“We’re different tomorrow than we are today,” said Sarah Kirkmeyer, director of sensory for Givaudan Flavors, during a Society of Flavor Chemists lunch session in Cincinnati. Kirkmeyer focused her talk on the role of sensory in flavor development by focusing on the importance of understanding consumer expectations of flavors. Using the example of caramel, she displayed three products, some of which were category leaders, despite lacking creamy and burnt sugar notes typical of traditional caramel. This is possible, Kirkmeyer noted, because some brands have done an excellent job reinforcing category expectations with their products. Because of this, when customers or consumers say they want “caramel,” interpretation of expectations is everything. Or, as Kirkmeyer put it, “What you think you want may not be.”
These references are ever-changing. Taking mojito cocktails as an example, Kirkmeyer showed how this iconic Cuban drink has evolved into the mainstream. Just as Minute Maid has set the pace for consumer expectations around lemonade, Crystal Light’s non-alcoholic Mojito Mocktail Drink Mix represents a category-setter for nonalcoholic mojito flavor profiles. Skinnygirl brand premixed margarita, meanwhile, features blue agave tequila and agave nectar sweetener, is 12.7% alcohol by volume, and is only 100 calories per serving. The wildly popular beverage will never be mistaken for the real thing, said Kirkmeyer, because it references the flavor of traditional margarita mixes, not fresh margaritas. That in no way has impeded its sales.