The importance of local flavours in NPD for the Asian market

22 Jun 2020

From Osmanthus flower soda in China to spiced chewing gum in India, using local flavours for successful new product development (NPD) in the Asian market has never been more important.

Multinational food manufacturers have long understood the importance of flavour glocalization – adapting a global product template to local or regional preferences – and a recent PepsiCo launch in China has shown that this strategy is more relevant than ever for brands.

The importance of local flavours in NPD for the Asian market

After failing to generate long-term interest among Chinese consumers for cherry or vanilla colas, which are both successful flavour combinations in Western markets, the drinks giant developed a soda flavoured with Osmanthus flower, a flowering plant in the Oleaceae family.

Alex Woo, flavour technologist and CEO of Chicago-based W20 Food Innovation, said the Osmanthus flower is “very entrenched” in Chinese cuisine where it is used in dried form or as a liquid syrup to add floral notes to desserts and jams as well as cooking sauces, dumplings and soups.

“I’m not sure whether consumers in China will make the mental switch from hot cuisine to cold drinks but having a local touch in Western food is well practiced,” he said.

Woo gave the example of Häagen-Dazs, whose ice cream flavours in China include red bean, green tea and lavender, and fast food giant McDonald’s, which swapped its traditional apple pie for pies filled with pineapple or taro, a purple root vegetable, in Chinese branches.

Nestlé Japan, meanwhile, regularly adds local flavour twists to its KitKat brand. Since 2000, it has launched 350 seasonal and regional special edition flavours of the chocolate-covered wafer bar, including kinako (roasted soy flour), adzuki bean, Hokkaido roasted corn, wasabi and cherry blossom.

The strategy is valid across the Asian continent. According to market research company Mintel, Indian gum manufacturers would do well to harness the appeal of local flavours to boost stagnating sales. It found that that only one quarter of Indians have bought chewing gum in the past three months and India’s per capita volume consumption of gum confectionery is low compared to other APAC countries.

Most chewing gum products in India are flavoured with mint, ignoring the flavours used in traditional mukhwas, an after-meal palate freshener made from a blend of fragrant spices, seeds and essential oils, such as clove, cinnamon, fennel, anise, sesame seeds, and peppermint oil.

Mumbai-based Mintel analyst Rushikesh Aravkar said the flavours used in mukhwas, as well as tangy flavours that are popular in hard candy and ice cream, could drive interest in gum confectionery among Indian consumers.

Mintel suggested this could also be true for other food categories in India. A recent survey of 3,000 urban Indian consumers found that almost one quarter (23%) wanted ‘authentic’ or ‘home-style’ packaged food.

Finding the sweet spot

Another way for new product developers to adapt global products to regional tastes is by adjusting the sweetness.

Woo said: “It’s very common that Chinese consumers will prefer less sweet flavours and smaller serving sizes. A common complaint of freshly-landed Chinese people in the US is ‘your cake is so big and sweet!’

“Research has shown that the preferred sweetness point for Western countries is higher than in Asia. The ranking is around 12% in the US, 10% in Europe and 9% in China.”

However, Woo added that certain flavours have universal appeal.

“Cola is drunk and accepted in China while vanilla ice cream is the number one flavour in the world. That’s universal - it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about America, Europe, or Asia.”

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