Winning the flavor pairing game

Brought to you by Mondelēz International Foodservice

Flavor pairing is not a mysterious art or science—it’s an everyday activity for anyone who eats, because it’s based on the principle that certain flavors are naturally delightful when consumed together.

Succeeding with flavor pairings in a non-commercial dining room or cafeteria is a matter of determining what products consumers want and presenting them in a visible, appealing and accessible way.

Product placement is critical to stimulating spur-of-the-moment purchases. Set up a cooler with single-serve containers of ice-cold milk next to a display rack of packaged chocolate-cream sandwich cookies to maximize sales of both. Or try bundling a yogurt, an apple and a chilled beverage into a convenient combo meal at the grab-and-go station to save time and steps for customers on the run.

Also, flavor pairings can be fine-tuned to appeal to particular customer needs. For example, to cater to the health-minded crowd, arrange individual packages of celery sticks or baby carrots and light ranch dressing, or prepackaged salads, in proximity to bottled waters and zero-calorie fruit beverages. This is also a great place to display whole-grain crackers or breakfast biscuits that combine crunch, flavor and healthful ingredients along with good-for-you beverages.

However, don’t go overboard with healthful options: Many consumers like to reward themselves with a taste of indulgence when the mood strikes, which can be any time of day. In fact, Technomic’s 2013 Dessert Consumer Trend Report reported that 35 percent of consumers said they eat desserts at least weekly as midmorning snacks and 47 percent eat desserts as midafternoon snacks. Thus, it’s wise to balance healthful offerings with treats that people know and love, such as brand-name cookies, candies, chips and desserts.

Ethnic promotions and holidays open up a world of potential flavor pairings in non-commercial operations. For example, for Cinco de Mayo, it makes perfect sense to tout Mexican bottled soft drinks or house-mixed aguas frescas—fresh fruit beverages—as companions for tacos and burritos. At Halloween or Thanksgiving, it is intuitive to offer pumpkin muffins with pumpkin lattes. The same goes for mint-chocolate cookies and green milkshakes on St. Patrick’s Day. However, because seasonal flavor pairings typically have a strong but relatively brief appeal, they are most effective when used for a limited time. Customers will eagerly anticipate their return.

To encourage takeout sales, make your pairings as portable and convenient as possible. Have takeout bags handy at grab-and-go stations to allow customers to easily bag their own orders. A recent Technomic snacking study found that 60 percent of consumers today consider portability to be an important or extremely important factor when selecting a snack, up from 55 percent in 2012.

Regularly look for new flavors to refresh the product mix. Good choices include French vanilla, mocha, chocolate and caramel, which are currently popular on coffee shop and restaurant dessert menus. But don’t be afraid to be creative and a little edgy in your choices, especially if you have a clientele that is open-minded and experimental, such as millennial consumers. For example, explore the sensations of salted caramel and salted dark chocolate that have become popular in coffee drinks, candy and restaurant desserts. Or add the unique smoky, salty richness of bacon to cookies, brownies or shakes. You can also cater to the growing numbers of people who enjoy spicy foods with chocolate-chipotle brownies and similar lively fare.

It’s challenging to keep up with the parade of new snacks and beverages on the market, and it may be wise to team up with a supplier that shares insights on trending flavors in addition to providing market-leading brands. That sort of support can be a major impetus of success—not only in flavor pairing, but in business in general.