Global spice giant McCormick has opened a new innovation centre in the Buckinghamshire countryside to develop a new generation of products. Rob Brown takes a look around

There’s no quicker way to zizz up a home-cooked meal than add some herbs or spices to it. But for today’s increasingly adventurous foodies, French, Italian and Spanish seasonings alone will no longer cut it. For them if you’re not cooking Caribbean, Moroccan or Vietnamese, you’re just not cooking.

But what will the next big flavour sensation be? I’m in Buckinghamshire to find out. To be precise, I’m at the European HQ of McCormick the world’s largest herbs and spices player and owner of Schwartz which has just opened a new £1.5m innovation centre to help it stay ahead of the culinary curve.

Doing so is vital, says Rick Gill, VP for technical and R&D, as he gives The Grocer an exclusive tour of the facility. And speed to market is of the essence. “Our customers and consumers need constant excitement and they don’t have time to wait,” he says, adding that the new centre allows the company to really accelerate the NPD process, which it undertakes in partnership with its retail and food service customers.

“What used to take several weeks we now do in two days. There’s still a period of time for packaging but it does mean we can get products on the shelves much more quickly. The trick is to develop products more quickly so we can increase our hit rate of successful products.”

With raw material prices soaring tumeric prices climbed 47% last year, ginger 60%, and mace a whopping 140%, according to Mintec innovation has never been more important for McCormick, which spends roughly $60m on R&D a year. So the race is on to add value to herbs and spices.

“Commodity prices are keeping everyone awake,” says Anthony Palmer, general manager of Schwartz UK. “You can’t just swallow a 35% increase in pepper costs. You have to pass some of that on. As well as plant efficiencies, we’re looking at the consumer experience and new products. For that we have to look at consumer trends.”

To that end, McCormick enlists the help of chefs and industry experts to produce its influential Flavour Forecasts report every year. The company has a deep pool of expertise to tap into. It owns a host of consumer brands across the globe and counts some of the biggest names in fast food among its clients.

So it’s no surprise that the report correctly predicted trends such as the rise in specific regional cuisines and the resurgence of slow-cooked stews. Identifying the latter allowed Schwartz to rapidly launch four herb and spice mixes for slow cookers last October that now account for 2.4% of the dry cook in sauce market. Another guiding trend is healthy eating, which in 2006 prompted McCormick to open its own Health Institute to research herbs and spices’ nutritional benefits.

As for the next big thing in flavours, Gill anticipates a demand for more localised flavours. “Chinese is no longer enough,” he says. “They want flavours from specific regions and flavours from beyond China Malaysia or Vietnam. African and Middle Eastern flavours will also be big.”

Especially if the world’s largest herbs and spices company gets behind them.