Have you ever noticed how Taco Bell has only about 15 fillings or toppings and a half dozen or so carriers, but somehow manages to mix and match these ingredients to offer a new menu item to customers on a regular basis?

Ice cream manufacturers are not too different.



Have you ever noticed how Taco Bell has only about 15 fillings or toppings and a half dozen or so carriers, but somehow manages to mix and match these ingredients to offer a new menu item to customers on a regular basis?

Ice cream manufacturers are not too different. Granted, the pool of inclusions and carriers is larger, but seldom does the marketplace experience a truly new inclusion. With ice cream, a lot of the innovation comes from the marketing department identifying a sub-brand that creatively accompanies some eye-catching and mouth-watering flavor combinations. For the most part, it’s the same old candies, chips, crumbles, fruits, nuts and variegates.

I challenge any of you to apply this observation to a new ice cream line.

For the record, it’s a generally accepted as fact that in the business of sweet treats, ice cream is often the follower and not the trend setter. In order to follow trends, it’s important to know what they are. I hear the latest trend is salty. That’s right, it’s having salt be promoted as a flavor in sweet foods, and not just added as a flavor enhancer or a processing aid.

Photo Courtesy of Cold Stone Creamery

Candy manufacturers have been doing this for some time. Many tout the inclusion of salty nuts, typically peanuts, in chocolate, as satisfying what some view as conflicting cravings. Recently, several granola bar marketers have jumped on the bandwagon with package labels describing product as “sweet and salty.” Kettle corn is often promoted as sweet and salty. There’s even Chex Mix Sweet ‘n Salty Caramel Crunch.

Interestingly, this promotion of “salty” comes at a time when dietary sodium is under scrutiny . . . once again. But this does not seem to be stopping marketers from promoting salty as a flavor.

McCormick & Company Inc., Hunt Valley, Md., recently “announced its top-10 flavor pairings for 2007 and two of them included salt: “crystallized ginger and salted pistachio” and “sea salt and smoked tea.”

“In creating this report, we examined two overarching trends influencing flavor,” says Laurie Harrsen, director of consumer communications. “The first is the ever-expanding breadth of choices, specifically within individual ingredients. Even staples like salt are now available in a diverse palette of flavor, color and texture. Also, global cuisines, particularly those of North Africa, Asia and the Middle East, continue to drive our exploration of new foods and flavors.”

Now granted, these flavor pairings are not sweet and salty, but the point is that “salty” has become a flavor, and one that should be included in ice cream.

Innovative takers out there . . . here are my five sweet and salty flavor ideas:
  • Climb to new altitudes with Trail Mix Crunch-light coconut-flavored ice cream with chewy raisins, salty cashews and mini chocolate chips.
  • You won’t waste away with new Margaritaville-bourbon vanilla ice cream swirled with lime sorbet and salted tortilla pieces.
  • Score a homerun with Ballpark Slam-peanut butter-flavored ice cream swirled with crunchy peanut butter and salted pretzel pieces.
  • At the Movies headlines with creamy, star-studded ice cream containing swirls of cola-flavored caramel. It credits its crunch to the addition of salted, buttered popcorn pieces.
  • Chips and Dip uses naturally flavored frozen yogurt to deliver a hearty portion of milk chocolate chips and salty ridged chips. Double dippers welcome.

The sensation of “salty sweet” is craved by many consumers. In fact, a quick internet search produced numerous websites and blogs dedicated to the topic.

Consumers say things such as: “I will happily eat a potato chip and wash it down with a swallow of chocolate,” and “One of the best desserts I’ve had is a simple Spanish treat. You toast a slice of bread with a few small squares of bittersweet chocolate on top. Then, drizzle the melted chocolate with olive oil and sea salt.”

If you are interested in learning more about such sensory phenomena and what makes consumers’ tastes buds tingle, you might want to consider attending the 7th Pangborn Symposium. This meeting honors the memory of Rose Marie Pangborn, who dedicated her career to the advancement of sensory science and the development of young scientists. This symposium will provide opportunities for the presentation of new knowledge and information regarding sensory evaluation, as well as the presentation of commercial technologies and services related to sensory evaluation. To many in the field, the Pangborn Symposium is recognized as the most important scientific symposium for the disciplines of consumer and sensory sciences. The meeting is in Minneapolis, August 12-16. For more information, visit www.pangborn2007.com.