Nothing adds fun to ice cream and other dairy products quite the way inclusions do. And inclusions suppliers are among the best partners for dairy processors in terms of helping with the development of exciting products. Hear what the reps from 14 different suppliers have to say about on the subject. 

If you start with a great base product, such as vanilla ice cream, yogurt or cheese spread, it’s relatively easy to add variety and value by changing the inclusions. Dairy processors don’t even bear the burden for product development, as inclusion suppliers are the ones who bake, extrude and blend.

Dairy Foods talked to 14 ingredient suppliers to hear what they have to say about the future of inclusions in dairy foods. Read on to learn about the many available opportunities.

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

Nardini: We look at various sources-restaurant trends, shifting consumer preferences, new food technologies, etc.-then brainstorm potential items we think consumers will like. After considering the options, we select a few to be developed into ice cream and taste the results. From here we may tinker with the formulas once or twice again before selecting what we consider to be the best of the best.

French: We utilize numerous sources for product development platforms including customer interests, parallel product category introductions, successes in other dessert categories, quick-service restaurant (QSR) trends and trade magazines. We monitor nascent development trends in the restaurant industry closely, especially in California and New York, to determine whether or not we anticipate these trends will have legs with respect to frozen dessert categories.

Taft: Great new ideas are a precious commodity and our proximity to New York City gives us easy access to the dessert menus of some of the world’s most famous chefs. Occasionally those trendy ideas catch fire and become the new mainstream. I’ll never forget demonstrating our new tiramisu flavor concept in the Midwest a few years ago with an incredulous reception. “What is this, and by the way we can’t even pronounce it.” The very next year tiramisu was available at the Italian restaurant next door!

Lake: We study what is in the marketplace to determine trends in the dairy industry. We also look for unique flavor combinations and texture profiles that aren’t currently being utilized. Looking outside the ice cream field to non-traditional products helps to spur our imagination. We definitely strive to be creative and match our ideas to our customers needs.

Kiniry: A majority of new inclusion ideas are brought to us from our customers. We attempt to balance customer input with our own consumer and market intelligence to add value to our relationships. We work with our customers to customize their inclusion ideas with the objective of providing differential advantage in the marketplace. 

Weiskopf: We research new fruits that are being commercialized globally and watch for successful product introductions in the food industry.

Althen: We are continuously tracking trends and researching flavor combinations via the internet, publications or even walking the floor of innovative markets. Restaurant menus, trade shows and reaching back to childhood memories of fun food combinations are each sources of creative inspiration for new flavor and texture combinations. It is safe to say that our R&D does not operate within an idea box, but rather a Rubik’s cube of playful, innovative ideation. How can we turn the cube to make this slightly different?  How can we align the squares to make this unique? One example is our Latin-inspired Tamarind Bark. It consists of white chocolate combined with tangy tamarind-flavored candy pieces. The tamarind pieces, or flakes, were developed to be a bit more salty and sour than expected from traditional hard candy, but more common in Latin American candy. The salty sour notes balance the sweetness of the white chocolate in an unexpectedly delicious way.

Brinkman: We look at health trends as we reevaluate our inclusion portfolio. Last year we developed and introduced a sugar-free crunch product, and we also have reformulated our crunches to be free of trans fatty acids. In 2008, we will be working on transferring our organic ice cream sandwich wafer formula to our crunch line, and we will continue to experiment with all-natural, sugar-free formulations.

Dairy Foods: Speaking of new products, what are some of your company’s most recent inclusion rollouts?

Brinkman: Early last year we reformulated our cookies ‘n crème inclusion for use in a QSR milkshake. As QSR operators continue to try to differentiate, we believe that unique inclusions, especially those that come with a license to use a widely known consumer brand, will become an important way for them to stake out a sustainable market position.

Wagaman: Sweet-flavored sliced almonds are one of our latest inclusions. We also have flavored butters for use in variegated ice cream.

Lake: We’ve developed a mocha crunch that is out of this world, as well as a ginger spice and a raspberry inclusion.

Weiskopf: Some of out new fruit inclusions are cranberry, blueberry, peach, raspberry, mango, mixed berry, coconut and strawberry.

LeDrew: Some of our newest inclusion introductions have been mainly for bakery applications but they could be formulated for dairy applications. These include apple chunks, cherry chunks and cinnamon drops.

Oringer: Our recent highlights include a cream cheese variegate, a chocolate butter cream variegate and a frosting variegate. We also now have a line of organic variegates. Flavors include black cherry, caramel and chocolate.

