Food Union Group uses sensory and behavioral research to identify consumer demands. Recently, they launched more than 100 new ice cream products across Europe and they continue to push the boundaries of innovation through their research and product development.
Normunds Staņēvičs, CEO of Food Union Group, and Ieva Ražinska, Marketing Manager at Food Union Latvia, shared frozen flavour trends and insights that they believe will reflect consumers’ desires for nostalgic favourites from childhood as well as new, exciting flavours 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 due to stay-at-home orders. Despite consumers sheltering indoors for long periods of time, ice cream sales continue to increase. Food Union’s Ice Cream Competence Centre is monitoring the pulse of these consumer changes with researchers in Latvia and 8 other countries studying cultural and behavioral trends. Their research has found that consumers are looking for comfort during the global pandemic. “During this time when lives are disrupted, consumers are reaching for food and flavours that provide emotional comfort, make them feel pampered and remind them of childhood,” said Normunds Staņēvičs, CEO of Food Union Group.
“Today’s consumers still love traditional flavours like vanilla and chocolate, but we’re also uncovering new behaviours and preferences in our research showing that consumers are more open to experimentation. They’re trying new flavours and looking for new sensory experiences in greater numbers. And more adventurous eaters want to try new, surprising, and unexpected flavours. We use these insights from our research to deliver consumer-centered innovation,” said Ieva Ražinska, Marketing Manager at Food Union Latvia.
Ražinska says new flavours meet consumers’ needs for excitement and novelty during the pandemic’s disruptive lockdowns. Consumers willing to push their boundaries further will be able to try intriguing new flavours that offer sensory and visual disruptions such as sweet and savory mixtures with vegetables, potato chips or other savory snacks. Other unique flavours include the sweet-sour sensation of Ruby chocolate, Japanese- inspired flavours 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 taste flavours they know and love. For example, Norway’s ice cream company Isbjørn Is, will be incorporating local ingredients, such as Nordic cloudberries and gooseberries.
Normunds Staņēvičs also said consumer’s tastes for ice cream trends and flavours 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 flavours,” he said. “Our innovative trends depend on the demands of our consumers, but we always uphold our high standards of taste, quality and nutritional value across product development. At Food Union, we are always pushing the boundaries of innovation.”
Rediscovering nature and the imperative of health
As people begin to emerge from their cocoon state and leave their homes, many consumers will experience a sensory re-awakening. Consumers will likely spend more time rediscovering the world outside and enjoying new flavours, tastes and sights. And as consumers spend more time outside in nature, new ice cream ingredients will include natural aromatic botanicals, spices with warm notes such as cardamom and cinnamon. Consumers also want natural options that benefit their overall health and wellness needs. Cinnamon, for example, is an ice cream flavour that gives a delightful taste, a warm feeling and is 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 flavours. “There is a strong demand for healthier alternatives and plant-based alternatives. We have found that every flavour 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 their products as well as upgrades to cones, wafer cups and new single portion products in unexpected shapes and sizes.