Indulgence is still important in the ice cream and frozen dessert category, but wellness has its place to. Vanilla and chocolate are still the top flavors by any measure, and the new frozen yogurt outlets, all the rage in California are coming to Chicago. 

Summer is barely over and frozen dessert innovators are already planning 2008’s line up. If you need some ideas, read on.

This past summer proved to be successful for numerous players thanks to a healthy economy, warm temperatures and creative concepts. Even though the frozen dessert market has been relatively flat in terms of dollar sales, the category by no means is boring. In fact, the one way marketers woo consumers is through innovation. Cool concepts, trendy flavors, healthful halos . . . you name it, someone is doing it.

According to Yahoo! Buzz, the 25 coolest ice cream flavors in 2007 are, in descending order, 1) vanilla, 2) chocolate, 3) strawberry, 4) peach, 5) banana, 6) coffee, 7) green tea, 8) coconut, 9) butter pecan, 10) peanut butter, 11) lemon, 12) pineapple, 13) apple, 14) ginger, 15) mango, 16) mint, 17) cinnamon, 18) spumoni, 19) Oreo, 20) blueberry, 21) pistachio, 22) apricot, 23) custard, 24) cherry and 25) cheesecake. Yahoo! Buzz obtains this data by tracking key words entered on its search engine. Thus, this qualitative data merely indicates flavor interest by computer users. Interestingly, the top-three are on track with quantitative industry data, suggesting that the others are good indicators of consumer interest. In other words, they are “cool” flavors.

But frozen desserts are much more than flavor, even though consumers do not always realize it. Textured variegates are an innovative way to create a point of differentiation. For example, there’s a new chocolate cookie crunch variegate in the marketplace. Described as a textured crumb-based variegate, the ingredient offers numerous sensory experiences. Preceded by graham, peanut butter and sugar cone, this new chocolate item has universal appeal as a building block for great ice cream flavors.

Texture sensations play a key role in the numerous ice cream beads or pellets in both foodservice and retail. Dippin’ Dots, Paducah, Ky., is the original player of cryogenically frozen ice cream beads. The concept of using liquid nitrogen to cryogenically freeze beads of ice cream helps lock in the flavor of the ice cream, as the beads freeze in seconds. To maintain the quality and flavor, Dippin’ Dots must be kept at temperatures below zero.

Recently, Kemps LLC, St. Paul, Minn., an HP Hood company, Lynnfield, Mass., rolled out its version of ice cream beads, Called Ittibitz, the product is currently only available for foodservice accounts. It comes in 1.4 gallon pails for scooping and 5-oz cups for vending. According to the company, the key difference between Ittibitz and Dippin’ Dots is that Ittibitz can travel and be stored at normal ice cream temperatures. The seven flavors of Ittibitz are Banana Split, Cookies & Cream, Mint Chip, Cotton Candy, Strawberry, Vanilla and Neapolitan.

Another company offering a similar products is MolliCoolz LLC, Redlands, Calif. These frozen beads are sold in multi-packs of 2.5-oz cups in supermarkets.

Sometimes texture comes with added nutritional value, as is the case with a new crunchy inclusion for addition to frozen novelty coatings. The crisps are formulated for superior crispness retention during freezer storage, resulting in extended shelflife, improved product quality and enhanced consumer satisfaction.

Independent sensory studies confirm that the new crisps maintain crispness when formulated in a chocolate ice cream coating. Over a six week test period, standard rice crisps lost their crispness while the new crisps made with resistant starch and chicory fiber changed minimally. Crispness was measured in terms of the initial bite experience as well as how long the crunchiness lasted. 

The extruded, sustainable crunch crisp resembles traditional rice crisps, yet has 35% fewer calories than many carbohydrates. Furthermore, the inulin in the chicory and the resistant starch are prebiotics, thus they promote digestive health. 

