For fine chocolate brands, there’s no better month than January to learn about the expected flavor trends that will possibly recondition inspiration for new products they were already thinking about in the previous year.
Through a systematic collection and accurate elaboration of data around the world, market agencies and ingredient suppliers continually analyze consumer’s behavior so that they can never lie about the most mind-blowing food flavor trends foreseen for each new year.
For 2020, clear are the macro-flavor trends that fine chocolate brands cannot fail to contemplate to upscale their sales—based on what the most demanding food consumer currently craves or will be asking more:
1) Blue and Aqua
Colors associated with flavors that evoke health and wellness continue to play well with foodies and millennials on social media.
If 2019 saw a celebration of romantic pink and coral shades, 2020 will be characterized by the rarer blue and aqua tones.
Swiss flavor company Firmenich has hailed “Classic Blueberry” as flavor of the year for 2020, due to the fruit’s longstanding association with wellbeing and its calming Classic Blue tint, listed as color of the year by Pantone.
Blueberry has standout floral notes and distinct tanginess, with fresh green and sweet elements woven in. All these elements make blueberry not only a sophisticated but familiar flavor alone but also one that pairs well with other flavors.
Meanwhile, EXBERRY® Coloring Foods highlights “Shades of Aqua” as a key color trend for 2020, featuring unusual blue shades derived from spirulina powders.
As blue is a notoriously scarce color in the palette of natural foods and consumers expect all-natural ingredients, a challenge for the producer is to preserve a desired color effect in the finished product.
Most of the natural blue color in nature originates from a type of flavonoids (antioxidant substances) called anthocyanins—which are the same compounds giving the nibs of fresh cocoa beans a hue ranging from the deepest purple to the palest pink. Other foods like spirulina algae get their typical blue-greenish hint from an accessory pigment to chlorophyll known as phycocyanin.
Maybe the most spectacular of the blue anthocyanins is the butterfly pea flower (Clitoria ternatea). This pea vine produces stunningly bright blue flowers.
Thai, Malaysian, Burmese, and Chinese cooking traditions all make use of this rare blossom. The flowers can be dried or used fresh, to make vibrant blue infusions and herbal teas with a mild hint reminiscent of cucumber.
The reason natural blue pigments are as rare to find as hard to maintain in food is due to their instability, affected by the pH they are exposed to. The blue hints in the food will lean toward the blue/green range in alkaline conditions (pH > 7) and the purple/red range in acidic ones (pH < 7).
Since nearly all foods are acidic—also due to natural or induced fermentation processes—that’s another reason why blue is the natural color less likely to admire in a food.
2) Coffee and Tea
3) Herbs and Spices
The characterizing taste profiles of highly functional ingredients such as healing herbs and spices will grow in popularity alongside the increased emphasis on emerging health trends.
Consumers continue to be drawn to spicy flavors from a range of cuisines that include cardamom, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, chili, garlic, etc. as standalone inclusions or creative blends.
Sea Salt or “Fleur de Sal” will not only remain an absolute evergreen for sweet and savory contrasts with chocolate, but also elevate its status as an everyday ingredient in 2020 by being combined and marketed with other flavors. For example, state-of-the-art supplier SaltWorks proposes a fusion line of naturally-flavored gourmet salts, matching sea salt with traditional and contemporary ingredients, such as espresso, vintage merlot, roasted garlic, rosemary, black truffle, thai ginger, ghost pepper, lime, chipotle, jalapeño, habanero, and sriracha:
4) Sweet, Nutty, and Aged
Specialty food shoppers continue to find comfort not only in classic dessert themes that bring back memories of childhood, like sweet confectionery flavors, but even full-fledged sensory experiences, like aged flavors.
Caramelized, baked and toasted flavors, as wells as nuts of all kinds will continue to be popular in 2020; conventional sweet flavors, like vanilla, honey, and maple, won’t fade out either.
For the savviest gourmets, expiration dates are not a concern as the new frontier of taste is no longer in the freshness but in the aging of a food product, recognizing what the world of wine and spirits has learned and can teach to other niches.
In collaboration with local distilleries, the brands that catch on the chocolate aging trend rest the roasted cacao nibs in ex-bourbon whiskey casks for at least two months. In this way, the final chocolate will release plenty of aromas from the wooden barrel (oak, smokey, vanilla) previously filled in with a specific malt whiskey.
5) Citrus and Sour
With some flavor trends completely unprecedented for 2020 and others absolutely hard to die, a few aspects are emerging as successful on the fine chocolate market when it comes to thinking of new products:
6) Ingredient Specificity over Cacao Percentage
Specificity of ingredients—that is, any information concerning the variety, origin, and production—will be more important than ever to differentiate fine chocolate versus the generic premium in 2020.
Cacao percentages alone—and any statement on its intensity—are meaningless without the exact context for its specificity or that of the non-chocolate ingredients. Crafting slightly different versions of the same product with similar but diverse enough inclusions or processes is the luxurious indulgence that shrewd chocolate lovers are looking for and expect to try in 2020.
7) Plant-Based going mainstream—but Dairy Milk still an evergreen
As food and drink consumers look for information about how food products are good for the environment and animal welfare, this is of particular concern for the dairy industry, being threatened by the explosion of plant-based milk alternatives on the market in recent years.
However, surveys led in the US and the UK reveal that at least 50% of consumers are not willing to trade off their dietary habits that much for the sake of their beliefs. Especially since plant-based milk alternatives may highly vary in their nutritional composition, be widely artificial for being developed in cold science labs, and therefore cost even more without the known added benefits given by dairy.
Capitalizing on such a split-in-two reality, smart chocolate brands are including the hottest plant-based milk alternatives to their lines, such as oat, coconut, cashew, but without ditching the assortment of dairy milk made products altogether.
8) Sustainability and Connection through Transparent Storytelling
As ethical and environmental sustainability issues have arisen consumers’ concerns in recent years, cocoa suppliers and chocolate makers are reexamining their supply chain and making changes that may have a positive impact on both farmers and the environment.
As consumer’s desire for transparency and sense of accountability for the foods they choose can only increase in the future, fine chocolate brands will further be called upon to rethink and represent their storytelling, making the whole fine chocolate industry even stronger in 2020.
Which flavor trends are you going to test or taste with fine chocolate in 2020?