Taking Time to Truly Experience Taste During COVID-19

Interview with Michel Aubanel, Global Flavour Ingredients Development Manager

Michel Aubanel, Kerry’s Global Flavour Ingredients Development Manager, shares his passion for taste and all things flavour. Listen in as he describes creating mood and emotion through flavours and explains how COVID-19 has enhanced the consumer desire for new taste experiences.



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Interview notes:

Damien: Confucius said that everyone eats and drinks, but few appreciate the taste of food. Can we take the COVID-19 resetting of the consumer's relationship with food to remind them to appreciate taste? Meet Michel Aubanel, Kerry’s Global Flavour Ingredients Manager and one of 12 members of the Science Board of International Organisation of Flavour Industry (IOFI), the organization responsible for the safety of ingredients in food. Welcome to On the Horizon, a webcast series from Kerry Group discussing top of mind business issues during the COVID-19 crisis. I'm your host, Damien McLoughlin, from University College Dublin. Michel, welcome.

Lockdown has led everybody to think differently about food and thinking differently about the food supply chain, and it seems many of us are talking and thinking differently about the food that we consume. One of the things we found amongst our family and friends is that we're describing tastes rather than ingredients in the way that perhaps we talked about ingredients more before lockdown. Is there some opportunity here, and a value for organizations, in moving taste back to the fore of the consumers consideration of food?

Michel: I do think so. I think that in the situation of lockdown, I would say that the taste experience is like yin and yang. I mean two halves which come together to completion. One is linked to everything that is close to you and we are more and more looking for something close and the yang will be far away. So following what you just asked for, I would say we want to have something close to home, close to us, close to our familial environment. You see, some things start to be a little bit, even some are afraid by foreigner, and they want to be already close to home. So we are looking more and more for authenticity. Authenticity in the taste profile that we no longer have taken since a couple of years, so we are remembering the great potatoes for instance from Ireland and people take time to purchase them and to cook. In France, people rediscover the strawberry from France, forgetting the ones from Spain and other countries. The meat, they are so happy to go to the butcher and find the right one. And within Kerry we have really nice two pillars. The first one that I want to speak about is Authentic Savoury™. With that one, for instance, you can have delicious chicken broth with the juicy and succulent note, really coming from the broth that you can do at home during this COVID-19 period. The second one that I am so fond of is anything that is linked to Mother Nature. You know that the season of the lemon in the South of France, where I'm sitting, and we enjoy a juice at home or some juice with gin and within Kerry, we have a new technology which is called the whole foods, and so we are able to extract not only the oil or the skin, but all the fruits based on some geographic origin and we end up with something that is unique. So I think that this COVID-19 period allows us to work in the lab or to do a kind of piano, playing with more notes than we played in the past. So we are moving to a kind of music that was really playing with two or three notes to a more wider range, playing with product from the farmer in the nearby.

Damien: Michel, are Kerry’s customers coming to you and asking for these kind of taste profiles. Is there a bigger demand for this? Is this what you find now?

Michel: I do think so. We have a number of customers, if I speak about France because I'm there, they ask for the cookery project, for instance, to have like the animal that is the emblem of France. And when you go to UK, we’ve just won a fantastic rhubarb, British rhubarb distillate, so they look for that. If I go to South America, like Brazil, they are looking for special acai extract from the country. So it's more and more the fact that people rediscover their roots, and it's something that started before COVID-19, but was kind of emphasised by it.

Damien: So, I like the idea of people rediscovering their roots, but for many of us have been fortunate to travel, the pineapple from Costa Rica or a lovely spice from India, is it possible to extract these unique products from specific geographies and to make taste profiles for consumers as well?

Michel: That's something that is also requested, because when we speak about origin we speak about local origin, but also far away origin and the kind of menu we have. We can have an appetizer with products from local, but we have the main course with also product from various regions. For instance actually, we work on calamansi. The last time I tasted calamansi was in Manila, Philippines. The calamansi are small citrus, but really flavourful and really nice. We have been able this year to get the calamansi puree with the group Ravifruit and extract them for fantastic distillates. Next to that, that's why I have a nice ponytail, I love Japan. And in Japan, I love the citrus like the sudachi from Japan. Actually, I'm working on natsumikan. Natsu means summer in Japanese and mikan mandarin. Lovely city, close to Watami. So once again the citrus is a nice pillar in Kerry and we tried to reach out for various. For pineapple, I do remember that two years ago I was in a lovely City of Romanson, one hour drive from Manaus, and there we are harvesting the pineapple with local farmers and we are so proud to allow them to stay in their village instead of going to the city. But these pineapples are now drank in US or in other countries like China. The last one I could remember is the flowers. Because we are not so used to eating flowers, but when you work in the mountain or some such, you eat flower. The last time I was in South Africa, I took the opportunity to taste jambu flowers, which have a kind of tingling sensation and based on that we worked on, a sensation flavour for Kerry. So we can boost the taste of alcohol. We can have mouthwatering. We can have not only the hot and cold sensation. So it's a kind of universe you rediscover through your mouth.

