Flavor Explosion

By Kathie Canning

From fruity to spicy, a cornucopia of flavors brings excitement to the dairy category.

Some of us gravitate toward the sweet, delicate flavor of vanilla. Others seek out the more decadent blend of chocolate and caramel.
Whatever the craving might be, we’re not likely to have trouble satisfying it. Modern dairy cases boast an ever-expanding array of flavor choices guaranteed to add interest and excitement to our eating experience.
And that flavor roster will only expand during the years to come. According to a new report from The Freedonia Group, Cleveland, the U.S. population is showing increased consumer interest in “more complex and authentic flavors,” while “strong growth in low-fat and low-carbohydrate foods and beverages” is expected to spur demand for flavors that enhance taste.
Suzanne Niekrasz, director of marketing communications for Robertet Flavors, Piscataway, N.J., sees trends toward indulgence and nostalgia — what she calls “modern retro” — across most of the dairy categories. “Fluffy, moussed and whipped attributes” are popular in creamy flavor styles such as fruit and cream, cookies and cream and vanilla-caramel, she says. In addition, flavors such as crème brûlée, cinnamon bun, strawberry cheesecake, blueberry crumb cake, chocolate mint and chocolate brownie are in demand.
“What these styles have in common,” says Niekrasz, “is that they are traditional well-loved products that surprise and excite when introduced as flavors in new product categories.”
A Crowded Freezer
For sheer flavor variety, the ice cream and frozen novelty category takes the prize. In 2003, this category saw the introduction of more than 200 new products, with flavors ranging from the traditional vanilla, chocolate and strawberry to the not-so-ordinary chocolate raspberry truffle and mango.
Indulgence is a major trend in the ice cream category, says Jeff Foss, a scientist for dairy applications for Wild Flavors Inc., Erlanger, Ky. “While we continue to see a lot of traditional flavor requests, the indulgent types — strawberry cheesecake, banana split, French vanilla — and/or anything with ‘crème’ added onto the end of a fruit flavor have been particularly popular,” he says. “When consumers choose to eat a dessert product like ice cream, they are looking for a greater reward sensation.”
Paul Graffigna, a vice president with Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Virginia Dare, agrees. He says his company is seeing a lot of requests for bananas Foster, cheesecakes, cobblers and other indulgent dessert-type concepts in ice cream. Caramel-type flavors and coffee flavors also are popular.
“We’re seeing a great deal of emphasis on coffee flavors in particular,” says Graffigna. “Coffee flavor types from latte to cappuccino, as well as different coffee roast varieties, are being put in combination with a host of other flavors, especially chocolate.”
The Hispanic influence can be seen across all major food categories, and dairy is no exception. Once an unfamiliar name to U.S. consumers, the dulce de leche flavor, a super-sweet caramel-infused treat, has become nearly mainstream in its popularity. In addition, the Hispanic influence is a major factor behind the rising popularity of tropical flavors in the ice cream and frozen novelty category.
In fact, Allison York, a food technologist with Sensient Flavors Inc., Indianapolis, says tropical flavors topped the company’s list of requests in 2003 for frozen dessert applications. “Fruit combinations such as pineapple-banana-mango, pineapple-coconut and mango-passionfruit meet this demand,” she says.
Although vanilla remains the top flavor, its high cost continues to be problematic for flavor companies and ice cream manufacturers.
“Vanilla prices have been on the rise ever since Cyclone Hudah hit the coast of Madagascar in April 2000,” says Peggy Pellichero, applications project leader for Philadelphia-based David Michael & Co. Inc. “Unfortunately, a very poor flowering in early 2002 affected the 2003 crop, which has resulted in vanilla prices almost tripling.”
“We saw a significant jump in ice cream requests for vanilla WONF (with other natural flavors),” says Donald Wilkes, president and chief executive officer of City of Industry, Calif.-based Blue Pacific Flavors Inc., “due to the high prices of pure vanilla extracts and concern for a global shortage in the supply of beans in 2003.” Blue Pacific launched its proprietary VANILLO™ products, which offer “high-quality pure vanilla profiles” at a substantially lower cost than pure extracts, to meet the “supply, quality and pricing issues facing the industry,” he adds.
Sensient also has been offering vanilla WONF to reduce customer costs, says York. “Meanwhile, we are demonstrating a patent-pending extraction process where our customers can reduce the usage amount of their current extract while receiving the same flavor impact,” she says.
Better news could be coming later in the year, says Pellichero. “If Madagascar has a good crop this summer, we think the global supply could end up to be twice the demand. This should soften prices.”
