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28 Sep 2022 — Consumer awareness around finding products that contain natural ingredients with well-being benefits continues to spur the meteoric growth of botanical extracts, with region-specific flavors such as African superfoods, hibiscus and rose extract trending. Food industry experts from Nexira, Gencor, Kerry and ADM tell FoodIngredientsFirst that the demand for “botanicals” is most prevalent in beverages.
Julie Impérato, marketing manager at Nexira outlines that the global botanical extracts sector is driven by growing consumer belief in the power of natural extracts to promote health and wellness. “Boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the most sought-after botanicals respond to immunity, stress, sleep management, vitality and cognitive function,” she asserts.
“For 2022, we see herbs and flowers such as dill, mint, blossom, rosehip, nettle, jasmine and coriander emerging across snacks and beverages in Europe,” highlights Coralie Garcia-Perrin, global marketing director, sweet and dairy taste at Kerry.
Kerry’s Taste Charts identify rose, lavender, thyme and lemongrass as up-and-coming beverage flavors.
African superfoods spotlightedExotic flavors are trending in the botanical segments with a particular focus on traditional African superfoods.
Notably, consumers are eager to discover new food and beverage experiences. “Exotic flavors and ingredients are on-trend for 2022, especially traditional African superfoods,” says Impérato.
Impérato flags hibiscus, also known as a “super flower,” as the next big trend. 
“You will see it everywhere soon. Hibiscus has seen a 21% growth in product launches between 2019 and 2021 as its pleasant tasting, bright pink color and potent antioxidant moves into many mainstream functional beverages.”
Meanwhile, cactinea, a cactus fruit powder, is also in high demand. It has antioxidant and water-elimination properties. It enhances products with a deep pink color. Baobab, also known as “Africa’s tree of life,” is another key flavor which is trending.
Floral flavors blossom
Nexira identifies “floral flavor” as a prominent taste. “Floral flavors are lighter and provide refreshment and enjoyment,” explains Impérato.
“An increasing health and wellness trend, the increasing awareness of the benefits of natural products and the rising demand for transparency in sourcing and labeling are some of the major factors driving the botanical extracts market,” she says. Rose extract offers a distinct flavor profile that pairs well with emerging ingredients like lychee and cardamom. 
Beyond taste
Nutraceuticals are based on botanicals and are venturing out of the dietary supplements sector and more into the mainstream F&B sector, where the demand for functional products is skyrocketing.
The top trending food application categories currently include “proactive living,” “rediscovering health” and “immunity.” There is much demand for products that relieve stress, boost energy and facilitate sleep. The demand for botanical flavors, ingredients and products range by geographic location. The flavor profiles with the highest appeal in Europe, for example, include fruit, cocoa, vanilla, coffee, herbs, tea and floral profiles, flags Kenny Suazo, marketing associate at Gencor.
“Opposingly, the US is not dominantly focused on flavor but driven by multifunctional products that concentrate on health benefits from fragrance-infused products to uplift mood to products that promote sleep and relaxation,” explains Suazo.
Consumers demonstrate a particular interest in botanicals associated with aiding mental well-being. This can be attributed to the frantic nature of modern life, which is a key reason why the demand for products that aid relaxation and alleviate stress will grow.
“Scientific research has never been more important to the marketplace and manufacturers need to ensure that health and nutritional claims made about botanicals are credible, transparent and not misleading to ensure their continued strength in the wellness space,” adds Maggie McNamara, marketing director at Gencor.
Cognitive health in focusThere is a strong consumer focus on botanicals that aid mental well-being. 
Another area currently popular in wellness is cognitive health, with a core focus on mental well-being. McNamara outlines: “Many individuals are now seeking herbal, plant-based solutions to help support healthy stress responses that are naturally calming and support proper sleep.”
“One botanical that is effective here is affron, a branded saffron extract, proven in eight clinical studies.” Traditionally, the most sought-after botanicals have been ginger, echinacea, evening primrose oil, feverfew thin, garlic, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, St. John’s Wort and saw palmetto. 
“However, there’s a rise in botanicals that have been region specific for a long time and were not known worldwide. For example, saffron is traded globally, but a huge portion is exported to the US by Spain, as they’re one of the major saffron producers in the world,” explains Suazo. 
