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The F&F Horizon: the Future of Creativity in Flavor Creation

Posted: December 22, 2008

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In the 1990s analytical methods became very sophisticated, and understanding nature was paramount in developing new and novel tastes. At IFF we stretched our creative skills within our Generessence** program by imposing the discipline of creating flavors that only contained components discovered in the named product. This may appear to be a simple requirement, but it is not. Many old and familiar artificial chemicals were routinely used in flavors and were hard to eliminate. For example, strawberry aldehyde is not found in strawberries but it has an odor that is actually more reminiscent of strawberries than any of the individual major ingredients that are present in the named food. In the correct combination, the major ingredients perform vastly better than strawberry aldehyde, but getting to that conclusion requires a leap of faith.

During the 1990s, core supplier lists started to emerge, and the notion of using consumer testing to determine the best flavor assumed more objective importance in the decision-making process associated with the launch of new products. In the present decade, increased reliance on consumer testing has had an even more significant and restrictive effect on creativity. Current testing methods used for evaluating products can easily result in mediocrity: flavors that appeal to the most consumers while offending the fewest. The result is that we can easily get into a pattern of recreating the same flavors over and over again.

The current economic challenges are obviously going to dominate the market in 2009, and for the next few years there will be fewer launches as our customers try to control costs and the market focuses on value. Producers may rely even more heavily on consumer testing to reduce risk in launching new products. The more products are tested, the less differentiation we will see among them.

We can learn from the success stories of other industries in demonstrating the importance of creativity in creating brand loyalty. Take Apple; why do people buy iPods? There are many other mp3 player options out there, and some of them are cheaper or offer better technology. iPods win because they are a triumph of creative design. People want to own something that is beautiful and cool looking. Why do people buy BMWs? BMWs, like iPods, are distinctive and demonstrate creative flair. In fact, the company has used an Italian designer to add individuality to its cars because it recognized the need for the cars to stand out from the pack. Not everybody liked the new designs, but the success of this approach is demonstrated in their market share.

The challenge for the flavorist will be to develop better, more distinctive signature flavors while maintaining costs. We must continue to look at using novel raw materials to provide unique profiles. If a material is new and exciting, then more often than not it will be sufficiently powerful to be used at such a low level that cost should not be an issue. More than ever, it is important for the larger companies to focus on their creative resources and perhaps look to other industries as an example. The current crisis, like all such crises in the past, will prove to be temporary, but it does provide us with an opportunity to remodel ourselves for the future. The future success of our industry will depend on our success in challenging our creative paradigm.