In Love With Inclusions

Once upon a time, cupid’s arrow made ice cream lovers fall in love with inclusions. From candies and cookies to fruits and nuts, innovative combinations of such goodies continue to tempt consumers into indulging in a frozen treat.

For many, nothing says romance like chocolate and cherries. Recognizing the power of this combination, Dairy Queens across the country celebrate Valentine’s Day this month by bringing back Choco Cherry Love Blizzard-rich chocolate chunks and sweet cherry topping blended with creamy soft-serve-as the featured Blizzard of the Month. Dairy Queen also whips up romance with custom heart-shaped cakes made with a layer of luscious chocolate soft-serve topped with crunchy chocolate cookie pieces and then layered with vanilla soft-serve and decorated with creamy icing. 

“The Choco Cherry Love Blizzard Flavor Treat and our signature heart-shaped cakes really celebrate the sweet life at Dairy Queen,” says Michael Keller, chief brand officer for International Dairy Queen Inc., Minneapolis. “Our Choco Cherry Love Blizzard is particularly popular because chocolate and cherries are such cravable flavors, especially on Valentine’s Day.”

Dairy Queen began blending simple combinations of fruits, candies, cookies, nuts and soft-serve in 1985, to create the signature Blizzard Flavor Treat. Since then, one-of-a-kind flavors such as Strawberry CheeseQuake, Brownie Batter, Turtle Oreo, Banana Cream Pie and Double Fudge Cookie Dough have delighted Dairy Queen fans as featured Blizzards of the Month, a program that began in 2003.

Many ideas for retail products, including packaged frozen ice cream, begin in foodservice. Out-of-home diners are more adventurous and sophisticated than ever and look for dessert items that satisfy their tastes and preferences. That’s why restaurateurs turn to the National Restaurant Association, Washington, D.C., to help them stay abreast of the hottest menu trends.

For the past three years, the National Restaurant Association has surveyed professional chef members of the American Culinary Federation. Their responses help pinpoint culinary innovations on menus around the country. The latest survey, conducted in October 2008 was based on the input of more than 1,600 chefs.

The top-three trends play right into frozen desserts. Number one is use of local produce. Just imagine an ice cream featuring Oregon marionberries or Cape Cod cranberries. The second most popular menu trend is bite-size/mini desserts. And, of course, these can be frozen desserts loaded with goodies. The No. 3 trend-organic produce-suggests that those bananas, berries or cherries need only be organic, not the whole quart of ice cream. On the heels of organic produce comes the trend of including superfruits and exotic fruits, both of which blend well with ice cream. And in general, ingredients that can be identified by source are becoming increasingly popular.

For example, Ciao Bella, Irvington, N.J., is debuting Chocolate Jalapeño gelato, which is described as being made with West African chocolate mixed with the tangy heat of whole jalapeño pepper slices. Another new Ciao Bella flavor that complements many of the National Restaurant Association trends is Banana Mango, which is described as perfectly ripened Ecuadorian bananas combined with uniquely sweet Alphonso mangoes.

In addition to looking to menus for ice cream inclusion ideas, the confection aisle has also historically been a source of ice cream flavor innovations, since many candies, or their replicas, make their way into frozen treats.

According to United Kingdom-based Business Insights Ltd., dark chocolate was the fastest-growing flavor among confectionery product launches in 2007. Wafer, hazelnut, peppermint, mango, marzipan, licorice, bitter chocolate, spearmint and cranberry followed dark chocolate. Mint, various nuts, cream, caramel and vanilla were also featured prominently.

Ciao Bella is again on track with its new Malted Milk Ball gelato flavor, which is malted cream churned with hints of vanilla, toffee and chocolate with whole balls of crunchy, malted chocolate mixed in.

According to the Business Insights report Future Flavor Trends in Food, the overall confectionery market appears to be restructuring toward mature/adult flavors, which are complex and intense, as opposed to flavors traditionally aimed at children, which tend to be simple and be either sweet or sour.

Keep the passion alive for ice cream through the innovative use of inclusions.  

