Consumers are seeking new foods and beverages that help with weight loss, strength training and improved mental function – but they don’t have to compromise on taste, thanks to new flavor technology.
As the ball drops at midnight in Times Square each year, millions of Americans ring in the new year by setting personal health goals – but these resolutions are short-lived for most people. According to Statista over 87% of U.S. residents fail to keep up their New Year’s resolutions through the calendar year.
Driven by these statistics, consumers seek creative new food and beverage solutions that help them maintain their health and wellness-related resolutions, such as weight loss, hydration, increased strength, improved mental performance and more. Each year, brands rise to this challenge and introduce a bevy of compelling new products specifically developed to meet consumer demands in the diet and sports nutrition categories.
According to Mintel research, the sports beverage category is up more than 18% in recent years and sales are expected to reach more than $13.5 billion by 2025. When you expand that figure to include food products the overall sports nutrition market was valued at nearly $20 billion in 2020 and is projected to witness a CAGR of 12.22% through 2026, according to Mordor Intelligence.
But the key to success for a broad range of health and like smoothies, protein bars, shakes, energy drinks and functional foods is not the nutritional value, functional ingredients or caloric content – it’s the flavor.
The food and beverage industry relies on a range of technical innovations in flavor development that are reshaping the way consumers experience sports nutrition products – making healthy eating habits more enjoyable and ultimately easier to sustain. Flavor technology has opened the door for healthier products with clean labels that boast less sugar and more plant-based protein ingredients, while also expanding the variety of functional benefits like immunity support, digestive health, brain boosting and vitamin supplements, all while tasting great.
The Problem with Protein
The sports nutrition category is almost synonymous with protein. A key ingredient in pre-workout shakes, sports snack bars, supplements and a vast array of other sports products, protein is important for muscle gain, recovery and more, but added protein comes at the cost of increased bitterness and often strong off-notes that can produce a very unpleasant taste. The same effect is true for other additives in health and sports nutrition products, such as vitamins, minerals and functional ingredients. Historically, food and beverage companies have countered the bitterness of protein with excessive amounts of sugar and sweeteners, but new advancements in masking technology are helping to produce diet and sports nutrition products that are effective, healthy and delicious.
According to T. Hasegawa USA, the California-based subsidiary of one of the world’s top 10 flavor and fragrance companies, development of new sports nutrition and health-related products is booming across the category and the company continues to evolve its technology of masking to produce great-tasting energy bars and drinks, workout shakes and more.
“Sports nutrition moves faster than any other category and it’s ripe with innovation and competition,” said Holden Rouse, senior beverage technologist at T. Hasegawa USA.
“There’s always new ingredients to explore and unique ways that we can utilize maskers into each product. Our challenge is typically covering an off-note in sports nutrition products, and we have a vast library of maskers – whether we’re covering the lingering bitterness of proteins or the short bitterness of coffee and other high-stimulants. Our in-depth studies identify which molecules work best for each masking application, opening many possibilities for new flavors.”
Brains over Brawn
For many Americans, wellness starts with mental health – a trend that has grown since the COVID-19 pandemic began and was further spotlighted in the 2021 Summer Olympics when U.S. gymnast Simone Biles and Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka cited mental health as a primary reason for withdrawing from competition. Clearly, consumers are interested in the importance of maintaining the health and well-being of their mind in addition to their physical fitness. Food and beverage brands are increasingly creating new products that deliver on consumers’ desire for mental health, such as improved sleep or reduced stress and anxiety. Many other new products aim to deliver on boosted mental alertness and focus, which is particularly popular within the growing e-Sports community. In fact, according to Mintel research, eSports now has a larger following than American football, with 443 million global viewers and more than 25,000 professional eSports athletes. With heavy reliance on mental concentration and focus, eSports athletes are increasingly turning to performance food and beverage products that maximize brain health for a competitive advantage. These products often rely on functional natural ingredients such as adaptogens, roots and flower-extracts that often produce sharp bitter flavors and unwanted off-notes.