French: We have a wonderful new toasted marshmallow inclusion. We are back to the future with successful traditional flavors that execute well in ice cream such as banana split. Couch Potato Crunch has real salted chocolate potato chip inclusions and a chocolate potato chip variegate.

Taft: Chocolate Cookie Crumb Variegate is our most recent new product roll out. It’s a textured variegate that finally delivers crunch and chocolate cookies-together. Although it plays a great supporting roll in many flavor concepts, we think its best roll is as a crunchy swirl in an extreme version of Cookies ‘n Cream.

Nardini: Our newest line is called Fox Tracks and features a unique, chocolate/caramel variegate. In addition, each of the three new Fox Tracks items offers a unique inclusion. For example, Fox Tracks Crunch contains choco-coated wafer pieces; Fox Tracks Waffle Cone includes choco-coated waffle cone pieces; and Fox Tracks Swirls is full of milk chocolaty/caramel swirled chips.

Sullivan: We are reinventing shell moulding with the launch of the Pico cup, which comes 2,100 count-per-pound and has a center filling. Each cup weights 0.21g. This size is targeted to help grow two areas: novelty and single-serve products. This size enables incredible inclusion show. The Pico cups can be made with any flavor and color shell and any flavor center. The possibilities are endless. Another creative addition to our shell moulding is our ability to do chips with centers and stripped chips. We have also invested in new technology to bring creative ingredient solutions to panning. This panning technology is 100% computer-controlled and enables us to deliver a superior, consistent product. Further, we will be launching various pretzels, peanuts, sugars, grahams, gingerbreads and almonds in 2008. 

Lavallee: We’ve been busy. Gingersnap cookie dough inclusions pair with a carrot cake ice cream base and caramel marble for a sensational seasonal combination. We have paired a cajeta (goat milk-based caramel popular among the Hispanic market) ice cream base with a cinnamon cookie dough inclusion to create an ice cream with layers of flavor complexity appealing to “foodies” and Latinos alike. Sugar cookie dough inclusions compliment nicely with the sharp sweetness of pomegranate and blueberry ice cream for a fruity and healthy treat.

Althen: One of the greatest limitations in creating organic inclusions, especially those manufactured under high heat, is color. Natural colors have typically been limited to red, yellow and orange, in varying combinations. Green is more of a challenge, though recently we have discovered new options that are making green inclusions possible in more appealing shades than we’ve seen in the past. We are currently working on a green organic sprinkle that would make a great topping or mix in. Flavor possibilities are limitless. We’ve also developed a variety of both organic and traditional barks using antioxidant rich dark chocolate combined with everything from protein-packed nuts to dried fruits to fiber-rich crispies. We also now offer an entire line of organic and traditional savory-styled pralines. The sweet sugary coating on the nut has been reduced, and we’ve added flavors such as Mesquite, Peppered Raspberry, Wasabi Mustard, Chipotle Lime, Red Limo Pepper and Ginger Sesame.

Kiniry: In general terms, our focus for new product introductions in the last year has been on introducing existing products to adjacent channels of distribution and helping existing customers minimize the impact of ingredient price increases. We made the choice to balance creative investment with practical cost-saving initiatives to deliver as much bottom line value to our customers as possible.

Dairy Foods: What are some of the more interesting requests manufacturers have made regarding innovative inclusions?

Lavallee: Recently, we have seen requests for more complex, dessert-type inclusions (i.e., more than just a plain cobbler piece, with pieces within the inclusion, etc.) and for organic inclusions. We have also been asked to look at developing exotic-flavored inclusions.

Weiskopf: We continue to see the need for fruit particulates and texture, as well as new innovative blends of fruit. We are in an excellent position to accommodate the industry with our unique aseptic processing capabilities and state-of-the-art product development lab.

Lake: We have been looking at a nut-free hazelnut, since we are a nut-free facility.

LeDrew: There have been steady requests for indulgent flavors, as well as adult-oriented flavors. We continue to see inquiries for rich, dark chocolate but have seen more interest in flavors that appeal to Baby Boomers. Examples of those flavors include coffee and amaretto.

Kiniry: It’s been interesting to see how the health and wellness trend in food has translated to the ice cream category. Manufacturers have made requests for products that range from formulations eliminating trans-fatty acids to formulations that include superfruits such as pomegranate and blueberry. In addition, the consumer’s heightened awareness of food safety in relation to health and wellness has brought as much focus on quality assurance systems from our customers as innovation.

Dairy Foods: Besides ice cream and yogurt, what are some other dairy foods that could benefit from the addition of inclusions?

