Innovative packaged retail foods often have origins in foodservice, which is why this month’s Ingredient Technology feature on inclusions is based on food flavor trends showcased at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) show in Chicago at the end of May.

Ice cream marketers are creating limited edition flavors with specialty inclusions. New Häagen-Dazs Toasted Coconut Sesame Brittle Ice Cream uses ginger-infused sesame brittle and fresh-shaved coconut. Photo courtesy of Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Holdings Inc.

Innovative packaged retail foods often have origins in foodservice, which is why this month’s Ingredient Technology feature on inclusions is based on food flavor trends showcased at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) show in Chicago at the end of May. Keeping in mind that inclusions are not just for frozen desserts-they can be added to cheese spreads, cottage cheese, sour cream dips and yogurt-the ideas generated at NRA range from salty to savory to sour to sweet-with sometimes all four flavor sensations in one bit or piece. And to top it off, sometimes the pieces crunch, melt, pop or tingle.

With nearly 2,200 exhibiting companies on the NRA show floor, approximately one-third being food and beverage products, there were a lot of trends to digest and a lot of potential dairy food applications to imagine.  

Without a doubt, ethnic cuisine and foreign food and beverage companies offering tastes of Brazil and Bavaria, India and Indonesia, North Africa and New Zealand, provoked thoughts of using these flavor sensations in dairy foods. For example, Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream & Desserts, Aiea, Hawaii, rolled out a Japanese ice cream flavored with Okinawan purple sweet potatoes and sweetened rice flour. Granted these are not inclusions, rather simply ingredients, but unusual ingredients indeed, and thus worth mentioning. Of course, purple sweet potatoes could be cubed and infused (to keep them soft) and made into an inclusion. Maybe even dipped in something sweet, like honey butter, and fried for some extra zip.

NRA exhibitor Palazzolo’s Artisan Gelato & Sorbetto, Douglas, Mich., uses only fresh ingredients to make its gelato and sorbetto products for foodservice customers. And some of the inclusions are out of this world. For example, gelato offerings include Cinnamon Basil (sweet cream blended with ground cinnamon and fresh basil); Candied Ginger (fresh ginger ground and steeped in cream with chopped candied ginger); Lavender Honey (raw honey and ground lavender buds steeped in fresh cream and lavender flower buds speckled throughout); Roasted Garlic White Chocolate (roasted garlic and vanilla base with white chocolate chunks); and Black Peppercorn (fine and course ground black peppercorns steeped with fresh cream.)

Of course Palazzolo’s offers all the traditional flavors, but it’s these more imaginative flavors that has chefs calling on Palazzolo’s for something different. “Working with America’s top chefs, we’re called upon to create new flavors weekly,” says Dave Seidel, customer service. “We understand that offering something completely unique is crucial to today’s market.”

Indeed, unique products that are on track with today’s trends are where the action is. NRA surveyed more than 1,000 chefs in late 2006 to identify the hottest menu trends (see table). Dairy product developers need to know these trends and entertain different ways that they can be incorporated into dairy foods. The inclusion route is a logical one, as it does not upset the base formulation too much.

Survey results show the top-five trends to be bite-sized desserts, locally grown produce, organic produce, flatbread and bottled water. All of these, surprisingly, can be applied to dairy foods. A frozen water ice can flag the water source, and a cheese spread can be formulated to “easily spread on even the thinnest of flatbreads.” The other three readily apply to inclusions.

In fact, another NRA exhibitor, Pecan Deluxe Candy Co., Dallas, promoted its multi-layered, multi-textured bite-size dessert pieces for frozen desserts. “These dessert pieces can be coated to prevent moisture migration and be used in frozen desserts. With refrigerated yogurt, really mini pieces can be packaged separately in a dual compartment container and consumers mix them in,” says John Namy, vice president, culinary development at Pecan Deluxe.

Inclusions add value to yogurts and dips, as well as cream cheese spreads.

Pecan Deluxe was showcasing a variety of its ingredients for use in non-dairy foodservice applications. However, these ingredients can be modified to work in all types of dairy systems.

For example, to complement Trend #7-Asian Appetizers-the company’s Teriyaki Cashews can be included in a dip or, for the adventurous, in a frozen dessert. The company’s sweet and savory line of encrusted meat nuts also includes signature specialties such as Chipotle Walnuts, Ranch Pecans and Kettle Cooked Pretzels, all of which can be included in dairy foods.

“Consumers find salty and sweet combinations very appealing,” says Douglas Snyder, business development manager, Snyder’s of Hanover, Hanover, Pa., a salty snack NRA exhibitor. The company’s pretzels are chocolate covered and used in Lancaster, Pa.-based Turkey Hill Dairy’s Creamy Commotions Synder’s Chocolate Pretzel ice cream.

Snyder’s has other salty snacks, which with a little tweaking and some creative formulating, could become an inclusion for dairy foods. For example, the company has a variety of waffle sandwich snacks that are filled with ingredients such as peanut butter or Cheddar cheese. Those fillings could be cream cheese based, and the entire sandwich dipped in a fruit-flavored coating. Even potato chips could be reconstructed into an inclusion.

Think out of the box when it comes to inclusions in order to create a point of differentiation. Sweet still dominates, but savory flavor sensations are growing strong. Photos courtesy of Sanitarium

“We can deconstruct any snack and rebuild it into an inclusion for dairy foods,” says Jamie Cutler, senior product specialist culinary development at Pecan Deluxe. “We can create ribbons for ice cream that contain crunchy pieces such as potato chips or tortilla pieces.”

Speaking of tortillas, Unilever Ice Cream Co., Green Bay, Wis., another NRA exhibitor, showcased its Breyers Fried Ice Cream, which contains cinnamon tostado pieces that maintain their crunch in the frozen application.

“Fried, crunchy pieces are very popular this season,” says Namy. “Anything can be breaded and fried and designed to keep its crunch in a high-moisture dairy application.” Such inclusions can be further differentiated with the use of different salts, which is Trend #15. 

Additional “hot” items that can be applied to inclusions for dairy foods include pomegranates, figs, fresh herbs and exotic mushrooms. Even whole-grain pieces can find a home in dairy foods.

Sidebar: Top-20 Hot Items for 2007

1. Bite-sized Desserts
2. Locally Grown Produce
3. Organic Produce
4. Flatbread
5. Bottled Water
6. Specialty Sandwiches
7. Asian Appetizers
8. Espresso/Specialty Coffees
9. Whole Grain Bread
10. Mediterranean Cuisine
11. Pan-seared Items
12. Fresh Herbs
13. Latin American Cuisine
14. Exotic Mushrooms
15. Salts
16. Grilled Items
17. Pomegranates
18. Grass-fed Items
19. Free-range Items
20. Pan-Asian Cuisine

Source: National Restaurant Association survey of 1,146 members of the American Culinary Federation, October 2006