Flavor Occasions

Apparently there aren’t enough holidays for us to fit in all our celebrations. At least, that seems to be what food brands believe, since they are creating new occasions all the time. Consumers don’t seem to be disagreeing though—the attitude is, “Give me a reason and I’ll be there.”

It may have started with “Friendsgiving,” the now-annual state of celebrating Thanksgiving with friends rather than family. It was the perfect new “holiday” for those who lived too far and had too little money to travel, and those who simply preferred friends to family. “Don’t sit home alone,” the marketing said. “Celebrate with friends!”

We’ve taken that admonition to heart, creating more and more reasons to celebrate that go way beyond the traditional holidays. We began putting more emphasis on holidays that weren’t Thanksgiving and Christmas, extending the holiday season—and the food that goes along with it—earlier, into Halloween, and keeping it later past Valentine’s Day. We began assigning food to St. Patrick’s Day, and to March Madness, and to Independence Day.

Next came national months and days. As I write this, it’s National Chicken Wing Day, and Pizza Hut is offering a pizza and wing pairing. Next up is National Cheesecake Day, when Magianno’s is taking advantage of the “holiday” and luring you in with an offer of free cheesecake.

And now we are evolving into less tangible events, like the one coming up in August: “National Admit You’re Happy Month.” Presumably any type of food will work for that one. It’s obvious that there is a new reward system in America, and we’ve decided that the occasional indulgence can contribute to our overall happiness, and that of those around us.

We’ve taken the idea of “occasions” and assigned it to seasons, too. In broad strokes, fall is for comfort food and a little nostalgia. Winter is traditional tastes and a little I’m-stuck-at-home experimentation and flavor innovation. Come spring, it’s all about light, new, and global. Summer is the season for outdoor parties and fresh flavors—and we want our environment to fit our food. Starbucks takes it even further, creating a summer-like look for its Tie Dye Frappuccino.

Its designer, designer, Paloma Carrington-Bataller, is quoted on the company’s official blog as saying the goal is to “remind buyers of what’s best about summer.” She adds, “We wanted to create something that celebrates summer and really conveys it both visually and through flavor within the beverage,” she said. “It’s summer in a cup and something everyone can relate to; it takes you back to sunny warm days of summer spent at camp or with friends and family.”

Flavor is no longer ingredient-based, any more than occasions are tied to set days of the year. Inspiration springs from fashion, design, the environment, accomplishments, and failures (yes, you should celebrate them, too). You can turn just about anything into a celebration, with the flavors, smells, and textural appeal to go along.

The moral of the story: If you need a reason to get together with friends, family, or both, don’t wait. These are the things that bring flavor to life.

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