Indulgence Reigns
by Lori Dahm
Richness and decadence pervade dairy categories, our annual flavors survey reveals.
If there is one flavor trend permeating all dairy categories, it is indulgence. Flavors that are decadent and dessert-like continue to be popular across the board when it comes to milk and dairy beverages, yogurt products, ice cream and frozen novelties.
Cheese may be the one exception in this regard — something like cookies-and-cream cheddar has yet to find appeal with consumers.
Rotating flavors continue to be a trend in many categories, such as milk beverages or ice creams. Other developments include the continued permeation of the flavors from Hispanic cuisine into several dairy categories, such as tropical fruit flavors and the indulgent dessert flavors like dulce de leche or tres leches cake.
By and large, flavors continue to bring excitement to the dairy case as new product introductions exhibiting the latest flavor craze and consumer preference. And although some flavor preferences remain the same year in and year out — for example, vanilla ice cream apparently will always be the most popular — new flavor trends are developing in several categories.  
Milk
The big news in flavored fluid milk products this past year was strawberry, banana and vanilla. Taste preferences in flavored fluid milk always include chocolate, but strawberry topped the list of most popular flavor introductions in milk drinks in 2004.
“Berry continues to be the most-requested flavor for beverages of all types, with strawberry being the number-one berry flavor,” says Nancy Farace, technical marketing manager at McCormick Flavors, Hunt Valley, Md. “Berry blends are a delicious ‘strawberry with a twist’ alternative.”
Although the popularity of strawberry may be fueled by the current red berry craze, strawberry-flavored milk has been a mainstay for quite some time.
Top 10 2004 Flavor Introductions:
Milk, Non-Dairy Milk and Yogurt Drinks
1. Blend (47)
2. Strawberry (38)
3. Chocolate (35)
4. Vanilla (33)
5. Banana (18)
6. Peach (13)
7. Berry (11)
8. Orange (11)
9. Cream (9)
10. Original (8)
SOURCE: Productscan Online (www.productscan.com), Naples, N.Y., January 1-December 21, 2004.
“Strawberry milk has been popular for a while. Customers often expand a flavored milk line with strawberry before vanilla, even though many milk plants already have vanilla on hand for ice cream,” says Nicole McCammack, dairy technologist at Sensient Flavors, Indianapolis. “Bringing a strawberry in shows how much faith manufacturers have in strawberry as an established flavor.”
Banana became a very popular flavor in fluid milk in 2004, particularly in kids’ milk products. Banana was often named as the current trendy flavor for the upcoming year.
“In recent years there has been more experimentation in traditional milk, with the result that banana can now be considered a contender with the top three for kid appeal,” says Suzanne Niekrasz, director of marketing communications at Robertet Flavors Inc., Piscataway, N.J. “Flavors that are a natural with milk include coffee, malt, caramel, cinnamon, almond and sweet spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, which appeal to teens and young adults due to their more sophisticated flavor profile. We’re seeing an expansion in flavors offered and who is being targeted.”
Top 15 2004 Flavor Introductions:
Ice Cream, Frozen Novelties and Frozen Yogurt
1. Chocolate (96)
2. Vanilla (94)
3. Fudge (48)
4. Strawberry (39)
5. Peanut Butter (28)
6. Caramel (27)
7. Mint (25)
8. Chocolate Chip (22)
9. Almond (21)
10. Cream (19)
11. Orange (16)
12. Pecan (16)
13. Cookie (14)
14. Butter (11)
15. Cherry (11)
SOURCE: Productscan Online (www.productscan.com), Naples, N.Y., January 1-December 21, 2004.
Vanilla was among the top three flavor introductions in fluid milk drinks this year, and manufacturers expanded the profile of that vanilla taste.
“A lot of the current vanilla-flavored milks feature the flavor profile of a vanilla ice cream-type flavor, or vanilla milk shake,” says Peggy Pellichero, project leader of dairy applications at David Michael and Co., Philadelphia. “The vanilla flavor that is popular is a sweet vanilla, a cooked caramel vanilla.”
