Dairy Foods talks to inclusion insiders

Photo courtesy of Kerry Ingredients
It's that time of year when product developers are busy formulating the upcoming summer's next frozen dessert sensations. To make your life a little easier, Dairy Foodsmagazine talked to inclusion experts at eight supplier companies to hear what they had to say is the latest and greatest for ice cream.

Their responses suggest that consumers can be assured of some real winning combinations this upcoming year. Hope you like what you read and are able to put many of their innovations to good use.

Dairy Foods: Where does your company get its ideas for new inclusions?

Dowey: Flavor development is a dynamic and continuous process, especially when friends discover that your life work is ice cream flavor development. Everyone wants to share secret ice cream flavor fantasies in hopes of seeing their recipe in their local grocery store. Recently I received gelato formulas from an Italian family whose flavors have been handed down for generations. The formulas are in hand-scripted Italian complete with specific metrics that require translation and scaled-up conversion.

Nardini: Great ice cream ideas come from many different sources-what we see in the marketplace, comments from consumers, trends in other product categories and brainstorming sessions. The key is to be open to receive input from all sources, listen to what sources have to say and carefully evaluate the ones that seem to have potential.

Chaffin: We use primary market research to lead us to emerging trends and behaviors. Through dining out, grocery shopping and brainstorming, we combine our observations with the research and translate it to the frozen market.

Namy: We get our ideas from a multitude of industries. We study the framework of these industries on local, regional and national levels. Our ideation sessions are built upon mass media, supermarkets, restaurants, gourmet shops and food manufacturers.

Premo: Marketing looks at trends in the beverage, confectionery and dessert industries to determine what flavors are becoming hot, as well as international and restaurant dessert trends. With this information we brainstorm on what we feel are the hottest trends and determine what products we can create within our manufacturing capabilities.

Berries plus chocolate will always equate to decadence. Photo courtesy of Kerry Ingredients.
Muth:We enjoy creating new ideas that our customers come to us with whether it be a chocolate-coated malted milk ball or honey-roasted almond or cashew with a pure chocolate coating. There is always that unique idea that our customers or potential customers come to us with to help them figure out a new twist.

Dunning: One of the greatest advantages of being an international company is the ability to obtain concepts from other markets.

Dairy Foods: What are some of those new concepts?

Chaffin: We see opportunity in growing the chunk and flake category by adding new flavors and textures to standard chocolates. Examples include freeze-dried strawberries in white chocolate flakes, sunflower seeds in chocolate flakes and cinnamon in dark chocolate chunks.

Premo: There has been a great deal of interest in Hispanic flavors like horchata and arroz con leche, but at the end of the day, the flavors that sell the best are those that blend nuts, chocolate and caramel.

Hamilton: We recently rolled out a line of assorted cakes pieces such as a baked sponge cake, as well as pie crust pieces with names like Salty Sweet Traditional Pie Crust. And, the new Frosting Bites line includes Crème Cheese. For low-carb formulators, we have baked Reduced-Carb Brownie.

Mills: Fruit is very popular and we have fruit ingredients to meet everyone's need. There's an all-fruit line; a premium fruit line, which is 60% to 85% fruit in matrix; and the stabilized line, which offers 50% fruit and 50% matrix. These are all fruit-based ingredients that offer fruit piece integrity, natural colors without preservatives, natural flavors and are microbiologically safe to use in all frozen desserts. The best part is that the fruits remain soft when frozen and there is no crystallization or iciness in the products. Almost all fruits are available including mandarin oranges, cherries, raspberries, mangoes, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, tropical fruit blends and others. All of these, and more, can be customized to meet the new ideas and concepts of our customers.

Chocolate and caramel are two inclusion bases that consumers will always love. Photo courtesy of MD Enterprises Inc.
Muth:We can chocolate coat just about any of our products. Different chocolate coatings such as dark chocolate or white chocolate can really make a new flavor premium or superpremium, especially when coating popular items like nuts or dried fruits. Dark chocolate-coated cashews or white chocolate-coated dried strawberries are just a few of our newest creations.

