Enter the 'flavourist' a scientist who can mix up a quick raspberry in a test tube, and whose skills are increasingly in demand as the baking industry looks at ways to cut costs and reap various technical benefits.
Estimates from Leatherhead Food Research suggest that the global flavourings market in food and drink was worth something between $6.5bn and $7bn in 2008, and growing at a rate of about 2% a year.
By application, bakery, snacks and confectionery account for around a third of food and drink flavours consumption worldwide, according to Leatherhead's Food and Beverages Trends in Western Europe report, published in November 2009.
So what exactly do bakery flavourists have to offer and what are the market trends? Well it may not be as weird and wacky as one might expect. Of the growth areas that Leather-head has identified in its research, three chime with sup-pliers to the bakery sector: escalating demand for natural flavours; products that allow reductions in fat and sugar; and flavour alternatives, which allow cost savings.
Firstly, though, there is the question of delivery. Flavours are generally used in baking in liquid or powdered form. Encapsulating the flavour is an area of innovation. The flavour releases at a set stage in the baking process, offering technical benefits as well as potential cost savings.
Supplier Tastetech says hot cross buns are a seasonal example. Technical manager Gary Gray says bun spice can be quite aggressive to yeast. Encapsulating the flavour keeps the yeast and the spice separate and also means that, as the spice flavour releases later, less of it is needed to give the same impact.
Lemon is another example of a flavour that it is useful to encapsulate so as not to clash with baking powder.
Fresh approach needed
Mike Bagshaw director of International Taste Solutions says his firm, launched last year, wants to be an innovator on flavours. Bagshaw believes it is time for a fresh approach to flavour delivery. "Everyone thinks the flavour industry is innovating all the time, but customers often have the same old thing rammed down their throats. We want to help them come up with new solutions," he says.
To that end, he is working on some new top-secret proprietary delivery systems for flavours, set to launch in July.
Stepping away from the lab to look at trends, natural and "authentic" flavours are increasingly in demand as clean-label continues to be a priority at retail level.
It's partly due to rising consumer awareness of healthy eating and artificial additives, but also driven by the fact that revised European legislation on labelling, making it mandatory to provide information on food colours and flavourings on the label (EC 1334/2008), comes into effect in January 2011.
"Real fruit" and fruit flavours, which consumers see as being more natural and providing essential vitamins and nutrients are big growth areas. Simon Solway, MD of Unifine Food & Bake Ingredients says: "Customers want pure flavours. They have got to be natural it's a prerequisite now. Retailers want to be innovative, but the most important thing is good, natural flavours." Unifine's products include Delifruit, a range of ready-to-use 70% fruit fillings in flavours such as strawberry and apple, for example.
Meanwhile, supplier Frutarom has created what it calls a more natural strawberry flavouring, rather than the typical sweet confectionery strawberry flavour. The company cultivated a crop of strawberries, which were analysed at the point of optimum ripeness to take and replicate their profile.
Other fruit flavour products coming through include URC concentrated fruit pieces, manufactured by Taura Natural Ingredients, which contain up to seven times their own weight in real fruit and are bake-stable.
Dark chocolate, origin-specific flavours and flavours demonstrating provenance also tie in with the 'natural' trend and, from the retailer's point of view, give products a premium edge.
Putting the flavour back
The second big focus in the flavours sector is on putting taste back into lower-sugar, lower-fat and lower-salt products, as well as gluten-free bakery products. Suppliers must ensure that taste profiles do not suffer.
Balancing potential sensory disadvantages for the consumer is key, says Axel Graefe, general manager, taste solutions Europe at Frutarom, which already offers what it calls a "broad range of masking flavours" to cover any undesirable tastes.
Meanwhile, supplier Synergy predicts that, as bakers become more aware of the health and wellness trend, products related to fat and saturated fat reduction, as well as sugar reduction, will become increasingly significant to the sector. Looking to the future, adding functional ingredients that allow manufacturers to make positive health claims will gradually become more common, says Donna Rose, marketing manager for Synergy Europe and Asia.
The third trend, particularly in an economic downturn, is that manufacturers are looking at ways to cut ingredients' costs by using flavour substitutes.
Unifine's Solway comments: "You see that cost is a huge issue; we are starting to win business by making sure that the flavours are at the right cost. People don't just switch flavours from one day to the next it's the ultimate characteristic of their product. But we can show them that using our products can improve taste." Honey and butter are examples of ingredients where suppliers can save money by using alternative flavours, he says.
Other examples from Frutarom include cocoa enhancer and two natural vanilla replacers, which can be used instead of synthetic vanilla in bakery. These enable manufacturers to make the claim "natural flavour", while avoiding the higher costs of natural vanilla.
But maybe more tried-and-tested routes are also worth reviewing. Malt supplier Muntons suggests it might be time to look again at malt. Marketing manager Andy Janes says using malt reduces the inclusion rate of the main flavour component. "Take savoury biscuits one of our customers wanted to introduce a cheese flavour and discovered that adding malt extract achieved this, without the addition of cheese. When cheese was then added, the flavour was outstanding far better than when cheese was added on its own."
California Raisins says raisins have a key role to play. Tartaric acid, found in raisins and juice concentrate, acts as a flavour enhancer, so any other flavours involved in the product will benefit. Raisins also contain propionic acid, which inhibits mould growth, thus potentially extending shelf-life.
It seems that as science paces ahead, nature may already hold some of the best solutions. After all, it certainly thought of raspberries first.
Blending in at BIE
Dandy Lions, a honey importer and blender, promoted a new side to its business at this year's Baking Industry Exhibition the manufacture of syrups. The company can offer refined and blended agave and maple syrup, as well as bespoke blends, where customers want extra ingredients blended with invert syrup. "It cuts out the processes for them," says the firm's Hamish Deas. "For example, we're producing a maple-flavoured syrup that contains invert syrup, pure maple syrup and a maple flavour in there to stand up to production, and it also has some salt, because that's what our customer wants bespoke to them. Basically, anything anybody wants blending, we can blend it."
Also offering bespoke blends was Elgar Foods, which showcased spicy apricot, apple with toffee fudge, minty raspberry, rhubarb with a hint of ginger and a cherry 'Bakewell' jam with an almond flavour. It uses cold-stable starch, as well as heat-stable starches to mimic the characteristics of a hot processed jam. These are ambient-stable with a 12-week shelf-life.
"We're trying to give customers the opportunity to put different flavours into their products; 99% of our products are bespoke," said business development manager Adam Day. Another jam it makes uses 2% expanded orange peel to give 30% more fibre.