Milwaukee-based Chr. Hansen will be offer­ing a new line of colored flavors — called the Senses program — that can provide a dual flavor-and-color function in ice cream and flavored milk. It can be a substitute for some of the cocoa solids in chocolate flavor applications, for example, “without damaging the quality of the product,” says David Burrington, marketing director for the company. That’s good news for the bottom line when cocoa prices go sky high.
Other flavors introductions for this year and beyond promise to build on existing trends.
“I think the next generation of flavors will just be one step forward,” says Paulette Kerner, director of marketing communications for Virginia Dare. “You’re not going to see leaps from certain flavor categories to others.”
Coffee flavors, therefore, are expected to become more specific. The dessert-type concept will grow to include additional favorites. New tropical flavors will be added to the current flavor roster.
“One person’s cookies and cream looks pretty much like someone else’s cookies and cream, so I think we’re going to see more efforts to put individual spins on a product to make it stand out,” Burrington says. “I think indulgence is still going to be a factor,” he adds.
The line between ice cream and frozen yogurt will become further blurred, predicts Burrington. He also expects to see more of the “exotic” fruits – kiwi, passion fruit and the like – flavoring the frozen yogurt category.
The low-carbohydrate trend also will continue to challenge flavor companies as companies seek to introduce low-carb ice creams and frozen novelties in flavors beyond vanilla and chocolate.
“Carbs and fats have a tendency to round out flavors,” says Wild Flavors’ Foss. “Formulas with lower carb/fat can often have a less-balanced flavor impact. Additionally, these formulas often include high-intensity sweeteners and/or hydrocolloids to make up for sweetness and mouthfeel differences and can result in flavor off-notes that must be managed.” The company’s Wild Resolver™ technology helps reduce these flavor off-notes, he adds.
“It has been my experience that natural & artificial flavors work best in low-carbohydrate ice cream mixes,” says Pellichero. “The artificial flavors allow the flexibility to create a flavor that enhances sweetness and masks bitterness, sometimes associated with artificial sweeteners.”
In creating low-carbohydrate products, says Wilkes, “we look at two key areas which can provide solutions to manufacturers: sweetener profile and mouthfeel/creaminess. We have found that the use of nutritive non-carbohydrate sweeteners can cause off-flavor delivery, as well as a metallic aftertaste.”
Blue Pacific has performed a significant amount of research to understand how to modulate taste with bitter compounds, as well as sweeteners, says Wilkes. “Our latest technology can block protein in a variety of dairy and soy applications,” he says. In addition, the company’s masking technology has been engineered to mask only the off-sweetness in blended artificial sweeteners.
The reduction of lactose sugars in dairy products requires some flavor-delivery technology “to achieve a true, whole dairy flavor profile,” says Wilkes. “Thus, we have incorporated another flavor technology to deal with the missing dairy notes or lack of creaminess in the low-carb products.”
A Fruity Tradition
Flavor trends on the yogurt side can be divided into three camps: the health-conscious, the indulgent and the kid-pleasing. Popular among all three camps in 2003 were peach, berry and vanilla flavors, says Kerner.
“No-sugar-added (NSA) yogurt flavor bases dominated the request list in 2003 in cultured applications,” says Sensient’s York. “NSA strawberry-banana, strawberry, raspberry and peach are traditional flavors that are top sellers. Mixed berry and peach-passion fruit are gaining in popularity among yogurt consumers.” Sensient has a low-carbohydrate platform to help its customers create flavorful low-carb yogurts and other dairy products.
Berry flavors are top sellers in both lowfat and low-carb yogurts. Betsy Watson, marketing specialist at Des Moines, Iowa-based Anderson Erickson Dairy, says strawberry remains the most popular of the 25 flavors in the company’s 1% lowfat yogurt line. “Strawberry is a very Midwestern flavor and does well in our market area,” says Watson. Cherry-vanilla is the company’s second-best seller, she adds.
“The rise in obesity in the United States has spurred a greater need for healthy foods with appealing and indulgent taste,” says Foss. “Rich flavors and decadent textures in yogurts can be a natural substitute for higher-fat products.”
Foss believes manufacturers will market yogurt’s healthfulness more strongly in the years to come. Yogurts will be fortified with probiotics, calcium, vitamins and other products.
However, even products touted as healthful must deliver on taste. Products such as the Wild Resolver™ technology reduce flavor off-notes associated with fortification, says Foss.
On the indulgent side, flavors often suggest dessert. Dannon’s full-fat La Crème Mousse yogurt, for example, comes in flavors such as orange cream and French vanilla.