Namy: One new concept we are featuring this year is our Frozen Dessert Mousse program. Mousse, a French term meaning "froth" or "foam," is a rich, airy dessert. This new mousse program presents itself in two aspects. One is a smooth program and the other as an inclusion program. Our brand new Designer Choco Bons, high-quality molded chocolates, contain an array of centers and flavor profiles such as caramel, orange, peanut butter, Kirsch cherry, mint and raspberry and are available in a variety of shapes featuring turtles, cups and hearts. Custom shapes are available as well.

We also have several new bakery items including Chocolate French Silk Pie Crust and Boston Cream Pie Pieces. And, there is renewed interest in Gooeys, which come in an array of flavors including custard, pecan pie, lemon, caramel and raspberry. Cake pieces are popular too, and can be used to formulate creations such as Red Velvet, Sachertorte and Spice Cake.

Nardini: Our newest concept is a product called Bear Foot Brownie. It is vanilla ice cream, milk chocolate and pieces of brownie. According to AC Nielsen scanner data, it is the fastest-selling brownie ice cream in the country and its rate of sales is almost equal to Moose Tracks, an item that sells as well as vanilla in many brands. We are hopeful that Bear Foot Brownie becomes the next Moose Tracks, as it is well on its way. In addition to Bear Foot Brownie, we have four other great new flavors that are just being introduced. These include Tootsie Roll (tastes like a Tootsie Roll and features a unique molded, filled, chewy cup), Tootsie Pops (includes crushed pieces of Tootsie Pops candies), Mocha Moose Tracks (a coffee-version of Moose Tracks) and Caramel Caribou Coffee Latte (a smooth, light latte version of our popular Caramel Caribou ice cream).

Photo courtesy of Pecan Deluxe Candy Co.
Dowey:Delicious, authentic dulce de leche caramel and mini-caramel cups are in Caramel Coyote, while red raspberry jam with dark chocolate and raspberry-filled cups are in Roadrunner Raspberry. Fuddy Duddy is thick rich chocolate with brownies and fudge-filled chocolate hearts and Irish Cream is made using authentic and creamy flavors from the Emerald Isle. Twisted Cactus sounds like a rock band but it is the unique combination of three exotic flavors: Marula fruit (the fruit of the African Kings), prickly pear and blood orange concentrate. Monkey Business combines the crunch of peanut butter variegate with banana and marshmallow ice cream. Our newest creation, Peanut Butter GooGoo Cluster, is a magical combination of consumers' top-three favorite flavors: Chocolate, peanut butter and caramel.

Dairy Foods: Low carb was obviously the big thing in 2004. Any predictions if it will continue in 2005?

Chaffin: While we believe the low-carb diet is tapering off, new improvements in no- and low-sugar products will continue to have some support from diabetic consumers. In 2005, we think the consumer will become conscientious about trans fatty acids.

Vucetovic: With obesity being the number-one health issue in the United States, low-carb eating is expected to remain of interest to the consumer as a lifestyle plan. Manufacturers will want to develop better-tasting products for consumer preference and acceptance.

Muth: Some level of carb control will always be a part of the dieter's world. Recent studies and marketing have brought it to the forefront and made it a top priority in the world of losing weight, especially rapid weight loss. And remember, nuts are the original low-carb snack. They also have good fats and high nutritional value.

Photo courtesy of Pecan Deluxe Candy Co.
Dowey:As more options for healthy "smart" foods make their way to the center of the plate it leaves more room for us to indulge in our favorite dessert. Thus, demand for indulgent flavors of ice cream will always be in vogue.

Sinha: People who are health conscious will continue to use low carb as a daily guide for eating. However, this trend will not dominate the new product scene. The interest in the functional attributes of foods, and especially fruits and vegetables will continue to grow. People will look for new products, but not necessarily low carb. They will look for products that offer bioactive phytochemical properties that are beneficial to living a healthier life. Foods, including ice cream, that contain fruits and vegetables, are another way for consumers to get their daily dose of antioxidants and anthocyanins.