Althen: Cottage cheese is long overdue for a makeover. I’d like to see a single-serve package of cottage cheese with Granny Smith Apple Pie sauce on the bottom and a Cinnamon Streusel Topper pack on top. The green apple notes would play harmoniously with the natural acidophilus notes of the cottage cheese. Brightly colored inclusions that offer kids something to mix in and play with would refresh the segment for young eyes. Cottage cheese could also be brought back to the salad plate by marketing it together in a “healthy protein kit” consisting of a single-serving of cottage cheese with a savory nut topping.  Present it with a topping of teriyaki pineapple-glazed almonds, giving it a more upscale feel and providing a flavor-packed, better-for-you meal solution for the health-conscious consumer. A toffee bit or a maple crunch could be worked into a dairy or cream cheese spread to create something different to put on your morning bagel or slice of banana loaf. The industry is adding butter flavor to maple syrup, why not vice versa?  An inclusion would give the added benefit of the appearance of “pockets” of maple or toffee, versus just adding a flavor.

Weiskopf: There is a great demand for fruit inclusions in puddings, smoothie beverages, bakery desserts, candy fillings, cottage cheese and cheese flavors.

French: I recently tasted Cookies ‘n Crème cappuccino at a coffee shop, which was an artful blend of coffee and chocolate with a crunchy texture. National beverage manufacturers may consider adding inclusions to milk-based beverages.

Wagaman: Cheese products and almonds are a beautiful combination. The health benefits of almonds enhance the marketing of innovative cheeses.

Maan: We have recipes for all these dairy products: Almond Goat Cheese Spread, Almond Ice Cream, Frozen Mocha Almond Shake and Toasted Almond Ice Cream.

Dairy Foods: What’s the future of the inclusions industry in the United States and abroad?

Sullivan: The inclusions industry will remain strong. Consumers love to eat indulgent products and inclusions meet this need.

Oringer: It seems that it has been proven that the more “stuff” in frozen desserts, the better the consumer likes it. Certainly this trend will continue; however, I do see more of these products being produced as organic, or at the very least, compliant for certain naturalists.

Brinkman: Clearly Dreyer’s (Loaded) and Good Humor (Cyclone) have pushed the envelope on inclusion-heavy frozen desserts. What is interesting about these products is that they do not meet the standard of identity for ice cream, but the consumer either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. This tells me that there is a consumer segment for which indulgent eating is less about high butterfat content and more about large and plentiful inclusions. It really starts to force our industry away from a “dairy” perspective and toward a “snack food.”

Lavallee: Our belief is that the inclusions industry will continue to be a growth segment.  The predominant growth has been within ice cream; however, the larger opportunities are in the yogurt, bakery and beverage segments.  These segments are largely untapped as it relates to inclusions and offer tremendous opportunity.

Maan: An online study of active foodservice and consumer packaged goods professionals conducted in 2007 by the Sterling Rice Group, which was commissioned by The Almond Board of California, found that almond usage is on an upswing, with 47% of respondents saying that they use more almonds now than they did five years ago. Overall, among the 388 study respondents, 212 used nuts in new product development over the past year.

LeDrew: Inclusions will continue to be a popular vehicle to add flavor and/or texture to various dairy applications. Manufacturers will also look for ways to innovate while economically bringing flavor to products.

French: There is no doubt that recent cost changes in farm commodity markets will alter the way frozen desserts are manufactured and marketed in the United States. This may impact package size (smaller) and new product development or expand frozen dairy dessert options to decouple mix costs from regulatory standards. n

Talked to:
Melissa Althen, research and development, Parker Products
Gunther Brinkman, vice president, marketing, Norse     Dairy Systems
Jeff French, dairy sales director, North America, Pecan Deluxe
Dan Kiniry, marketing manager, Rhino Foods
Bob Lake, corporate director of research and development,     Richmond Baking
Sandra Lavallee, vice president sales and marketing,     Sweet Ovations
Courtney LeDrew, marketing specialist, Cargill Cocoa     and Chocolate
Harbinder Maan, manager, foodservice global marketing     and communications, The Almond Board of California
John Nardini, executive vice president, Denali Flavors
Roderick Oringer, national sales/marketing manager, Oringer     Division Concord Foods
Shawn Sullivan, senior vice president sales, Gertrude     Hawk Chocolates
Jim Taft, vice president sales, Star Kay White
John Wagaman, account manager, Blue Diamond Growers
Bill Weiskopf, vice president of sales and new business     development, Fruitcrown Products Inc.