Swirled and Sprinkled

by Kathie Canning
An ever-expanding array of ice cream inclusions inspires processor creativity.
Craving something a bit sweet and a bit salty? No problem. Have a yen for something drenched in rich chocolate and caramel, but without all the carbs? Coming right up.
Today’s ice cream inclusions — from creamy caramel and fruity variegates to crunchy candies and cookies in myriad shapes — allow dairy processors to satisfy virtually any consumer craving.
Appealing to the Ages
Ice creams with inclusions such as mint chocolate chip and chocolate-chip cookie dough have become mainstream favorites across all age groups. Some other inclusion combinations, however, are more age-specific in their appeal.
According to Chris Hughes, research and development manager for Fort Worth, Texas-based Parker Products Inc., kids seek out “cool” colors and tart flavors.
Jana Taylor, president and owner of Tualatin, Ore.-based Jana’s Classics, agrees, but expands that assessment a bit. “Children are drawn to high-color-impact (flavors), strong fruity flavors and chocolate, and have a preference for mint,” says Taylor. “Kids also are drawn to flavors that follow a theme, look good, do things or have shapes in them.”
Bits and pieces are more important to children than swirls and ribbons are, contends Rod Oringer, national sales/marketing manager for the Oringer division of Brockton, Mass.-based Concord Foods Inc. “Kids don’t care about variegates,” he says. “They care about the candy that’s in the ice cream.”
In general, says Taylor, teens gravitate toward products that have high inclusion levels or “funky” flavors with a clean taste.
Chocolate and fruit remain favorites with the teen set, adds Kim Premo, director of research and applications for frozen desserts for Chicago-based Guernsey Bel, a Kerry company.
Adults seem to be more divided in their inclusion preferences. One camp seeks out highly indulgent creations, while the other is attracted to the more-healthful alternatives.
Indulgence-inclined adults, says Taylor, are drawn to rich flavors, lots of chocolate and fruit-enhanced products, or “toward the caramel/brown sugar/praline flavor profiles.”
In contrast, the more health-conscious camp increasingly is looking for low-carbohydrate, no-sugar-added versions of favorite ice creams and inclusions, says Hughes.
Indulge Me, Please
Decadent ice cream still tops the charts across all age groups, says Jim Taft, vice president of sales for Congers, N.Y.-based Star Kay White Inc.
“The big four decadent building blocks for ice cream are chocolate, caramel, marshmallow and nuts,” says Taft. “Fruits also are used, but are not generally as popular as the richer and more decadent ingredients.”
Chocolate remains the cornerstone of these four building blocks.
“The most popular flavor is chocolate, whether it is a piece or variegate,” says Hughes. “We are seeing more items being chocolate coated, (including) cookie grinds, pretzels, cereal pieces, waffle cones, etc. Mix these pieces with a marshmallow or graham variegate and you have a winning combination.”
Caramel’s rise to indulgent superstar is more recent. “Caramel has been around as long as chocolate, but for whatever reason, the general public is finally aware that it is an excellent, excellent flavor component,” says Oringer. “So we’re seeing many more combinations using caramel variegates or dulce de leche flavor systems.”
Decadent inclusion combinations that mimic desserts such as tiramisu, crème brulee and s’mores also are in vogue, says Taylor, and are expected to only increase in popularity and variety.
Subha Luck, industrial sales manager for Burlington, Vt.-based Rhino Foods Inc., agrees, noting that cake pieces — and even cake icing — have become very popular inclusions.
Consumers also are showing “strong interest” in dessert-type concepts such as chocolate crème pie and Key lime pie, adds Premo.
Combinations inspired by Hispanic dessert and flavor favorites such as dulce de leche, tres leche, sopapillas and churros also are in vogue, says Taylor.
This Hispanic influence in the decadent ice cream category also can be seen on the fruit side, says Premo. “As tropical fruits are becoming more available in the mainstream grocery market, they have definitely gained more acceptance for use in inclusions,” she says. “Combinations of tropical fruit with a more mainstream fruit [such as] mango-strawberry often find more acceptance then just the tropical fruit by itself.”
Today’s decadent ice cream inclusions not only please the taste buds, but also are more beautiful to behold.
“[The] latest technologies are allowing ice creams to have greater eye appeal,” says Taylor. “Multiple inclusions and variegates are being combined by unique methods.”
That might mean twists, waves, cores or co-extrusions of variegates or batters, says Taylor, along with glittered, bright-colored, color-changing and rich and decadent inclusions.
“Small, complex inclusions are in demand for great product show and for application into the expanding novelty market where inclusions have not been possible before,” she says, adding the inclusions must deliver unique physical, textural and flavor attributes.