In general, the prebiotic inulin can stabilize water into a creamy structure with the same mouthfeel as fat. This enables product developers to replace part of the fat content of ice cream, reducing calories while maintaining a smooth, creamy texture. Inulin also delivers roundness and creaminess as well as balanced flavor. It stabilizes emulsions and dispersions and improves product stability.

A brand new soluble corn fiber offers ice cream manufacturers another fiber ingredient option. This corn-based prebiotic fiber is well-tolerated and has a low glycemic response. Dissolving clear in applications, it readily replaces traditional sweeteners such as liquid and dry corn sweeteners, sucrose and sugar alcohols. At only two calories per gram, it can reduce calories while maintaining the texture and body imparted from nutritive sweeteners.

With society’s increasing emphasis on the prevention of obesity, sugar-free frozen desserts and ice cream are moving beyond the diabetic population to include a wide range of consumers. A combination of soluble fiber and maltitol achieves a convincing reduction in calories and simple sugars, resulting in healthier products that are both well tolerated and great-tasting. Both ingredients are highly soluble and dispersible, making them easy to use in current frozen dessert manufacturing systems.

Indeed, all types of fibers are being explored in frozen dessert applications, even in products for kids. For example, Unilever Ice Cream Co., Green Bay, Wis., now sells Popsicle Mighty Moos Vanilla and Chocolate low-fat ice cream bars. Polydextrose enables a good source of fiber claim, offering 3g fiber per 2.25-oz bar.

The trend to really be on top of is the addition of non-traditional fruits-and lots of them. It is possible to produce a dairy-based, hard-pack smoothie that has 60% fruit content. The right stabilizer creates a three-dimensional network to control a slow and uniform melt. At 85% overrun, a 3.5-oz single-serve cup meets school lunch guidelines.

When it comes to the “in” and “up-and-coming” fruits for frozen desserts, pomegranate has officially crossed the line and is considered mainstream, even though its use in dairy foods has occurred only in the past few years. Acai is getting to that point, too. Dairy manufacturers should take note of the new up-and-coming novel fruits for frozen desserts.

One is mangosteen, which is a South East Asian fruit that has a crisp, clean, sweet and tangy flavor. Citrus and peach back notes can often be detected. Mangosteen is included in the emerging functional foods category called superfruits, as it is high in nutrients and antioxidants. Mangosteen is available in puree and juice forms, which renders it suitable for frozen desserts, either alone or in combination with other fruits.

There’s also goji berries, which come from Northern Asia in the Tibetan and Mongolian Himalayas. The nutrient-rich soil and the fresh mountain air of this region guarantee nearly optimum conditions for the Lycium barbarum plant to flourish and produce the fruit. It is not uncommon for people in the Himalayas who eat goji berries on a regular basis to have life expectancies of 100 years or more. This is attributed to the high levels of antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids that the berries contain. The berries also contain more beta carotene than carrots and 15 times more available iron than spinach. As one can imagine, goji berries are an emerging superfruit with application in frozen desserts.

One of the more novel superfruits that will likely start showing up in boutique frozen desserts is cherimoya. Believed to be native to southern Ecuador and northern Peru, cherimoya is currently produced in limited amounts in Southern California. It is well known in Asia, as well as throughout South and Central America, and is gaining interest rapidly along the U.S. Pacific coast.

The cherimoya fruit is fleshy and soft, sweet, white in color, with a custard-like texture, which gives it its secondary name, custard apple. Some characterize the flavor as a blend of pineapple, mango and strawberry. Others describe it as tasting like commercial bubblegum. All of these attributes render it very complementary to all types of dairy foods, particularly frozen desserts.

Much like honey, agave is typically classified as an all-natural liquid sweetener, since it comes from the sap produced in the heart of the blue agave cactus-the same cactus some tequilas are made from. There are different genuses of the agave plant, which enables the manufacture of an array of syrup with different flavor and color profiles-all which complement the creamy profile of dairy foods. Sweetening and coloring frozen desserts with agave syrup is a growing trend in the natural foods market.

