Consumers seek out the heat in unexpected spicy foods

spicy food

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Flavor preferences have shifted over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Classic, nostalgic comfort foods dominated consumer desires when lockdowns began and persisted through 2021, but more shoppers are seeking more adventurous foods in 2022. According to this year’s Frito-Lay Summer Snack Index, 41% of consumers report they would choose interesting flavor combinations such as spicy and sweet over familiar flavors.

“During the summer, people explore new activities, new places and enjoy new flavors of snacks as they attend more outdoor gatherings,” said Mike Del Pozzo, chief customer officer for Frito-Lay North America in a statement.

While many consumers are buying spicy foods to simply enjoy eating, social media videos such as the YouTube series “Hot Ones” and general spicy food challenges on TikTok involving hot sauces and other foods with high Scoville scale ratings are also making extra spicy snacks particularly popular.  

Trending spicy flavors

Flavor profiles including scorpion pepper, death reaper, spicy sesame ginger and pineapple ancho chile are among some of the top flavors identified to be succeeding on volume range, shared Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader at IRI, during a session at the National Confectioners Association’s Sweets & Snacks Expo in May.

Savory foods are the obvious choice for new spicy food products and many brands have introduced products recently that delivers on the trending flavors, such as condiments like Hellmann’s Spicy Mayonnaise and snacks like Ruffles’ Spicy Dill Pickle flavor.

Meat is another category where spicy ingredients thrive, and jerky has become a very popular snack for consumers who are seeking out heat. 

“Hot, hot flavors like habanero and ghost pepper account for 25% of sales,” said Howard Magee, director of fuel management, operations and category management for The Carioca Co., to Convenience Store Decisions.

Whole Foods Market also identified that spicy condiments are capturing consumers’ attentions in 2022, and that demand is likely due to people’s desires to have new experiences that reflect being able to travel again and explore new cultures through food.

“As restrictions begin to ease, this desire for interesting new flavors has raised the profile of fiery marinades and table sauces featuring flavorful chili varieties like habanero, ancho and guajillo,” Daniel Espinoza, corporate research and development chef for OFI, told Food Business News.

Heat in unexpected products

While the industry is seeing heat in the predictable categories, many recent product launches are bringing spice to surprising foods – and even beverages.

“We’re seeing the spicy trend growing across multiple categories, even outside of salty snacks,” Roy Mason, sales manager at Harkins Popcorn & Snacks, said to Candy & Snack Today.

Hot honey began appearing on many menus at restaurants in recent years to give many dishes the sweet and spicy flavor combination that customers are craving. Mike’s Hot Honey has been the dominant condiment in the CPG market for years, but Kraft Heinz is introducing its own version: Heinz Infused Honey with Chili. Also tapping into this mashup trend, PepsiCo joined two of its classic products to created the limited-edition flavor of Mtn Dew Flamin’ Hot last summer. 

Several brands debuted new products at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, and many candy brands chose to bring spice to the confectionery category. Yummallo’s Spicy & Sweet Marshmallows, Chili Chews gummies in three fruit flavors and Food Fight Co.’s Carolina Reaper Roulette Spicy Gummy Bear Game Challenge were all featured at the event.

These combinations create unique flavor blends that can entice everyday consumers to try something new and exciting while also appealing to spice enthusiasts.

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