Fruit and Dairy

It all started when Adam could not resist the apple. Indeed there’s something tempting about naturally sweet and juicy, good-for-you fruit. It helps that the medical community’s message is quite clear: Consume more fruits and vegetables.

Despite all this, it’s estimated that 90% of Americans fail to meet the daily recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption. While research shows that Americans are aware of the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, most people need to double the amount they now consume to meet the latest dietary guidelines for Americans.

Research also has shown that people who consume generous amounts of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthful diet are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases. In order to boost their fruit intake, consumers look to foods formulated with fruit.

Earlier this year, Undercover Vegetable Co., Traverse City, Mich., introduced the Yotta Bar. Developed by two Michigan parents who tired of the struggle to get their two-year old to eat his fruits and vegetables, a single bar provides one full serving of hidden fruits and vegetables. Each Yotta Bar tastes like all natural cherry, orange or apple-cinnamon, but contains six to nine different vegetables and one full serving of vegetables and fruit in each bar.

Dairy foods are a natural delivery vehicle for concentrated, quality fruit. Fruit ingredients come in many forms, and to deliver a whole serving of fruit via any food product, a combination of fruit ingredients is typically required.

Making serving content claims

In February, the United Kingdom’s consumer pressure group-The Food Commission-reported that shoppers are being misled into buying fruit-flavored products that contain little or no fruit. The Food Commission said that too many products have images of fruit on the label, but often none inside.

The Food Commission produced a long list of strawberry-flavored products available in British supermarket that could potentially mislead customers. Some of these are dairy foods. For example Campina’s Yazoo Strawberry Milkshake boldly claims it is “low in fat” but neglects to mention it is “empty of strawberries.” Flavoring and sugar take the place of real fruit.

ASDA Great Stuff Strawberry Milk has been “endorsed by ASDA nutritionists” who apparently think children are better off consuming flavorings instead of real fruit. This bottled product contains just 0.6% strawberry juice, meaning there is less than half a teaspoon of juice in the whole bottle.

The lid of Ambrosia Strawberry Custard states that this dairy dessert contains “no artificial colors or flavors” and “no artificial sweeteners or preservatives.” What it fails to state is that the product also does not contain any strawberries.

“Flavorings allow companies to cut costs at the public’s expense,” says Ian Tokelove, a spokesperson for The Food Commission. “Describing a product as strawberry flavor and plastering the packet with pictures of strawberries, when that product contains just a tiny percentage of strawberry or even no real fruit at all, is misleading and deceptive. Unfortunately it is also legal and the practice is widespread.”

Rather than be deceitful, dairy processors could invest in using high-quality fruit ingredients, and adding enough to a formulation to make a fruit-serving content claim.

There are numerous forms of fruit ingredients from which dairy formulators can choose. In general, the more “whole” or “natural” the fruit is, the better the perception of its quality to today’s health- and wellness-seeking consumer.

For milk beverages, whole piece identity is not a priority, making bases, purees and concentrates all ideal choices. Most of the time these ingredients contain no added sugar, with fruit and water concentration varying. The more concentrated the ingredient, the less water it contains, and it will also be a more concentrated source of fruit.

Many purees and puree concentrates are either refrigerated or frozen to maintain quality. They can also be aseptically processed, which makes them shelf stable. Aseptically processed fruits have the added advantage of being free of all microbial contaminants.

With dairy foods such as yogurt and ice cream, consumers typically like to see real fruit pieces. A good choice is individually quick frozen (IQF) fruit, which contains no added sugar or preservatives. IQF fruit tends to readily separate, making it easy to weigh out the quantity during product manufacturing. 

There’s also infused frozen fruit, which contains some added sugar as well as natural stabilizing agents in order to bind and control the free water in the fruit pieces. This inhibits ice crystal formation and results in a fruit ingredient that does not completely freeze in an application such as ice cream. The fruit pieces remain soft and scoopable, while retaining fruit piece identity and natural color.

Fruit juice concentrates and fruit powders can be used alone or with the aforementioned fruit ingredients to boost fruit content.

For the most part, fruit ingredients retain most of their nutrient, fiber and phytonutrient value. They can also be formulated to be the carrier of additional ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, probiotic cultures, prebiotic fibers and other good-for-you nutrients.

Use real fruit to tempt consumers into buying your product.

Opportunities with Superfruits

The term “super” suggests that the fruit is a “functional food.” It offers benefits beyond basic nutrition.

Although the term superfruit has not been defined by the regulatory and scientific communities, superfruits tend to have a high nutrient density, superior antioxidant qualities and potential health benefits.

There are already three major globally recognized superfruits-blueberries, cranberries and pomegranates-plus a number of up-and-comers such as acaí, goji, guarana, mangosteen and noni. (See table.)

According to Karl Crawford, food business leader, HortResearch, New Zealand, superfruit success requires novelty, validated health benefits, convenience, controlled supply and promotion. Through its integrated fruit and food science programs, HortResearch seeks to influence each of these qualities, essentially creating superfruits.

“Our sensory and consumer science team study how consumers respond to fruits and foods; providing valuable clues as to what consumers like and dislike, what attracts them to a product and what makes them buy it. Our breeding teams can then access our collection of fruit germplasm and breed from these to create fruits that meet consumer demands for novelty, flavor and health,” he says.

“We can also help discover and prove health claims associated with certain fruits,” says Crawford. “We do this using hi-tech tools and techniques including assays to discover antioxidant function, anti-inflammatory properties, neurotransmitter effects etc; and human clinical trials-basically discovering and validating the health properties of fruit in humans.

Blue Pacific Flavors, City of Industry, Calif., has signed a strategic collaboration agreement with HortResearch. “This agreement will allow us to build on a wide range of HortResearch flavor- and fruit-based technologies by developing an innovation pipeline for the next generation of fruit flavors and natural fruit-based ingredients,” says Blue Pacific Flavors President and CEO Donald Wilkes. “With the growth of superfruits and continued consumer interest in fruit-derived antioxidants, we see the convergence of both traditional flavor and cutting edge fruit science evident through consumer sensory research developed by HortResearch.” 

With climate change issues now impacting agro-based fruit processors, both companies share cultures that focus on sustainable business solutions. Blue Pacific has committed to carbon neutrality by 2015, while HortResearch has a long record of helping horticulture industries develop and adopt sustainable production technologies and methods. It is also developing new technologies to improve fruit and crop yields in preparation for environmental issues that may impact global supplies in the future. 

“Fruit is no longer a raw ingredient-it is an active ingredient. The bar has been raised-it is not enough just to have fruit in your product, it needs to be a specific fruit, offering a specific benefit,” Crawford concludes.