Agave nectar is about 1.5 times sweeter than sucrose. It is described as low-glycemic, and helps reduce calories in frozen desserts, since you can use about 25% less agave nectar when substituting it for sugar.

While mentioning tequila, it makes sense to note the trend of using wines and premium liqueurs in frozen desserts. Wines readily complement sorbets and sherbets, where as premium liqueurs do well in ice cream.

It is possible to use “the real thing,” but manufacturers run into regulatory issues with proper labeling. Marketing a “21-years-old and higher” frozen dessert can be challenging-but it has been done. Furthermore, formulating with “the real thing” can create a paper-trail nightmare, because alcoholic beverages purchased for use as a food ingredient are subject to special taxes.

Thus, frozen dessert manufacturers typically turn to wine and liqueurs in concentrated form. If a food manufacturer can show that the food made with the alcohol is unfit as a beverage, then the manufacturer can file a claim to regain the taxes paid. This is called “getting a drawback.”

Wine and liqueur ingredients are available in 10-fold reductions, resulting in a consistent flavor profile. As a 10-fold natural reduction, these ingredients provide 10 times more flavor than the non-reduced product. The savings on freight and storage are a real perk. And because the reductions contain less than 0.5% alcohol by volume, they are not taxed and the alcohol does not need to be declared on ingredient labels.

On that note, cheers! Here’s to an innovative 2008 frozen dessert season.

Fortified Frozen Desserts-Indulgence without Guilt

Contributed by   Mark Fanion

Today’s ice cream can be more than a pleasant treat with a bitter “aftertaste” of feeling guilty. Healthy indulgence, wellness and convenience are all popular trends. Today’s consumers are more than ever aware of what they eat and drink in order to avoid negative lifestyle conditions such as obesity and diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular, etc. However, at the same time, consumers want to enjoy food, with no compromise on taste and appearance. They want to award themselves with indulgent moments in the stressful everyday environment.

Ice cream is the ideal delivery system for nutrients and nutraceuticals. The various chemistries and structures created by several processing steps (pasteurization, homogenization and subsequent mix aging) are critical to mix performance during freezing, whipping, hardening and distribution. These, in turn, impact finished product sensory attributes including flavor, appearance, body, texture and overall product acceptability. Incorporation of nutrients and nutraceuticals normally does not require modification of the standard recipe.

When adding two or more nutrients, it is not only convenient to add them as a premix, but it also ensures homogenous distribution. Key attributes for the premix ingredients are solubility, dispersibility and minimal contribution to negative impact on sensory quality (graininess, mouthfeel, bad taste and de-coloration) of the final frozen dessert. Flavors can be used for masking such effect and colors added to obtain the appearance requested. The premix is added either directly to the pasteurized ice cream mix during stirring or it can be mixed into a dry-blend before hydration and heating. Flavor and color are mixed into the base prior to aging. The base inherently contains some nutrients, including calcium and vitamin A, which should be taken into account when developing the Nutrition Facts. Don’t forget that overrun also impacts the nutrient level per serving.

Fortification of ice cream is one way to maintain a healthy living without compromising the pleasure of indulgency eating. Ice cream offers unique fortification opportunities; special considerations must be taken for each individual application to ensure appropriate usage levels, as well as product nomenclature. Premixes offer numerous benefits including streamlined production; savings on labor, inventory and testing result; plus premixes offer greater consistency and address issues of product taste and texture early in the development stage.

Mark Fanion is corporate communications manager for Fortitech Inc.,

Live and Active

The twist of soft-serve frozen yogurt that many of us remember from our young adult days is back and with a vengeance. Marketers plan to earn the trust of a new generation of consumers seeking out better-for-you, on-the-go, convenience foods. It goes beyond the lower-fat formulations containing live and active cultures, and includes premium toppings such as fresh fruit and shaved chocolate instead of sprinkles or crushed cookies.

