Food processor Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is getting its first taste of the flavor market. ADM says it will buy a company called Wild Flavors for almost $3 billion. Wild Flavors specializes in natural flavors for beverages and food, and natural means big business these days.
To start, we should say that flavor people are a very tight lipped crowd.
“You got that right,” laughs John Leffingwell, president of Leffingwell & Associates, which consults for the flavor and fragrance industry.
He says the flavor industry is competitive. Flavorists keep their discoveries secret as long as they can. But one trend is clear.
“When I started in the industry about 30 years ago,” he says, “about 70 percent of the flavors were artificial flavors. Today it’s close to 80 percent or maybe even more that are all natural flavors.”
That’s an estimate. But foods labeled ‘natural’ did rack up more than $40 billion in U.S. retail sales last year, according to Nielsen.
The problem is healthier foods aren’t always appealing to consumers.
“People would love to have lower sodium or lower sugar in the diet, but when companies reformulate with these changes, a lot of time consumers don’t buy them,” says Devin Peterson, a University of Minnesota professor who works with the Flavor Research and Education Center.
He’s researched solutions like getting salt to release more efficiently in the mouth, so a lower sodium chip tastes just as salty.
Flavor companies are also tackling the low sodium taste conundrum.
“What flavor companies do, they help food companies to reduce the salt content but save the flavor of the crisp,” says Evgenia Molotova, a chemicals analyst at Berenberg.
She says that’s one reason why the flavor business is appealing right now.
“Sales of flavors are growing much faster than the sales of food products,” she says.
Wild Flavors specializes in natural flavors for beverages. That helps ADM diversify its commodities business.