Nardini: We think that low carb will continue to be part of the category, but not nearly the size it was this past summer. Some items will be discontinued with only the best-sellers left on shelves.

Premo: The demand for low carb is definitely tapering off. Products will stay in the market, but it is not a growth area. The trend for 2005 won't be much different then what it has been in the past, which is indulgence. People are looking for indulgence in ice cream, so if we can hit a new hot button in this arena, that is where the growth will be.

Dunning: I believe the low-carb trend will keep a niche market, but there will be some modifications. One trend will be to move away from the high-fat, low-carb products to products that are lower in fat and have some reduction in sugars/carbohydrates.

Chaffin: I believe the superpremium category will maintain a strong hold. When consumers want to indulge, they want the best.

Dairy Foods: Tried and true, there will always be some inclusions considered mainstays. What are they, and why do they continue to be popular?

Nardini: It is correct to say that there are perennial best-selling inclusions, but that's the way it is in every product category. The reason these are best sellers every year, and the same reason there are standard best-selling inclusions each year, boils down to two things. The first is that American consumers are predisposed to certain tastes and thus a larger part of the market selects those tastes. Second, the strength of brands and flavor profiles becomes embedded in consumers' psyches and thus establishes a hard-to-replace positioning, which leads to sales.

Jana’s pie crust pieces turn ordinary ice cream into a nostalgic frozen treat. Photo courtesy of Kerry Ingredients.
Hamilton:Comfort food-related items such as cookie dough, baked cookies and brownie items have always been good sellers.

Muth: One of America's top choices is butter pecan. There are other nuts that are also popular and should continue to be especially with the increased awareness of all the health benefits that nuts provide.

Mills: Mainstays will continue to be chocolate-flavored items and the standard fruit flavors such as strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and black cherry. Low-calorie sorbets with mandarin oranges and tropical fruit medleys will also continue to be popular.

Dowey: Chocolate with peanut butter, caramel with chocolate, peanuts, pecans, almonds and cherries are all inclusion mainstays. Most of these, if not all, are used in combination and represent the American iconic taste of ice cream.

Nardini: I would put these inclusions in the "tried and true" category: Cookie dough, cookies and cream, peanut butter cups and brownie pieces. Brownies are still rather too new to be called a lock for tried and true status, but there are already many great-selling brownie items and this could be the new cookie dough.

Dairy Foods: Please comment on the relatively mature frozen dessert category and where opportunities exist for manufacturers.

Hamilton: There is always an opportunity to create interesting and exciting new flavors. The challenge is limited retail freezer space and the cost of shelf space. There also is always an opportunity to differentiate yourself by introducing regional flavors and going to the reverse of macro co-branding of products to micro co-branding, using boutique brands and/or featured ingredient programs.

Nothing beats the flavor and color that real fruit provides frozen desserts. Photo courtesy of Graceland Fruit Inc.
Nardini:There probably isn't going to be a substantial breakthrough in category growth any time soon. In order for that to happen, something revolutionary will need to take place-in product form, distribution, etc.-something similar to the way Starbucks reinvigorated the tired coffee category. However, there is always opportunity to offer consumers new exciting flavors.

Dunning: Other potential growth areas for the frozen dessert market are in the category of health and wellness. Frozen desserts containing fiber and probiotic cultures, calcium fortification and vitamin fortification are emerging categories.

Chaffin: I see opportunities in three areas: Indulgent adult concepts, healthy novelties and co-branding. Indulgent adult ice cream concepts such as fromage and wildberry wine, champagne and strawberries, and chocolate cherry kiss are affordable luxuries. Healthy trends may call for more novelties that are fortified with vitamins and minerals and appeal to both moms and kids. Co-branding can draw loyal customers to new products.