Damien: One of the most pleasant things, and I think this has happened to a lot of us as a result of COVID-19 and really cooking at home, is that you cook something and then you taste it. And it tastes like something your mom used to make, or your dad used to make, your grandmother, your aunt, you know, whatever it might be. Is there also this capacity to almost bring tastes from the past back to the palette of the consumers? Is that possible? Also, is there a demand for that? Is it possible and is there a demand for it?

Michel: Yeah, it is possible, I will say it's a challenge. For sure, it's a challenge, but here, we need to work with our brain. I have two main examples. The first one, when I was five years old I was in love to think about Russia and I was dreaming about the mushrooms from Russia. I have a good friend close to the Lake Baikal that provided me some mushrooms to be extracted. The second one is that when I was 10 or 15, I was harvesting the raspberries in the forest and with that we made jam and also some liqueur, and taking that into consideration, I tried to kill two birds with one stone. So I took the raspberry, and we do a nice raspberry prep for yogurt application stuff like that or ice cream, but with the seeds, without wasting the seeds. We do a distillate and this one can be used in lovely products. So when you can marry these two, you can go nearly because it's not one go. You need to work like building blocks. So you start with an extract from the fruit and an extract from the seeds. Then you cook a little bit. So, when you can drive with nearly three kind of extracts, then you can try to replicate the taste profile you are remembering. It's not easy, but I will say taste now is going close to fragrance. People love to have a romance and to dream when they taste. They are not only willing to eat or drink because it's mandatory, but also they want to have some nice sensation in the brain. I would say the COVID-19 period brings to life empathy. That’s a word that people forget. And now people are more and more willing to think about the odour and that's why they are looking for the raspberry from their grandmother or some mushroom from their great uncle.

Damien: So the empathy that I guess we all feel for other people right now, it's also empathy towards the ingredients and tastes of the products that we eat as well. Is that the point?

Michel: Yeah, yeah, fair point and this empathy is doing that. We were surprised because, you know, there's a kind of willingness to lower down the sugar, and we have a nice pillar called TasteSense™, which allows us to lower the quantity of sugar. But meanwhile, people want to have this kind of generous taste in the mouth for some cookies or some ice cream, so a richness. And with our colleagues from Listowel in Ireland, they have optimized creaminess. This kind of mouthfeel, the wow effect. The fact that you remember that your kids get the kind of moustache of cream. That's something that is appealing and that was worked quite seriously with the fermentation team.

Damien: It's very hard not to smile when you describe the taste of food, isn't it, because they just bring such wonderful emotions back to the surface and that has to be a value creation opportunity for food companies, right?

Michel: Yeah, and this value proposition is also going far away from the border. That means that even if we have been locked down during this period, we are willing to be surprised. We are willing to learn and we are willing to move far away from where we stand. So there is space also for new experiences, new drinks, playing with various sensations, taste profiles, crunchiness, taste, colour, working on natural colours. I saw an article for instance on port wine, which is providing now some blue color. So I think that the more we go, the more people are willing to eat safe, that’s good, but also with the kind of thinking process that they could help each other through. We can speak about sustainability, where we have nice pillar in Madagascar or the group we have in Indonesia. But also they want to dream and this dream for instance came to burst when we worked on some Indian mood ideas, spicy and Indian mood distillate, which came to birth in Europe into a new gin. And I was surprised that they don't pick up the standard taste gin, even a gin with a fantastic profile and cost efficient. But they pick up something that reminds them staying in Madras, in India, and the sensation of that. So, all the uniqueness that Kerry is trying to build because, we are really a fantastic company. Starting from a co-op in Listowel, we are now so numerous, working all over the globe with the kind of friendship and we can marry our tastes. That’s how we create really.

Damien: I think we need to call a halt to it there, Michel, cause I've got to go and taste something really fast and smile because you bring such joy to the topic and from a commercial point of view, it's so clear that this is a real platform from which to build new value opportunities for consumers, which is going to be important to us post COVID-19. Thank you for your time Michel. We have been On the Horizon. Stay safe, stay well, taste something nice tonight and we'll see you next time. Thank you very much.

About Michel:

Michel Aubanel is a natural extracts expert with a Masters in Industrial and Organic Chemistry from École Centrale de Marseille. Michel has worked in the flavour industry since 1983 and is Kerry’s Global Flavour Ingredients Development Manager. He is also an active Science Board Member of the International Organisation of Flavour Industry (IOFI). Michel has worked in various function such as R&D, IP Management, and operations in North America and Europe. As a Kerry Research Fellow, Michel is leading the Kerry SimplyNature™ Global Innovation Platform and is deeply involved in various Kerry sustainable relationships with farmers in South America and Madagascar.

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