The company uses sensory and behavioral research to identify consumer demands to drive its product development.
Normunds Staņēvičs, CEO of Food Union Group, and Ieva Ražinska, marketing manager at Food Union Latvia, recently shared their frozen flavor trends and insights, which they believe will reflect consumers’ desires for nostalgic favorites as well as new flavors and more health-conscious options.
Consumers around the world are facing significant changes to their lifestyles. Many people are spending more time at home and indoors. Despite consumers sheltering indoors for long periods of time, ice cream sales continue to increase.
Food Union’s Ice Cream Competence Centre monitors consumer changes with researchers in Latvia and eight other countries, studying cultural and behavioral trends. Its research has found consumers are looking for comfort during the global pandemic.
“During this time when lives are disrupted, consumers are reaching for food and flavors that provide emotional comfort, make them feel pampered and remind them of childhood,” Staņēvičs said.
Ražinska added, “Today’s consumers still love traditional flavors like vanilla and chocolate, but we’re also uncovering new behaviors and preferences in our research showing that consumers are more open to experimentation. They’re trying new flavors and looking for new sensory experiences in greater numbers. And more adventurous eaters want to try new, surprising, and unexpected flavors. We use these insights from our research to deliver consumer-centered innovation.”
She said new consumers willing to push their boundaries further will try intriguing new flavors that offer sensory and visual disruptions such as sweet and savory mixtures with vegetables, potato chips or other savory snacks. Other unique flavors include the sweet-sour sensation of Ruby chocolate, Japanese-inspired flavors like matcha and mochi, or even hemp and CBD oil.
Commitment to local sourcing is at the forefront of Food Union’s ice cream innovation, as consumers want to experience flavors they know and love. For example, Norway’s ice cream company Isbjørn Is, will be incorporating local ingredients, such as Nordic cloudberries and gooseberries.
Staņēvičs also said consumer’s tastes for ice cream trends and flavors vary by season and year.
“In the summer, consumers look for refreshing water-based products such as sorbet with citrus fruits and berries. In the winter, there is more demand for warm chocolatey or nutty flavors.”
Food Union said as people begin leave their homes more, many consumers will experience a “sensory re-awakening.” And as consumers spend more time outside in nature, new ice cream ingredients could include natural aromatic botanicals, and spices with warm notes such as cardamom and cinnamon. Consumers also want natural options that benefit their overall health and wellness needs. Cinnamon is also known for its immunity boosting qualities.
According to Ražinska, Food Union’s key areas of focus for ice cream innovation in 2021 and beyond will also be to develop plant-based and flexitarian products as well as products that use less sugar without compromising indulgent flavors.
“There is a strong demand for healthier alternatives and plant-based alternatives. We have found that every flavor in dairy can also be made in plant-based frozen desserts when paired with the right non-dairy ice cream base, so there are delicious and guilt-free options for everyone,” Ražinska said.
The company will also work on sustainable packaging to reduce the environmental footprint of its products as well as upgrades to cones, wafer cups and new single portion products in unexpected shapes and sizes.