By Michael Lindsey

Americans are increasingly going global. Or at least our taste buds are.

From ginger and wasabi to seaweed and passion fruit, we’re indulging on flavors and ingredients previous generations hadn't even heard of. In fact, over three-fourths of Americans say they like trying flavors from different places and cultures, and more than two-thirds say they enjoy globally-inspired foods at least once a month.

Those are just a couple of fascinating findings from the Frito-Lay U.S. Snack Index survey about global flavors and their influence on the snack industry. The results offer surprising insights into what consumers want for snacks. (Hint: It’s not the same old thing.)

At Frito-Lay, we continually strive to develop and quickly bring to market snacks to keep up with consumer taste preferences, even while they're constantly changing.

Consumers have always sought variety, but the types of snacks they’re seeking is evolving, with more flavors hitting the shelves. Today, the average consumer might seek 100-200 different types of snacks throughout one month.

Face it, Americans are becoming much more adventurous eaters. I've seen the seaweed snacks my kids loved while we were living in China now appear in stores across the U.S. Suddenly, everyone in the food industry faces a big challenge — to predict and adapt to rapidly expanding consumer preferences with speed and agility.

That’s why we employ hundreds of culinary experts and scientists, who experiment with over 1,000 global flavor alternatives within our proprietary database. We've also invested in artificial intelligence-anchored technologies to analyze trends, regional nuances and demographic segments to make snacks consumers want, exactly when and where they want them.

Data and our technology differentiate Frito-Lay. We're one of the only true end-to-end snacking companies which means we make, move and sell our own product.

Younger consumers are especially willing to explore new tastes, perhaps because of their interest in travel. Indeed, eight out of 10 Generation Z respondents to our survey said their flavor preferences are influenced by places they’ve visited. And, over a third of the respondents reported being more adventurous eaters today than they were five years ago.

Some hot trends in flavors are both new and surprising. Unique flavors like tahini and turmeric are popular ingredients. So are entire flavor profiles like Latin American cuisine, with ingredients such as mole, chimichurri and cayenne peppers. We also see cross-culture comfort foods like pickled peppers and hot honey picking up speed, plus flavors derived from mainland Asia — ranging from curry and coconut to Himalayan salt and sweet chili.

Clearly, a one-size-fits-all approach to snacks just won't work. Snacking preferences are local. Our job is to delight niche communities as well as the masses — and we see this trend continuing. That’s why we employ AI technology to study millions of data points rapidly and continually, identifying micro-markets for flavors or products that might otherwise be missed.

Recently, thanks to AI, we uncovered small market segments in the eastern U.S. seeking hot and spicy flavors, even though most consumers in the surrounding metropolitan areas normally have more classic flavor palates. We were able to reshape distribution to ensure that precisely the right products were available in each local point of sale, based on those local shopper demographics.

This is an incredibly dynamic time in the snack food industry. Being able to adapt swiftly to changing demographics and shifting preferences means staying on the cutting edge. Continually innovating is imperative in today’s CPG snack industry.

Michael Lindsey is senior vice president, chief transformation and strategy officer, Frito-Lay North America at PepsiCo.

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