Consumers are interested in expanding their palates when dining out and want to patronize restaurants that offer innovative flavors. A new study from foodservice industry consultantTechnomic finds that 42 percent of consumers, particularly males aged 25 to 34, are more likely to visit restaurants that offer new or unique flavors.

Officials say the 2009 Flavor Consumer Trend Report identifies opportunities for restaurant operators and suppliers and help them differentiate their menus to attract new patrons and increase frequency of current customers.

The report covers flavors created during food preparation as well as those added through sauces, dips and condiments. Individual flavor profiles are explored, as is how they relate to major entrée categories (sandwiches, pork, seafood, etc.), appetizers, beverages, snacks and desserts.

Interesting findings include:

    * Two-thirds of consumers (66 percent) say that discovering a new flavor at a restaurant can persuade them to return to that venue for the same dish, and more than half (55 percent) say they may try other dishes there.

    * A substantial portion of diners (36 percent) say they are more interested in trying new flavors than they were a year ago.

    * Over a third of consumers (35 percent) are willing to spend more on a meal that incorporates new or innovative flavors.

    * Among less broadly established ethnic cuisines, those of high interest include Spanish (72 percent), Hawaiian (71 percent), Tex-Mex (69 percent), Greek (66 percent), and Caribbean and Mediterranean (66 and 62 percent).

    * Roughly one-third of consumers look for sauces and condiments that are low in fat or calories (34 percent) and sodium (29 percent), or prefer to use “organic” or “all-natural” condiments when available (26 percent).

    * Garlic, pepper and smoky barbecue flavor profiles dominate entrée menus. Global influences are also prominent, specifically those with a Mexican, Asian and Italian flair.

“Flavor innovation presents a solid competitive advantage for both operators and manufacturers, especially when it comes to dips, sauces, condiments and marinades,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. “The punch of heat and spice, and the balance of creaminess or sweetness, underscores the uniqueness in the preparation. An unusual flavor profile could be one that drives repeat visits by consumers.”

The 2009 Flavor Consumer Trend Report’s Consumer Insights section examines flavor preferences and purchasing behavior, based on surveys of more than 1,500 consumers. Officials say the "Menu Insights" section utilizes Technomic’s proprietary MenuMonitor database to provide an in-depth look at how leading, independent and emerging chain restaurant operators are incorporating flavor profiles into menu items.

Throughout the report, 2009 results are compared to results from Technomic’s 2007 Flavor Trend Category Report. Appendices feature menu listings showcasing the top 10 flavors as measured by menu data, plus detailed demographic profiles of consumers who enjoy these top 10 flavors.