“Regardless of the intended performance benefit, our process includes a customized solution to overcome unwanted off-notes and bring the desired flavor to the forefront,” explained T. Hasegawa’s VP of research & development, Jim Yang. “In any food or beverage product, there are dozens of individual aromas competing with one another, and our task is to identify which flavors need to be highlighted and which flavors need to be eliminated through masking.”
Since great-tasting sports nutrition products are more likely to keep consumers engaged and reach their health goals, the industry is responding with flavor innovation designed to tap into consumer demand for nostalgia and fun – especially in the energy bar and baked goods category. Development of these indulgent, craveable flavors is largely driven by reaction technology, which aims to provide a true-to-life taste experience by replicating the thermal process used to produce culinary dishes in the first place – fried, heated, baked, roasted etc.
“Consumers are tired of the same old traditional energy bars, and eager to find new high-protein snack foods or meal replacement bars that deliver a sense of excitement and fun,” said T. Hasegawa director of sweet technology, Ibrahima Faye.
“Using reaction flavor technology, we’re able to reproduce the taste of cake batter or fried dough that you’d find in donuts and apply these flavors into traditional energy bars or high-protein spinoff products such as cake balls, brownies and other baked goods.”
The sports nutrition category will always rely on staple favorites such as chocolate, vanilla and coffee, or familiar fruit flavors such as raspberry, strawberries and fruit punch – but the latest trend is mixing those flavors to create a range of compelling fun flavors that keep consumers interested and blend familiarity with adventure. According to T. Hasegawa, blending multiple flavors that consumers already love is a growing area of development for new sports nutrition products.
“The beauty of these flavors is their simplicity,” explained Faye. “Our customers have found that flavors like exotic fruits aren’t as effective in the sports nutrition category as tapping into nostalgia and familiarity. This is resulting in fun flavors like ‘blue raspberry popsicle’ or banana split protein shakes, or energy bars based on classic desserts like apple pie, pumpkin pie, or a range of popular candy bars. Even category mainstays like vanilla are made exciting by combining with peanut butter to produce a new formula based on existing favorite flavors.”
In addition to producing a great-tasting snack bar that is high in protein or other key ingredients, food brands are tasked with product development that delivers on an ever-increasing array of consumer diet requirements, such as gluten-free, high-fiber, vegan, clean label or reduced sugar. This has provided an opportunity for the flavor industry to innovate and continue developing great-tasting solutions that fit any number of dietary trends.
For sports nutrition, it’s no surprise that the most successful products are also convenient grab-and-go options that fit into busy lifestyles. From energy bars to protein shakes, a key area of innovation in sports nutrition is driven by the need for RTE and RTD products that deliver a great taste in a convenient package and maintain that flavor in a shelf-stable product.
“While the sports nutrition category was once dominated by whey protein powders, convenience and portability are now hot sellers for many of our customers,” explained T. Hasegawa director of beverage applications Jeanene Martinez
“We are seeing a lot of boundary-pushing products that blur the line between RTD energy drinks and traditional sports protein beverages. These beverages rely heavily on flavor technology like masking and sweetness enhancing to produce a consistently satisfying flavor weeks or even months after production.”
North Americans are eager to improve their health and well-being – and they’re better equipped than ever before to keep their personal health resolutions each year. Thanks to advancements in flavor development technology, brands are redefining better-for-you foods and making eating healthier a more enjoyable, sustainable endeavor.
Food and beverage brands who are looking to take their sports nutrition products to the next level of flavor can explore the possibilities by contacting T. Hasegawa USA at www.thasegawa.com or by calling (866) 965-0502.
About T. Hasegawa USA, Inc.
For more than a century, T. Hasegawa has made ‘Life Taste Better’ through custom flavors and fragrances developed for the world’s top food and beverage brands. T. Hasegawa is recognized around the world for its innovation and product differentiation, which builds our clients’ product flavor to unparalleled standards. Through a passion for culinary creation and a strong faith in the power of aroma and taste, T. Hasegawa’s flavor experts work to improve the way we experience food and beverages.
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