One thousand five hundred and counting. That’s how many flavors Marie Wright, chief global flavorist at Archer Daniels Midland Co., has developed for her highly secretive clients: the biggest food brands in the world.
She sent me a care package showcasing some of her team’s work, which includes a Coca-Cola chicken jerky. When is the last time I even drank a real Coke? I wonder. A decade?
I take my first bite, and the sticky sweet flavor of this jerky is exactly like a sip from a freshly cracked-open can of Coke. Then the Coke flavor gives way to smoke and salt. It’s okay, I think, minutes before I realize that I’ve finished the whole bag.
Companies like PepsiCo, Kraft Heinz, and Anheuser-Busch are embracing wild new flavors that seem novel and extreme. But upon closer inspection, they’re actually just remixing flavors we already know and love. These brand mashups have been on-trend for some time, but COVID-19 has cemented the practice. Lockdown offered food and beverage companies an unparalleled captive audience of people starved as much for comfort as they are novelty.