TCBY and Yogen Früz are still around, but it is shops like Pinkberry, Red Mango and Starfruit that are making the difference. The latter comes to you direct from the dairy industry, as it’s the newborn of Lifeway Foods Inc., Morton Grove, Ill.

What all of these new shops provide is something lacking from the days of leg warmers and walkmans. That something is ambiance. They offer Wi-Fi for surfing and sofas for lounging. It’s an atmosphere that invites consumers to linger a while, and make a friend or two.

Red Mango Inc., a South Korean firm that opened its first U.S. store in Los Angeles in July, plans to expand into Chicago, Las Vegas, Seattle, Miami and New York soon. Pinkberry, which debuted in Los Angeles two years ago, has two dozen stores in California, four in New York and is setting up shop in Arizona, Illinois, Nevada and Texas, bringing the total to as many as 50 by the end of 2007.

Pinkberry has been criticized for keeping its recipe a secret, yet touting the health benefits of yogurt cultures. Recently the company began describing its product as a “dessert reinvented,” avoiding the direct description of frozen yogurt. However, as most dairy industry folks know, there is no national standard for frozen yogurt. So unless you are selling it in a state with its own laws governing what can be called frozen yogurt, just about anything goes.

Lifeway Foods, the largest kefir manufacturer in the States, plans to educate consumers about kefir and the benefits of live and active kefir cultures, including probiotics. Its first Starfruit store slated to open in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, is described as a kefir boutique. “We will offer customized kefir drinks-pick your kefir flavor, pick your fruit and cereal/granola toppings-take it to go on your way to work or enjoy in the lounge,” says Lifeway’s CEO Julie Smolyansky. “We will also debut frozen kefir in the boutique. There will always be two flavors to choose from, and of course, customers can top it with any of our premium toppings.

“All of our products are loaded with probiotics and everything that goes into are mainstay refrigerated Lifeway Kefir,” adds Smolyansky.

Today’s frozen yogurt shops are undoubtedly benefiting from the willingness of the Starbucks consumer who pays for quality, service and atmosphere. The question is if this trend can carry over into retail. It’s been a tough ride for retail coffee. It’s up to dairy marketers to make the story more successful in the freezer.  

Clearly Innovative

Packaging innovations are alive and thriving in the frozen dessert segment, with clear plastic packages that let consumers view the indulgence inside being the current trend.

Wells’ Dairy Inc., Le Mars, Iowa, rolls out Blue Bunny Gelato, which comes packaged in clear, 8-oz containers. The transparent packaging allows consumers to see the indulgent toppings and dressings, which are a key part of the gelato experience, according to the company. 

“Gelato is a different experience than ice cream,” says Adam Baumgartner, senior marketing manager-retail brand development. “It is denser and has a more intense flavor than traditional ice cream and has a fantastic visual appeal. Consumers have told us they want to have gelato in addition to ice cream in their freezers because they satisfy different cravings and needs.”

Blue Bunny Gelato comes in five flavors: chocolate, espresso, hazelnut, Italian chocolate chip and pistachio.

Unilever Ice Cream Co., Green Bay, Wis., uses clear, quart-size containers for its new Breyers Swirls ice creams. This innovative product is based on new processing technology that swirls extra silky, smooth ice cream together with a range of indulgent toppings. The ice cream is described as uniquely soft and spoonable straight from the freezer.

Smith Design, Glen Ridge, N.J., created the identity and label design for the six-flavor line, which includes Caramel ‘n Cream, Fudge ‘n Cream, Mixed Berries ‘n Cream, Peaches ‘n Cream, Peanut Butter ‘n Cream and Strawberries ‘n Cream.

“Unique to the brand and the ice cream category overall is its clear package structure, which really highlights the product’s swirl effect. It’s a great backdrop to our contrasting label design,” says Jenna Smith, account director for Breyers at Smith Design. “Mouth-watering illustrations of fruits and toppings coupled with a bold yet whimsical logo give Swirls very strong eye-appeal at the point-of-sale.”