Retail Foodservice

New Flavor Preferences Vary by Generation

Technomic research reveals need for foodservice to balance innovation, familiarity

While evolving consumer expectations, the rise of technology and shifts in how consumers eat continue to shape foodservice, one thing will always remain imperative: flavor.

Technomic’s 2017Flavor Consumer Trend Report, powered by Ignite, serves as a guide to help foodservice operators and suppliers better understand consumer attitudes and preferences toward flavor. Among the foremost findings: Taste and flavor are as important as ever, but significant differences in the appeal of certain flavors are found by generational grouping.

Baby boomers show a growing tendency to forgo new flavors, while millennials and Gen Xers continue to drive demand for unique options. Differing attitudes ring particularly true for spicy, bold and ethnic flavors, with millennials twice as likely as baby boomers to order ethnic foods at least once a week. The discernable reticence among boomers, which retains the largest spending power among all demographic groups, may be due to the proliferation of spicy fare and over-the-top flavor combinations aimed at attracting their millennial counterparts.

Conversely, as younger consumers place a growing emphasis on authenticity, innovative offerings are resonating more strongly. Younger consumers are especially keen on knowing what new flavors are on the menu prior to visiting a restaurant. For instance, they are more likely to seek out a specific flavor profile, a trendy dish or something they’ve seen advertised.

The growing divide in flavor preferences between millennials and boomers heightens the need for a product mix that appropriately balances familiarity and innovation. Creating a small twist on classic recipes with flavors that particularly appeal to boomers, such as smoky and tangy flavors, can provide an element of uniqueness without going too far out of their comfort zone. Operators and suppliers have more leeway to push the boundaries with younger consumers.

But appealing to one group doesn’t have to mean alienating others. For instance, following trends for wholesome, better-for-you fare, fresh ingredients and natural flavors can help maintain appeal across generations.

Among the key takeaways from the report:

  • Forty-two percent of consumers expect restaurants to offer signature flavors they can’t get elsewhere.
  • More 18- to 34-year-olds now (47%) than in 2015 (39%) say their preferences change with the seasons.
  • Forty-five percent of consumers say they crave bold flavors, up from 41% in 2015.


To that end, key areas of opportunity include:

  • Educating consumers on ethnic. Consumption of ethnic food is limited by consumers’ unfamiliarity with ingredients. However, an emerging foodie culture has made consumers more interested in their food and more willing to learn about new cuisines.
  • Balancing uniqueness and familiarity. Consumers tend to be more willing to try new flavors in foods they’re already familiar with. To balance demands, operators can leverage products such as ingredients and sauces from known brands to increase consumers’ willingness to try dishes featuring unusual flavors.
  • Differentiating with signature sauces. As demand for uniqueness grows, signature flavors will be key: 42% percent of consumers and 50% of 18- to 34-year-olds indicate high expectations to find them on menus. Signature sauces and ingredients can help impart differentiation and drive purchases, especially among younger consumers.



More from our partners