‘Sweet Heat’ Trend on Full Display at Food Supplier Event

MINNEAPOLIS – Chef Jeff Baker’s average customer is getting more adventurous – even in the Upper Midwest, where ketchup and black pepper qualify as “spicy” in some circles. The evolution of the American consumer’s palate has made Baker’s job much more fulfilling in recent years.

“Now you’re getting into chiles that are smoked, or you’re getting into (flavors) from different regions. You’re getting into twists on Asian other than just Chinese sauces, something from West India or North Africa,” Baker, an R&D chef for Burley Foods, said at a recent IFT suppliers expo. “It has made things a broader range of flavors – twists on the familiar.”

As F&B business leaders milled about the Minneapolis Convention Center at the event – trying samples of Mexican Hot Chocolate Granola, or pizza-flavored pea protein curls – food innovators like Baker noted trends to watch in 2024. Noteworthy movements on display in Minneapolis included the following:

Sweet Heat

American chefs like Baker have been fanning the flames of the “sweet heat” trend. That helps explain why ingredients like mango, chili, habanero, and pineapple proliferate on menus.

“Anything sweet heat that’s slightly different,” said Baker, in his 12th year with Minnesota-based Burley Foods. “Horchata in new forms – we’ve been putting that in cookies or brownies to try and bring Mexican flavors. Mexican hot chocolate is another good flavor. So, you’re getting that heat and you’re getting that deep, rich chocolate without the dairy notes necessarily.”

The veteran chef said companies like Burley Foods (which largely sells to foodservice companies) have focused on making spicy products more palatable to the masses by tempering their levels of heat through increased fat content – by including coconut milk, or almond butter in the product, for example.

Plant-based Beverages Intrigue

In 2024, Jeff Casper, partner and principal scientist with Voyageur Food Works, said he expects to see continued interest in beverages that offer protein.

“Plant-based protein is still of interest, but there’s been a retreat in certain areas, like with meat alternatives – there’s been a bit of a regrouping around that,” Casper said. “But, for beverages (there’s) still continued interest in plant. There’s kind of been a resurgence on milk in the nutritional space.”

A recent report from Grand View Research supports Casper’s belief, predicting that the global dairy alternatives market, for example, is expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.6% through 2030. Grand View indicated that key factors in that projected market growth include increasing occurrences of milk allergies and lactose intolerance. 

Natural Colors Emphasized

California recently became the first U.S. state to ban Red Dye No. 3, a controversial colorant often used in food products. The law will go into effect starting in 2027. As a result, some food companies are increasingly focused on utilizing minimally processed color products, derived from fruits and vegetables like red cabbage or beets, noted Patrick Troutman, a sales manager with Food Ingredient Solutions, LLC.

“Nowadays, the processing and the cultivation of the raw material has allowed for much more vibrancy … in terms of pigment that you can achieve from the naturally derived colors,” Troutman said. “We look at it as nature got it right.”