Shunning Sugar
The low-carb craze has affected just about every sector of the food industry, and ice cream is no exception. Early reduced-carbohydrate ice creams largely steered away from inclusions, but the newer versions are beginning to sport more “bells and whistles” as variegate and particulate suppliers become more responsive to low-carb demand.
“Today, the products produced are so much better than they were that even indulgent premium-product consumers are enjoying these new products,” says Mark Graziano, vice president of sales and marketing for Terry Lynn Inc., an Elgin, Ill.-based supplier of fresh-roasted, made-to-order nuts. “Trends are showing that these low-carb items are being produced and purchased in larger sizes, which (suggests) that more than one person in the family is consuming the product.”
Of course, nuts lend themselves well to inclusion in reduced-carbohydrate formulations, a fact Graziano says has caused some shortages, even with many nut crops at record numbers.
Inclusion suppliers now are receiving numerous requests for high-quality reduced-carb ingredients such as cookie doughs, brownies and cake mixes.
“Ice cream companies are looking for inclusions that will meet their nutritional requirements and taste good,” says Luck.
Premo says Guernsey Bel’s customers have been asking for inclusions with no sugar added and reduced net carbs (total carbohydrates minus the sugar alcohols and fiber). The company now offers many of its ingredients in reduced-carbohydrate versions.
Getting it right in the reduced-carbohydrate arena can be challenging, however.
Unlike lowfat inclusions, which generally lack the flavor appeal of full-fat versions, says Hughes, reduced-carbohydrate versions often taste very rich because they retain the fat. But the high cost associated with manufacturing reduced-carb ice creams often forces processors to use less of the inclusion or the inclusion mix.
Alternative sweetener concepts such as polyols and erythritols also can pose a challenge to variegate manufacturers, says Oringer, because they react differently than sucrose-based sweeteners.
Oringer expects the current trend toward polyol removal in the nutraceutical and confectionary sectors to soon hit the ice cream sector as well.
“Polyols, of course, have a laxative effect,” he says. “So we’re getting more and more requests to remove the polyols as much as possible and go to other forms of sweeteners such as sucralose and polydextrose.”
In addition, despite their now widespread availability, lower-carb ice cream inclusions still vary greatly in flavor quality, says Taft.
“Once a manufacturer is familiar with how ‘net carbs’ are calculated, formulating low-carb ingredients becomes a matter of trial and error, but is really not that difficult,” he says. “Making great tasting low-carb ingredients? Now that’s another story.”
Taft also questions the staying power of many of the current reduced-carb products.
“Many of these foods are made from highly processed ingredients, while the low-carb models clearly call for less processed foods,” he says. “Given the predominance of artificial ingredients, many of these foods don’t taste as good as their regular counterparts. Let’s not forget that another option for the low-carb dieter is to simply eat less of the regular version of their favorite foods.”
Getting it Right
Before pushing that peanut butter variegate through the variegating pump — or moving those chocolate chunks through the fruit feeder — manufacturers first must do their share of homework, of course. They must perform a careful evaluation of current and up-and-coming trends, develop an understanding of their target markets, create a market-specific concept and select the right ingredients. They also must be prepared for no small amount of trial and error.
Although most inclusion suppliers agree that the bulk of today’s ice cream manufacturers do a fine job in the inclusions area, a few mentioned some problem areas — and solutions that could help thwart new-product disasters.
“Second-time purchases are driven from meeting or exceeding the consumers’ expectations,” says Taylor. The product not only must taste good, she stresses, but also must be appealing to the eye.
“Most unsuccessful programs are either due to lack of inclusions or the addition of too many inclusions, which has a pronounced effect on the body of the ice cream or causes inadvertent ice crystallization development,” says Taylor. “Not being familiar with the physical properties of an inclusion can cause the most problems.”
Although too much of a good thing can hurt a formulation, too few inclusions also will disappoint consumers. “Customers want to get a piece with every bite,” says Luck.
The dairy processor also must consider the ease of use of the inclusion or variegate, notes Taylor. “It must run through their equipment on a continuously consistent basis for even distribution of ‘product show’ in the finished ice cream carton.”
To avoid handling problems during processing, manufacturers must store variegates and pieces at the proper temperatures, says Premo. Ideal storage temperatures vary from ingredient to ingredient.
Hughes also offers some advice related to product handling.
