Industry Insider: Processors Must Embrace New Spice Application Methods to Respond to Consumer Flavor Demands

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the May/June print issue of Food Manufacturing

Over the past decade, there has been a tremendous shift in the way consumers approach food and flavor. According to the Institute of Food Technologists, 57 percent of Americans consider themselves adventurous eaters and 82 percent are open to trying new flavors. The result has been an explosion in demand for new, exciting and innovative flavors in every area of the grocery store from snack foods to instant potatoes. Proteins are no exception.

Unfortunately, the technological advancements to efficiently add spice and flavors to proteins during processing has not kept up with the boost in consumer demand for new flavors. Traditional seasoning techniques usually result in labor-intensive and time-consuming changeovers, wasted spice and inconsistent flavor. Tumble marination, for example, is effective for seasoning large quantities of whole meats, but results in expensive waste of spice that is discarded after the tumble process. Hand application of seasonings to the surface of a protein is another option, but results in a far less consistent application, as well as additional production time and cost for labor and cleanup of loose spice in the production area.

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Processed meats (like deli meats) most frequently have flavoring added within the meat block through injection. Because this method requires reformulation of the meat block with each new flavor, which can be a slow and complex process, it can be difficult to develop and incorporate new flavors quickly.

Seasoning transfer is a recent innovation that addresses the challenges associated with applying flavors to proteins on the production line. With this technology, seasoning blends are pre-applied to a substrate, like plastic sheets and casings, already used in food processing plants. The seasoning remains on the substrate until it comes in contact with the protein. The moisture in the protein releases the seasoning, causing it to transfer to the surface of the protein, leaving a consistent spice application.

Seasoning transfer offers many other advantages over traditional application methods. The controlled application of spice reduces the amount of wasted spice and lengthy changeover times necessitated by shaker or hand methods. And because the same meat block can be used for multiple flavors with just a change of the casing, new product development time can be greatly reduced.

When it comes to choosing new flavors for proteins, meat processors have preferred to stay somewhat conservative in their flavor choices. But the ease of application in new seasoning methods like seasoning transfer technology make it possible for processors to react quickly to changing trends like never before.

Some of the new flavors profiles that meat processors will be exploring in the next year include:

  • Spicy blends – Spicy flavors have steadily increased in popularity among consumers of all age groups. 54 percent of consumers now state a preference for spicy/bold flavors, up from 46 percent just five years ago (Source: U.S. Flavor Consumer Trend Report). Yet, although they prefer spicy flavors, it does not necessarily mean hot. A mild pepper blend or jalapeno can provide just a bit of heat and still have tremendous impact on the overall flavor of the protein. For turkey, chicken and beef, spicy flavors are a reliable choice.
  • Sweet Heat – Balancing the heat of a strong spice with a sweet element, this complex flavor combination is a natural with pork or chicken. Many barbecue sauces already play on this idea, mixing sweet flavoring like honey with smoky flavors like chipotle. The potential combination of sweet and spicy flavors is almost limitless.
  • Ethnic Flavors – From classic Mexican and Italian flavors to newer Asian flavors like Sriracha, ethnic flavors are more popular than ever. The lighter Mediterranean flavors of lemon, garlic and herb are particularly appropriate for delicate fish that may be overwhelmed with other flavors. Asian flavors like wasabi and curry work well on pork, chicken or beef.

Consumers aren’t just asking for innovative and stimulating new flavors, they are expecting it. Processors who fail to meet these expectations will fall behind. Adding flavors to proteins doesn’t have to be the time-consuming process that it used to be. New technologies like seasoning transfer make it easy to anticipate changing consumer trends to quickly develop and produce bold flavored products consumers want.

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