Trend Spotting Series with Sweegen and Sensegen
South Coast Plaza Edition
Sweegen and Sensegen Trend Spotting Teams took time to go on an adventure to explore the latest flavor trends in consumer food and beverage offerings within local restaurants, bars, and on-the-go cafés. They found delicious taste trends and hope their findings help inspire your better-for-you product innovation. Read on to learn about everything food and beverage related that they experienced.
Our Trend Spotting journey took place at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. This venue is an international destination hub with over 40 distinct critically acclaimed eateries. According to the OC Register Critic Brad A. Johnson, “There is simply no other city in the county that compares with the diversity, breadth, and quality of Costa Mesa’s restaurants […] there’s a creative energy in the Costa Mesa food community that remains unmatched,” he says in his Annual Guide to the 75 Best Places to Eat in Orange County.
After experiencing delicious udon noodles for lunch, we made our way to a part of the plaza that felt so exclusive that it was reminiscent of a hidden speakeasy – the Collage Culinary Experience, an elevated dining collective located next to Bloomingdales. This space was designed to be “a destination for refined local and global cuisine,” according to Morgan Zhang, the visionary founder of Collage.
Upon entering the modern space, you find casual and fine-dining eatery options to choose from. Our tastebuds led the way as we delved into the flavor trends within the beverage and dessert spaces.
Global Flavor Mashups and New-stalgia Trends
Cha Redefine offers a modern twist on the traditional tea experience, aligned with the ‘new-stalgia’ trends we see in the food and beverage space across categories. New-stalgia is a term used to describe adding modern twists, whether it is exotic flavors or flavored foams, to familiar (or nostalgic) food and beverage favorites to bring exciting experiences to consumers that take them out of their mundane routines.
With over 40 options to choose from on a menu with mouthwatering photos and a supplemental ‘Top 10 Drinks’ list and Soy Seasonal Limited Drinks, making just one beverage choice was quite a task.
We opted for the Blueberry Oat Milk Matcha Latte with Brown Sugar Boba. With sugar reduction in mind, we asked if they offered custom amounts of sweetness (many tea places do) and they sure did! We opted for 25% sweetness and still got a full flavor experience. The earthiness of the matcha created a melody of flavors when combined with a fruit-forward blueberry-flavored creamy and nutty oat milk; this was definitely a unique flavor mashup sold to us in the form of a recognizable matcha latte.
Playing on the term “cha” which translated to “tea” in the Guandong dialogue of Chinese, Cha Redefine’s menu also included Fresh Milk Tea-‘Cha’puccinos, Cream Foam ‘Cha,’ Tea, Matcha, Coffee, ‘Cha’ X Fruits, and Non-Caffeine & Kid Menu options. The simplest beverage flavor option on the menu was the Jasmine Jade ‘Cha.’
Other flavor mashups featured avocado foam, taro paste, matcha, jasmine & oolong teas, lychee, rose, coconut, ginger, mango, peach, strawberries, pineapple, peach, and more
The most popular flavor mashups at the time were:
Fresh Strawberry Green Tea – Fresh Strawberries with Jasmine Green Tea, best pairing with House Avocado Foam
Rose Chappuccino – Rose Oolong Fresh Milk Tea
Matcha Green Tea Latte – Ceremonial Grade Matcha with Fresh Jasmine Green Milk Tea with Whipped Cream and Light Wheatgerm on Top
Fresh YoYo Pineapple – Yakult (a fermented Japanese sweetened probiotic milk beverage) with Fresh Pineapple Blended
Interesting Globally Inspired Textures
Anyone in the food industry or someone who enjoys consuming delicious food knows that there is more to delightful taste experiences than just good flavors – textures are a key component of gastronomic experiences. If a texture is off, the whole experience can be off.
Mochinut, a casual on-the-go donut shop within the Collage Culinary Experience, focuses on getting the texture just right in their array of mochi doughnuts. According to their website, a “Mochi donut is a donut that originated from Hawaii which is a combination of American Doughnuts and Japanese Mochi [a dough-like mass made of cooked and pounded ‘mochigome,’ a short-grain glutinous rice]. Mochinut is gaining popularity owing to its Asian-inspired shape and wonderful texture; light crispy coating with a soft chewy inside.” How exactly does Mochinut create a perfectly chewy textured inside? The company adds sweet rice flour to its dough. Sweet rice flour is a glutinous starch that adds a stretchy characteristic to the dough. Without the key ingredient of sweet rice flour, it is impossible to get that oh-so-satisfying chew from conventional cake or yeasted flour doughs.
