‘Swicy’ is the hottest trend in food right now

‘Swicy’ is the hottest trend in food right now

Americans should prepare for a hot summer, and not just because of rising temperatures.

Consumers are daring to open their palettes to bolder, spicier, more fiery flavors and the food and beverage market is happy to oblige.

Walk into Walmart, Target, corner 7-Eleven, almost any grocery store these days that sells packaged foods and it’s hard to miss. The snack aisle has gotten spicier.

“The spicy trend is here to stay,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, a packaged goods and foodservice industry advisor with market research firm Circana, in an interview with CNN.

From chips, popcorn, burgers to ice cream, frozen pizza, alcohol, Starbucks drinks to Coca-Cola, a growing variety of food and beverage brands are enhancing their offerings by adding spice, bold “swicy” flavors or downright heat.

“My whole motto for a few years has been, ‘Hotter is better,’ because consumers gravitate to it. Traditionally it was younger consumers who drove this but now we’ve seen a bold taste embraced by most age groups but the dominant one is consumers who younger,” Lyons Wyatt said.

Segments of the population with increasing demand for fiery flavors, he said, include younger Millennials, Gen Z and the youngest cohort, Gen Alpha.

Although it seems as if we’re surrounded by spiciness in every grocery aisle lately, the start of the trend goes back at least a decade and is well established with spiciness in snacks, he said.

“But the proliferation of spiciness across different categories, like beverages, that part is relatively new,” Lyons said.

In his view, Coca-Cola in February unveiled its first new permanent soda flavor addition in several years. Flavor of choice: Coca-Cola Spiced. The company told CNN that its own research has shown an “increased consumer willingness to try spiced beverages” and “bolder flavors and more complex flavor profiles” in food and beverages.

The soda giant described the new drink as a mix of traditional Coke flavors with raspberry and spiced flavors and said it would be available in both full sugar and zero sugar flavors.

First comes the spice, then comes the “spicy”
Starbucks in April debuted a new limited-time line of spring lemonade drinks in three flavors — Spicy Dragon Fruit, Spicy Pineapple and Spicy Strawberry, said to be inspired by the “swicy” trend that creatively combines sweet and spicy flavors .

Spicy plus sweet gives you “Swicy.” And yes, brands are trying to make it a thing as they look for ways to expand on the spicy trend.

It said the refresher, aimed at Gen Z and Millennials, was enhanced by adding a blend of Starbucks’ spicy chili powder to the ingredients. Starbucks in the spring also introduced limited-time hot honey drinks, made with wildflower honey infused with chili peppers, such as the Hot Honey Affogato and Hot Honey Espresso Martini to the menu at Starbucks Reserve roasteries and select US stores.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more of this,” Lyons Wyatt said. “There’s a push right now and we’re seeing both unit and dollar growth of spicy and swicy products.”

A younger, more diverse America is edgier
According to Circana, dollar sales for foods and beverages with “spicy” in the description have increased 9% year over year.

Circana’s latest data also found that 11% of 25 to 34 year olds enjoy bold and unexpected flavors, up 7 percentage points from 2019 and 11% of 18 to 34 year olds enjoy bold and unexpected flavors, up 4.7 percentage points from 2019.

Demographic shifts are a big driver for bolder taste experiments, industry experts say.

The United States has become more racially and ethnically diverse, and as such, is seeing expanded access to more global ingredients and dishes, Jennifer Creevy, director of food and beverage at trend forecasting and analysis firm WGSN, said in an interview with CNN.

“The younger generation, Gen Z and Gen Alpha, are also much more global in their outlook than previous generations. To them, crispy chili or salsa macha is the same as regular condiments like mayo or ketchup,” said Creevy.

Increased globalization has also led to more culturally diverse music, entertainment and games becoming the norm, which in turn influences our food decisions, he said.

“Take the rise of K-Drama and K-Pop for example. These entertainment fans want to consume the media but also want to experience the taste of Korea, hence the emergence of spicy Gochujang, which is now in everything from meals to snacks, drinks and desserts,” he said. Gochujang, red chili paste, is a popular Korean condiment.

Interest has also been growing for Vietnamese and African cuisine over the past four years, according to global market research firm Mintel.

The pandemic has also been an important accelerator to the popularity of the spice.

“During the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns, consumers were unable to travel and craved to experience cuisine from faraway places,” Creevy said. “This, coupled with consumers becoming more confident in the kitchen has led to more adventurous tastes.

Can our taste buds handle spice as we age?
The endurance of spicy and swicy will depend on the level of commitment of the consumer to maintain these flavors as they age.

“Our feelings change with age. So I hesitate to say that it’s for everyone for the rest of your life,” Lyons Wyatt said. “It’s driven by the younger generation, and enjoyed by all generations, just not to the same extent.”

Expect spiciness to extend to other food categories as well. “More sweet and spicy in confectionery, in frozen goods, in deli products and more in pizza types through sauce,” he said.

Pepsico, which owns the Flamin’ Hot brand of spicy snacks and drinks, told CNN that in 2023, shoppers in North America will make nearly 400 million trips to stores to buy Flamin’ Hot products, up 31% from the previous year.

“Flamin’ Hot is extremely popular among younger, more adventurous consumers, who want a great experience with every bite,” said Mustafa Shamseldin, category growth officer and CMO, International Foods at Pepsico. “We continue to nurture the brand to meet the expectations of this group and consistently strive to bring flavors that resonate – whether they’re looking for big flavors with a hint of spice or a burst of heat.”

Nestlé USA, which owns the DiGiorno frozen pizza brand, told CNN that it is bucking trends with product innovation. Nestlé in the spring launched DiGiorno Thin & Crispy Stuffed Crust Pepperoni Pizza with Mike’s Hot Honey. Nestlé also introduced a Tombstone tavern-style pizza called “the Primo,” with pepperoni, sausage, banana peppers and red onions.

Nestlé has also recently launched spicy innovations such as California Pizza Kitchen’s Hot Honey Croissant Crust Pizza, Stouffer’s Spicy Nacho Mac and Hot Pockets x Hot Ones.

“I want to challenge the perception that the American palate is bland to begin with: red pepper flakes have always been a core part of the pizza experience,” says Varchasvi Singh, foodservice analyst with Mintel.

“Americans have made cult favorites out of condiments like Sriracha and hot honey. But there’s definitely an expanded appetite for spicy foods and flavors, fueled by a desire to explore unfamiliar ingredients and cuisine,” Singh said. “This passion is not a fad. , it’s here to stay.”

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