Your new product has hit the shelves. The packaging is bold and innovative. The claims are convincing and based on solid science. The flavor has been-well, it has been masked. The customer buys it once, but will he or she purchase it a second time if the flavor is less than optimal?



Your new product has hit the shelves. The packaging is bold and innovative. The claims are convincing and based on solid science. The flavor has been-well, it has been masked. The customer buys it once, but will he or she purchase it a second time if the flavor is less than optimal? Many a food manufacturer has learned the old adage, "Flavor rules," the hard way. If the product doesn't deliver on taste, it won't last long in today's competitive marketplace.

One of the major advantages of using dairy ingredients in food formulations is their clean flavor profile. This is especially true when formulating products that are higher in protein. If your company has selected a dairy ingredient because of its superior flavor, an expert outside opinion might help your staff understand some of the subtle differences that can exist among dairy ingredients and which dairy ingredients work best in specific food systems.

This assistance can be obtained through the new Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI) Pilot Sensory Laboratory at North Carolina State University. The Sensory Services Center at NCSU offers the entire spectrum of sensory science, including qualitative and quantitative consumer market research. Laboratory leader MaryAnne Drake, Ph.D., has a trained panel ready to provide descriptive sensory analysis to food manufacturers developing a new product with dairy ingredients or trouble-shooting quality assurance issues on an existing line.

In addition to this ready group of individuals with taste buds and noses trained to detect the difference between a "fruity" versus a "nutty" note in cheese and other dairy products and ingredients, the sensory lab has equipment to perform volatile flavor chemistry research, linking these flavor notes to chemical anchors. Add to that their dairy science background, the knowledge of the changes that can take place in dairy systems over time, and you have a group that is unique in its breadth of services and dairy expertise.

Drake has developed a variety of lexicons, or special languages, used to describe the flavor notes in cheese, dry dairy ingredients and milk. Several auxiliary lexicons describe more specific variations, such as Cheddar cheese or chocolate milk. Descriptions of some of these lexicons are available at the NCSU website, (www.ncsu.edu/sensory) and on DMI's site (http://www.innovatewithdairy.com/innovatewithdairy/articles/TB_Home_032905.htm).

The services at NCSU can augment a company's own internal sensory work and quality assurance programs. Many companies perform in-house tests, including triangle tests, ranking tests and crude attribute analysis. They can work through DMI's technical support system to have samples of their products evaluated as flavor concerns arise or to optimize a new product they are bringing to market. They can also gain increased knowledge through some of Drake's published journal articles or through attending short courses at NCSU. The first sensory course is being offered this August. Larger companies will have more sophisticated ability and may request an on-site seminar to fine-tune their dairy lexicons. These on-sites typically include a hands-on tasting of basic dairy flavors and an opportunity to test the knowledge learned in a company's own product line.

DMI-funded research has also explored other specific applications, such as the use of whey proteins in beverages. NCSU's Allen Foegeding, Ph.D., has explored how formula variables such as pH, salts, type of sweetener and acid can affect whey protein functionality. His research has looked at ways to minimize astringency issues that might be associated with whey in a very low pH (2.89-3.38) system, and examples of systems ideal for whey protein, such as citrus-flavored beverages.

In today's market, it's important to know your products, your consumers and your competitors. Ingredients can vary from supplier to supplier, and finished products can undergo changes in flavor and texture over time.



DMI assistance is available at techsupport@innovatewithdairy.com or 800/248-8829.

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