Serving Up Culinary Flavours In Snacks

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

Depending on where you are in the world, mala, kimchi, gyoza, barbecue, cheese and red chilli are foods or ingredients you would expect to find in a meal. These days however, split open a bag of potato chips or puff snack and you’ll be served up a buffet of tastes ordinarily found on a restaurant menu.

When it comes to savoury snacks today, more is more. As the world becomes increasingly globalised, a greater number of people are exposed to popular local foods, cuisines and cooking methods from other cultures ─ and they can’t get enough of it. Beyond meal times, they want those flavours dished up in their snacks as well. Adding to this demand, 43 percent of APAC consumers snack at least once a day, based on findings from a YouGov industry focus study on snacking behaviour among the region’s consumers. All this has spurred brands to constantly innovate to meet demand.

The growth of snacks and snack innovation in the region is undeniable. In 2019, the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA) market was valued at €63 billion with projected 3.6 percent CAGR from 2020-2023. Compare this to the global market’s 2.8 percent CAGR for the same period. Of this, Euromonitor showed potato chips and puff snacks comprised 63 percent of retail value. From Mintel GNPD’s survey of top savoury snack flavour launches in 2019, salted, roasted/toasted, cheese and spice, dominated.

The biggest markets: China, Japan, Korea and Africa, with Southwest Asia and the Middle East emerging as the fastest growing. By 2023, consumers in APMEA would make up one third of the global savoury snacks market.


Why We eat What We Eat

Many factors influence how we enjoy food ─ from nuances of taste, choice of ingredients, method of cooking, nostalgic triggers, mood, need states, to dining environment.

Add to the mix the pervasiveness of social media today and consumers now expect a multisensory experience. In response, taste experiences are crossing categories. For example, the fizziness of carbonated drinks can now be enjoyed in chips. And pairing flavours with different formats and bases can elevate the snacking experience. Think coated, dripped and drizzled snacks; textures that are chip- cracker- or biscuit-like; or new formats like pillow snacks, inspired by cereals.

Along with the increasing hunger for new taste sensations is growing health proactiveness, in no small part due to COVID-19. Snacks are being redefined: multi-grain, baked and non-fried, or boosted with ingredients that support immunity and digestive health. Government regulations on sodium to mitigate health risks associated with eating too much salt ─ a major taste element in snacks ─  is steering the push for more low sodium offerings. We are seeing a premiumisation of snacks, where the bad is removed, with healthier ‘better-for-you’ ingredients added.

Interestingly, despite a slew of factors and reasons influencing today’s snacking behaviour and trends, 61 percent of consumers say that ultimately, taste is the deal breaker, even above and beyond health considerations. Simply put, a winning snack is one that’s delicious and authentic in taste.


Tastes of the World

Food isn’t just essential to life but shapes our core experiences. More often than not, our memories are rooted in food experiences, with certain smells or tastes taking us back in time to our childhood or a memorable moment with family and friends, stirring up recollections of an indulgent gourmet experience, or a period of comfort and solace.

With today’s yen for the new and novel, consumers are hungry to relive their foodie experiences with different cuisines. Restaurant-style dishes are now powering innovations in snacks. Fancy pan-seared Japanese gyoza potato chips? How about stewed beef noodles crisps now available in China or labneh (Middle Eastern yogurt cheese) and mint in the UAE? Meanwhile, salted egg chips continue to tickle tastebuds in Singapore, inspired by salted egg yolk fish skin, a favourite dish in many Chinese restaurants. Local brand Irvins was one of the first to introduce salted egg chips and fish skin snacks and spread its popularity across Southeast Asia.

As the saying goes, you can’t stop at one bite. If anything, the craving for snacks imbued with layers of culinary tastes is only just simmering.

Other more sophisticated tastes transforming the simple potato chip include mala hot pot, kimchi, Thai green curry in Asia, grilled kebab (Middle East); sticky barbecue (Africa); and special sauce burger (Australia and New Zealand), among others.

This is where taste and sensory technologies play a critical role in navigating the complexities in rendering taste authenticity. Take for example Thai green curry crisps ─ the challenge is in infusing the nuanced flavours of this well-known curry from Central Thailand, including coconutty notes from the use of coconut milk, mild spicy notes from red chillis, meaty notes from cooked chicken, and a host of herbs and spice notes from kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass.

Increasingly, the craving for richer, premium flavours is being driven by collaborations across a consumers’ food experience, such as crossovers from foodservice to retail, or translating tastes from foodie experiences to a bag of chips. Master chefs are recreating signature dishes for snacks (Saengwan Prawn Salad flavoured crisps in Thailand) while Lay’s has launched milk candy-flavoured chips in partnership with confectionary brand White Rabbit. Among foodservice players, KFC and Cheetos came together to create the Cheetos sandwich. Clearly these creative tastes aim to satisfy adventurous palates, engage young consumers, and expand consumption.


Authentic Cooking Methods

Authenticity in taste does not merely hinge on layers and combinations of flavours. Like the secret ingredient that elevates a dish, the right cooking method delivers the ‘wow’ in taste sensation. And even in this, variations exist. For example, barbecue means different things in different countries. In fact, it goes beyond cooking method and instead is the right combination of meats, smokes and grills, spices (pepper and chilli) and sauces (tomato, soy sauce, vinegar) for a burst of true flavours.

In Japan, mild tastes, umami and sweet reign. Food is enjoyed raw or prepared with specific cooking methods like barbecue for Yakitori, boiling for broth. In Korea, fermentation, indoor barbecue and stir-fry are some common cooking methods, resulting in the ubiquitous kimchi, a fermented vegetable side dish, and Korean barbecue, which is today popular across Asia. Australia’s climate makes barbie (barbecue) a go-to cooking method and in New Zealand, it is about blending flavours from around the Pacific Rim, including smoky.


Delivering Craveable Snack Experiences

The challenge for manufacturers lies in translating the taste experience from one channel or category to another, for example foodservice and QSR to retail, and vice versa. Support is needed to innovate, tweak or repeat limited editions, and to launch quickly. It’s a complex balancing act ─ whipping up authentic flavours to excite a market with a sophisticated palate while meeting the need for healthier indulgences and therefore more nutritious snacks. Brands need to understand the key tastes of iconic dishes, adopt an insights-led approach combining sensory science and proprietary consumers insights to uncover locally-preferred tastes, and ensure expertise and capabilities across channels and categories. With end-to-end solutions in place, brands can develop a winning formulation that closes the taste gap into the manufacturing environment, is easily applied across all snack categories and labelling requirements, and maintain competitive advantage.

Contributor: Olive Bai, Marketing Manager, Savoury Snacks, Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East, Africa


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