“It was almost unheard of 10 years ago to have a full-fat anything,” says Chr. Hansen’s Burrington. “I think there’s a trend toward ‘let’s make something that consumers like to eat’ … rather than trying to squeeze every bit of fat out.”
“We are seeing many of the same flavors (that are used in other yogurts),” says Graffigna, “vanilla, French vanilla, strawberry, blueberry, peach. But we’re also now seeing new interest being generated in those flavors by doing ‘creamy’ versions of them.”
A sizable percentage of 2003’s yogurt introductions were geared toward the kiddie set. “It seems like the yogurt market continues to be driven by kids,” says Burrington. “Most of the novel packaging, new flavors and new colors are designed to create visual appeal for the kids’ market.”
The most popular flavors in this area are still the fruit-based traditionals  — from tried-and-true strawberry and cherry to fun combinations such as strawberry-banana and fruit punch. “Interactive” touches such as flavor swirls or candy sprinkles add to many of the flavors’ appeal.
Whether targeted to the health-conscious, the dessert-seeker or the child, however, taste — and a bit of conservatism — will remain key to a yogurt’s success. “As always, I think that consumers are looking for a product that tastes good, says Watson. Anderson Erickson relies on a 12-person taste-test panel to guide new-product development.
“It has to be a flavor that they can relate to and that doesn’t seem too ‘risky’ or ‘rare,’” says Watson. Even if the flavor is a bit “exotic” for a yogurt, she adds, it can work if the consumer can relate it to another flavored product.
Fruit flavors such as berry varieties and peach also reign supreme on the drinkable yogurt and smoothie side. Slightly more exotic fruit flavors such as, piña colada, pineapple-mango and peach-passionfruit also are showing up in these products.
Taking on Soda
Chocolate milk is still the top-selling flavored milk product, according to Rosemont, Ill.-based Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), with 90 percent of flavored milk sales. However, vanilla-flavored milks grew more than 50 percent in 2003, and the flavored milk category is trying on myriad other flavors.
“Flavored milks continue to generate growth in fluid milk sales,” says York. “Chocolate is one common option. Dulce de leche and vanilla flavors also complement milk and are well accepted.”
“Companies are now looking to expand their flavor line,” says Pellichero. “We have seen requests for strawberry, orange cream, peanut butter, chocolate peanut butter, banana, banana split, malt, caramel, toffee and chocolate mint.”
Burrington says “flavor enhancements” making their way into milk seem like an attempt by processors to be as “dynamic” as the soda industry. “I think it puts new demands on flavor companies, particularly to know the applications that their flavors are being used in,” he says. “I think that applications support is going to be important with some of these new flavors.”
Although Virginia Dare has developed a plethora of “more adventurous” flavors for milk such as root beer and cotton candy, the greatest demand continues to be for standards such as chocolate and strawberry, says Graffigna.
Coffee and the richer, “decadent” chocolate flavors were big in 2003, says Kerner, and will continue to be popular for adults.
New extended-shelf-life flavored milk products such as Coca Cola’s Swerve are testing the vending machine waters, and reports say Pepsi Cola soon will add additional such products to the mix. In many ways, the flavored milk category is in its infancy. Expect the growing anti-soda sentiment – especially in schools – to create new growth opportunities and encourage additional flavor choices in this category.
Full Flavor Ahead
Today’s cheese and cheese spreads boast flavors that go far beyond the traditional smoke and bacon. Whether it’s the tangy combination of garlic and herbs, the delicate sweetness of roasted bell pepper or the spiciness of a three-pepper blend, the modern flavor profile is attracting more and more consumers to the cheese category.
Leading the flavor pack is the hot pepper — be it a jalapeño, chipotle or multi-pepper blend. This bold vegetable showed up in some shape or form in more than a dozen cheese products introduced last year.
Many of the flavor trends in this category, Burrington says, appear to be following ethnic trends and demographic changes. “The chili-lime flavor in a cheese or a salsa flavor in a cheese — I think you’re going to see more of those kinds of innovations in cheese where you’re adding a seasoning,” he says. “Additionally, I think the flavor technology for adding enhanced notes or aged flavors to cheese are really coming along, and I think as we move into this world of new standards through the Codex process or by customers creating what I would call ‘fanciful’ varieties of cheese, it opens up a huge opportunity for manufacturers to customize their cheese to the texture and flavor profile their customers are demanding.”
Dip flavors, too, are getting bolder and more inventive. In addition to the usual ranches, dills and French onions, 2003 brought a number of salsa and hot-pepper infused dairy-based products. A trend toward the gourmet also was evident. Expect more of both trends as Americans continue their love affair with spicy fare and become increasingly sophisticated in the food arena.
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