The Future of Peanut Inclusions

Peanuts, typically in the form of nuts, butter and variegate, have long been “included” in ice cream, often in combination with chocolate. Despite the fact that allowing peanuts into any manufacturing facility poses an allergen risk, ice cream marketers have been willing to put the necessary cross-contamination precautions in place in order to produce an ice cream flavor combination that consumers crave.

Something ice cream marketers did not anticipate is that the peanut ingredients supplied to them would be contaminated with the deadly Salmonella bacteria. At press time, the first ice cream recalls were being made after samples tested positive for Salmonella. Frozen desserts were not the only products affected, as the identified contaminants-peanut ingredients produced at the Blakely, Ga., plant owned by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA)-are also used in cake, cookie, cracker, candy and cereal formulations.

The peanut ingredients of concern are peanut butter and peanut paste, a concentrated product consisting of ground, roasted peanuts and used to make many specialty peanut ingredients such as variegate and fillings. The recall affects all peanut butter produced on or after Aug. 8, 2008, and peanut paste produced on or after Sept. 26, 2008, at the Georgia facility.

Robert Tauxe, the outbreak investigation’s lead scientist at Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters in a telephone briefing, “This is an excellent illustration of an ingredient-driven outbreak. . . Peanut butter is used as an ingredient in many foods, which makes this investigation complicated.”

Indeed, the Salmonella spread into so many product sectors because, as PCA stated in a press release, the peanut products were sold in bulk packaging, in containers ranging in size from 5 to 1,700lbs. The peanut paste was sold in sizes ranging from 35-lb containers to tanker containers.

Some of the most reputable and well-respected companies in the food industry are struggling to contain, control and respond to this bacteria outbreak. Many of the food manufacturers have armed themselves with the tools needed to respond to such a product recall crisis, including a comprehensive communications plan. However, even some recognize that a communication breakdown occurred before the outbreak, as Salmonella should never have been present in their ingredient supply chain.

“We apologize to our consumers and customers, and we can’t emphasize enough our disappointment and deep regret about this situation,” says David Mackay, president and CEO, Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich. “The food industry upholds certain operating standards and we are proud that we exceed these standards in our facilities. Events of the last week suggest there was a breach in this supplier’s process that is unacceptable to Kellogg, our customers and our consumers.”

The onus of the outbreak falls ultimately on PCA. However, many food manufacturers believe their suppliers-the companies who turned the peanut ingredients into inclusions-are at fault, too, as they should have tested ingredients before delivering them to manufacturing facilities.

The question many are asking is how Salmonella got into the peanut products in the first place. There’s no doubt that contamination was post-peanut processing, as roasting temperatures kill Salmonella. Further, how did Salmonella survive the additional processing many applications go through, such as the baking of cookies? There are many unknowns, but one thing is for sure, food manufacturers must make sure their suppliers conduct proper safety tests as well as have tracking systems in place.

FDA has urged food manufacturers who use peanut ingredients to talk with their suppliers to find out if the ingredient came from PCA. If a manufacturer knows products are safe, they should inform consumers. For example, Umpqua Dairy Products Co., Roseburg, Ore., issued a statement reassuring its customers that its Umpqua ice cream products containing peanut butter are safe for consumption and its ingredients are not included in the national recall program. It said that Umpqua’s suppliers of peanut butter flavoring have all issued statements that they do not purchase peanut butter or peanut butter-based products from PCA. “All our suppliers adhere to strict quality control standards and therefore their ingredient products are tested daily for the presence of Salmonella,” read the press release.

Turnkey supplier Denali Flavors, Wayland, Mich., marketers of Moose Tracks ice cream, issued a statement on its website ensuring customers that Moose Tracks ice cream is not involved with the Salmonella investigation. The company says that it has not purchased or used any of the questionable PCA peanut products. “We are confident that Moose Tracks ice cream is absolutely safe to enjoy,” according to the company.

Should ice cream manufacturers stop working with peanut inclusions? Of course not, but they must make sure their suppliers perform adequate quality tests to ensure ingredient safety. The repercussions of this recall will have a lasting effect on the inclusion industry.