I’d love to hear from you.

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Ted Mininni is president and creative director of Design Force, a leading brand-design consultancy.

LinkedIn: Ted Mininni