“Consumers want items that are softer in ice cream, low-melt and things like cheesecake chunks, cake pieces, etc. These usually taste great in ice cream, but are very difficult to ship due to the low temperatures required to keep them from sticking,” he says. “Once the processors do have them, many are not taking the necessary steps to run them. Ways to alleviate this would include pulling limited amounts from the freezer instead of a whole pallet at a time, or (using) insulated totes on the production floor to keep the product frozen while it is being used.” df
Inclusion Expertise
Inclusion suppliers are among the most creative of the food ingredients sector, creating an ever-expanding array of sweet ribbons, swirls and pieces. In addition, they often serve as crucial sources of inspiration in the concept-creation process.
Jana’s Classics supplies ingredient inclusions, flavor bases and pumpable doughs and batters, says Jana Taylor, company president and owner. Company offerings range from “the homemade brown-sugar true grittiness of old-fashioned cookie doughs to the smooth confectionary texture of our cremes — from a crunch cinnamon sopapilla baked ‘mini’ to the varied chewy cake textures of our rich fudge brownies.”
Rhino Foods serves up “a wide variety of extruded and baked inclusions such as cookie doughs, brownies, truffles and bakery pieces,” says Subha Luck, industrial sales manager. “If it can be baked, Rhino can cut it into a manageable size piece, tailor-made to specifications and ready to put into ice cream.”
Kim Premo, Guernsey Bel’s director of research and applications for frozen desserts, notes that her company offers “a full breadth of ingredients” for the ice cream arena, including toffee candies, pralines, chocolate- and oil-coated items, dough and fudge bits, variegates and more. Many of the ingredients come in full-fat, reduced-fat and reduced-carbohydrate versions, she adds.
Parker Products is strong in the praline and hard candy areas, says research and development manager Chris Hughes, as well as in chocolate-coated products. “We work directly with R&D and processors to custom-develop products,” he adds.
On the nut side, Terri Lynn offers freshly roasted products designed to match individual dairy specifications.
“Our chocolate-coated products are ideal for ice cream as well,” says Mark Graziano, vice president of sales and marketing. “We use 100 percent real chocolate. We have milk, white, dark, and we can provide compound if the customer has a specification that requires it.”
Concord’s Oringer Division can create unique variegates that separate an ice cream from the rest of the pack.
“We’ve always been seen as a high-end manufacturer,” says Rod Oringer, national sales/marketing manager. “We work more in a specialty arena. … If someone’s looking for that banana-strawberry variegate, we can probably do that better and faster than the next guy. We’re also willing to do smaller runs than some of the other manufacturers.”
On the fruit side, California Custom Fruits and Flavors Inc., Irwindale, Calif., provides fruit variegates and purees ranging from standbys such as strawberry and peach to more trendy combinations such as apricot-mango.
Creative Combos
Recent ice cream introductions boast a wide variety of innovative inclusion combinations. Here are some of the more noteworthy mixes:
Cookies! Cookies! Cookies! — Brenham, Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries’ new product infuses a brown sugar ice cream with pieces of chocolate chip cookie dough, chocolate cream cookies and oatmeal cookies.
Reverse the Curse — Arlington, Mass.-based Brigham Inc. created this new baseball-inspired flavor to celebrate its 90th birthday. The company’s starts with its signature vanilla ice cream and adds chocolate-covered peanut “baseballs,” chocolate-covered caramel “bases” and swirls of its fudge sauce.
Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie — Dean Foods’ Purity Dairies Inc. of Nashville mixes chewy Little Debbie brand oatmeal cookie pieces into a sweet cinnamon ice cream infused with a fluffy marshmallow swirl.
Dublin Mudslide — South Burlington, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. laces Irish cream liqueur-flavored ice cream with chocolate, chocolate cookies and a coffee-fudge swirl.
Maple Caramel Walnut — The Velvet Ice Cream Co. of Utica, Ohio, teamed up with the Longaberger basket folks to produce a maple-flavored ice cream infused with caramel and walnuts. The maple flavor represents the strips of maple wood used in the baskets.
Chocolate Cherry Pecan — A seasonal variety produced by Blue Bell Creameries blended vanilla ice cream with a cherry sauce swirl, maraschino cherry halves, pecan pieces and chocolate chunks.
Healthier Alternatives
Chocolate Fudge Brownie — This Breyers product, manufactured by Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream of Green Bay, Wis., takes no-sugar-added lowfat chocolate ice cream and blends it with brownie pieces and a fudge swirl to create a 98 percent fat-free ice cream with just 90 calories per serving.
Carb Karma Half Baked — Ben & Jerry’s Homemade merges reduced-carb chocolate and vanilla ice creams with reduced-carb versions of fudge brownies and chocolate-chip cookie dough.
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