Saffron extracts have multiple benefits, are clinically proven to improve mood, sleep, relaxation and menopause, while also supporting cognitive health.
Popular botanical flavors
“Spa-like flavors” such as chamomile and hawthorn, signal a sense of relaxation for many consumers, ADM underscores.
Fruit-forward options such as camu-camu, acerola and açai contain vitamin C and consumers often associate them with immune function support. Turmeric is also emerging due to its perceived health halo. Its vibrant orange-yellow color brightens tropical fruit smoothies and golden milks. 
“Matcha tea extract is prominent throughout the beverage category, providing a captivating green color and an earthy, nutty sweetness as well as a natural source of caffeine,” says Alessio Tagliaferri, global business director, Natural Health & Nutrition (NHN) & Botanicals Technology Platform, ADM. 
Supporting overall well-being
Botanicals have wide cultural familiarity among most consumers. Plant botanicals have been a key component of traditional medicine, aromatherapy and herbal infusions for centuries. Adaptogens like ashwagandha have been correlated with sleep and stress management benefits, while extracts such as Terminalia Chebula support joint health. 
“Research shows that 71% of consumers are aware of at least one botanical, with aloe vera, lavender, ginger, green tea, peppermint and cinnamon among those with the most general awareness,” says Tagliaferri. Tea extracts like black and green tea and yerba mate are also popular, “with many consumers seeing these as natural sources of caffeine for an energy boost, emphasized in pairings with refreshing citrus flavors.” 
Ginger is growing in popularity, providing a sweet yet peppery and spicy kick and is also associated with digestive comfort.  
Beverages innovation bubbling with botanicalsBotanical extracts can be found in many product launches such as beverage applications, dairy products, baked goods or snacks, sauces and plant-based alternatives.
Cinnamon, mint and peppermint are trending in beverages for their cooling and spicy effects, which elevate a sensory experience. “These combinations work particularly well in soft drinks, cocktails and mocktails. The spiciness of cinnamon and ginger mimic the heat-inducing characteristic of alcohol in zero-proof elixirs,” explains Tagliaferri. 
According to ADM research, the top five beverage subcategories include functional juice or water, chilled juice, flavored water, carbonated fruit beverages and still soft drinks or fruit-flavored drinks. 
Alcoholic beverages, ready-to-drink (RTD) teas and functional drinks that include botanicals and plant extracts are categories showing strong growth, particularly in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).
“Alcoholic beverages champion the use of botanicals and the associated ‘naturalness’ of these ingredients further elevates the importance of artisanship in premium spirits,” says Tagliaferri.
“RTD teas and coffees, as well as functional beverages, focus on botanicals that have consumer-associated wellness attributes, whereas carbonated soft drinks capitalize on botanical ingredients for their natural flavor and color possibilities.”  
Juices, sports and energy drinks are also being infused with botanicals. These beverages entice consumers with color and flavor profiles such as camu-camu, hibiscus and blackberry sage. 
“Sports and energy drinks incorporate botanicals for added flavor appeal and perceived wellness attributes such as guarana for energy,” he adds.
“Botanical flavors connect with consumers on a highly positive level, beyond flavor and taste. Consumers also consider botanicals as being energetic, interesting, useful, trustworthy and safe,” explains Garcia-Perrin.
Ingredients such as saffron, bergamot and honey are also considered premium.
The premiumization effect
According to Innova Market Insights, using botanicals on front-of-pack will result in a 23% price premium. Formulating with botanicals can certainly win over consumers, especially by using top appealing flavors such as mint, honey and cinnamon.
“Consumers want to hear sustainability stories for beverage ingredients and making this information available on the pack or in social media is an important consideration for new beverage marketing,” explains Garcia-Perrin. 
Sustainability in sourcing includes ensuring that local farmers and the local source community benefit from the farming and extraction of botanica and adaptogen flavors and ingredients. “Each of our regions has special expertise in local botanicals and this knowledge is shared with other regions for cross-fertilization and idea generation for our customers,” Garcia-Perrin explains.
By Inga de Jong
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