We gravitated to peach, a familiar flavor, because it had a nostalgic Peachie-O candy on top of it (reminiscent of childhood). The texture is what stood out when tasting the special Mochinut. It was airier than a doughnut and seemed to melt in your mouth after taking a chewy bite out of it.
The most popular flavors included Tiramisu, White Chocolate, Mango, Cinamon Sugar, and ‘Original’. Their menu also showcased Ube, Taro, Matcha, Yuzu, Banana Milk, Churro, Coffee, Black Sesame, Nutella, Cookies & Crème, among other flavors. The array of flavors varies by location creating a ‘limited-time’ appeal.
The garnishes on each Mochinut tell you a little about the type of flavors you may find inside of each.
Globally Inspired Flavors and Atmosphere
Our trend-spotting grand finale led us to Blossoms & Brass Bar and Restaurant, an artisanal bar concept with decadent light bites. It was hard to miss it – with a brightly lit gold and crystal Sputnik chandelier that resembled a sparkling dandelion dancing from the bar ceiling. It had a European vibe with a touch of Japanese chic.
The menu was filled with Italian offerings featuring Asian flavors and ingredients for a true cultural flavor union. Drink names were clever plays on words (humorous use of a word with more than one meaning or that sounds like another word) and each one was curated with globally-inspired ingredients such as unique botanicals, flavors, plants, bitters, tea, coffee, and sweet and savory garnishes.
The Blossom Martini was an elegant Japanese spin on a martini, featuring bergamot, Japanese gin, and Umami bitters (see image below).
Thai Me Up contrasted vibrant fruity flavors with comforting brown flavors with Japanese Vodka, Thai Tea, Apricot, Coffee, Black Sesame, Froth.
New Leaf combined savory and complex flavors with Scotch, Miso, Honey, Ginger, Citrus, and Kimchi.
Coco Highball offered a refreshing tropical transport with Japanese Vodka, Thai coconut, Passionfruit, Citrus, Sea Salt, and Carbonation.
Miso-cilin was refreshing but still very adult with Scotch, Miso, Honey, Ginger, Citrus, and Kimchi (see image below).
According to the bar’s website: “Blossoms & Brass was born with the influence of Japanese flavor-profiles accompanied by Italian accents of style. A marriage of cultures infused within decadent tailored cocktails and small bites.” The ‘marriage of cultures’ was present in every sip of a cocktail and in their food menu. We opted to try the “Blossoms Rigatoni” with pink miso wine pesto, pine nuts, fresh fennel, pecorino Romano, herbs oil, and fried shiso. The infusion of Italian and Japanese flavors took centerstage and the fennel and shiso added an interesting twist on a classic Italian dish. The pink coloring gave the dish an artsy appeal.
Closing Trend Spotting Thoughts
This trends investigation uncovered some key themes in the world of flavors. Globally-inspired flavors were often intermingled and delivered in recognizable formats, like a Blueberry Oat Milk Matcha Latte with Brown Sugar Boba. And New-stalgic flavor mashups delivered global flavors married with classic mainstream flavors for mass appeal, like the Blossom Martini.
Beyond the unique flavor offerings, this trend-spotting journey showcased how many human senses must be activated at once to create positive food and beverage experiences.
It’s not just about the flavor of a food or beverage, but about the delivery of the experience and its carefully crafted application.
It’s not just about incorporating nostalgic flavors, but more so about incorporating creative new twists that consumers have never tasted before, like a new spin on texture in the Mochinut.
It’s not just about selling another thing to consumers, but all about creating value through an elevated taste experience based on personalized stories that speak to people’s interests, activities, and lifestyles.
To create stories that truly resonate with people, you must start with the right ingredients. Sweegen and Sensegen have vast portfolios of nature-based sugar reduction technologies and clean bio-based flavors to spark game-changing innovation in every aspect of the food and beverage experience.
From crafting interesting reduced-sugar cocktail syrups to creating a new twist on a classic soup with a better-for-you base, contact us to co-innovate your next product that someone gets so inspired while tasting it that they write a whole blog about it.