Mills: Opportunities in new fruit-based flavors, especially tropical fruits, will continue to grow. How aggressively they grow depends on the willingness of the manufacturer to experiment with new and different flavors. Different fruits like black current, red current, black berry and others need to be test marketed to evaluate the potential in the U.S. marketplace. There are opportunities to expand product lines from the ordinary to the extraordinary as long as the manufacturers are innovative and market driven.

Photo courtesy of Graceland Fruit Inc.
Dairy Foods: How important is it to continuously offer Americans new ice cream flavors?

Nardini: It is very important. There will always be mainstays that are the top sellers, but there is plenty of room for new flavors to come along and grab market share, and maybe even grow the category modestly. American consumers want and expect new flavors from us and it is the industry's responsibility to keep developing new flavors for consumers to love.

Namy: Offering new ice cream flavors is as important as coming out with new cars, fashion, movies, etc. Ice cream is no different in offering new flavors and textures. You have to have these new products to drive new product sales.

Premo: Ice cream marketers have always had rotational flavors in their mix and it is something that consumers look forward to in order to put some variety in their life. If the variety of flavors is not available with a certain brand, then the consumer will most likely lose interest in that brand.

Vucetovic: Although consumers have a comfort level with their favorite ice cream flavors, there is great opportunity for growth in that category. Consumer demand for new creative flavors has never been greater.

Muth: I think manufacturers need to constantly get in front of consumers with their brand, especially with all the choices out there today. New products is one of the best ways to do this as well as improving an existing product or flavor. Besides, every manufacturer wants to have the latest and greatest idea on the street.

Dairy Foods: Are feature flavor programs successful for most frozen dessert marketers?

Dowey: The American pallet is forever in search of the perfect ice cream flavor. Presenting diversity to consumers is a key for success in the market. It becomes a proving ground for emerging new flavors, enabling the processor to identify a widely desired flavor that gravitates to the permanent flavor category.

Photo courtesy of MD Enterprises Inc.
Premo:This is a vehicle in which new flavors can be brought to the market, especially for medium- to small-size dairies. I think that the number of flavors being offered through this avenue is being down-sized because it is very costly to have special packaging printed up for short runs, as well as special-order ingredients that may not get used up if this flavor does not do well.

Chaffin: Feature flavor programs are successful in several ways. Consumers are excited to try new products. Offering limited edition holiday flavors such as eggnog, peppermint stick or pumpkin concepts are a great way to boost sales during a time of year that is not typically high in frozen dairy sales. Feature flavors are also a great tool to see if a flavor is worth becoming a permanent offering.

Nardini: Feature flavor programs are a two-edged sword. On one hand, it allows a product to get out in the marketplace and prove itself. However, feature flavor programs can sometimes be a dumping ground where products that are good enough to be in regular lines are placed simply because someone doesn't want to take a risk that may reflect poorly on them. Business is about taking risks, at least calculated risks, and by placing some flavors in featured flavor programs instead of the regular line; we are losing sales, at least in the initial year, that can not be replaced.

Namy: New inclusions and feature flavors are the driving force of the frozen dessert industry.

Dowey: We all like to get that "prize in the box" and the inclusion is the perfect fulfillment vehicle. Do you remember how great it was to get the prize in the box of cereal? It made you want to buy the cereal just for the prize. That is what inclusions in our ice cream represent-the prize in the box!

Here's who we talked to...

Linda Dunning, technical manager-frozen desserts, and Zyla Vucetovic, business analyst-flavors, Danisco USA Inc.

John Nardini, executive vice president of marketing, Denali Flavors

Suzi Mills, marketing manager, and Nirmal Sinha, vice president of research and development, Graceland Fruit Inc.

Kim Premo, director of R&D, Guernsey Bel, a Kerry Company, and Darryl Hamilton, director of marketing, Kerry Sweet Ingredients

Mark Dowey, president and CEO, MD Enterprises Inc.

John Namy, vice president of culinary development, Pecan Deluxe Candy Co.

Jennifer Chaffin, lab technologist, dairy applications, Sensient Flavors Inc.

Bill Muth, industrial sales manager, Terri Lynn Inc.