This aligns with the current overall flavor trend in dairy products, including milk beverages, for products to be indulgent and include flavors of the sweet, brown variety — caramel, butterscotch and the like.
Some manufacturers present these indulgent flavors in milk products as rotating flavors, with new flavor varieties released for a limited time. For example, the Horizon Organic single-serve milks have featured caramel as a variety that was introduced to the market for a short time span before banana was introduced in its stead.
Berry flavors for milk beverages continue to be popular. But citrus flavors in milk products can present technical challenges because these flavors include citric acid to boost the taste profile, which can curdle a milk base.
“The fruit flavors can be difficult to formulate without the addition of naturally occurring fruit acids that would add freshness and natural flavor notes,” says Scott Backnioff, senior scientist of dairy flavor applications at McCormick.
Likewise, tropical flavors such as mango, passion fruit or guava contain sulfur notes that don’t work well in fluid milk environments.
There can also be challenges with coffee solids setting to the bottom of a single-serve container if a milk beverage includes coffee extracts. In 2004, manufacturers targeted teens and young adults with coffee flavors in milk-based beverages designed to lure these consumers from soda.
“We have seen increased interest in cappuccino-flavored milks that are darker roasted than in the past, which tend to be marketed to teens and adults,” says Noreen Carroll, director of food ingredient sales at Autocrat Inc., Lincoln, R.I. “There has been some interest in organic coffee extracts and we anticipate that interest will grow.”
Meanwhile, the other rich, decadent flavors that are being paired with milk beverages are creating a veritable flavor playground for flavor suppliers.
“Our customers asked us for basic flavors with a little something extra. So we paired chocolate with an indulgent flavor,” says Gretchen Schleck, media relations manager at Robertet. “We have created fun, yet familiar flavor combinations for milk including chocolate marshmallow, chocolate peanut butter and chocolate mint.”
Ice Cream
Nothing beats vanilla ice cream and, apparently, nothing ever will.
In April 2000, Cyclone Hudah hit the coast of Madagascar and, in conjunction with other market factors, caused the cost of vanilla to quadruple. Ice cream manufacturers saved money by using vanilla flavors instead, which required them to change the label if the ice cream product no longer contained pure vanilla.
Now the vanilla supply situation is resolved, and a lot of companies will return to pure vanilla extracts. Or will they?
Some speculate the cost of returning to original formulations and re-printing labels will dissuade manufacturers from returning to pure vanilla ingredients. But in terms of taste, there seems to be no substitute for real vanilla.
“The flavor profile of the vanilla substitutes simply does not compare favorably with pure vanilla extract, and consumers can taste the difference. In addition, most manufacturers do not believe that vanilla substitutes are allowed by the FDA as a replacement for real vanilla in Category I and II ice creams,” says Rick Brownwell, vice president of vanilla at Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y. “Also, these ingredients are often subject to a high degree of batch-to-batch variation, which may be unacceptable in the finished product.”
Outside of the well-deserved worship of vanilla ice cream, fudge, caramel and peanut butter were noteworthy as popular flavors in new product introductions in the past year. No surprise that such rich and indulgent flavors were pervasive in yet another dairy category.
“We are seeing increasing requests for dessert-type flavors for ice cream products. Consumers want to have all the decadence and indulgence of their favorite dessert — be it strawberry cheesecake or tiramisu — in a convenient format,” says Jessica R. Jones-Dille, market insights coordinator at Wild Flavors Inc., Erlanger, Ky. “Consumers enjoy ice cream at home as a reward or for celebration, so it is the perfect vehicle for indulgent flavors.”
Berry flavors in ice cream seem to have fallen by the wayside in terms of preference. However, if those berry flavors are paired with a dessert, in blackberry pound cake ice cream, for example — blackberry ice cream with a blackberry variegate and pound cake pieces — then consumers embrace them more readily.
“We are seeing flavor requests for ice cream products that conjure memories of ‘growing up’ for consumers — the ‘comfort’ flavors,” says Kim Premo, director of research and development for frozen desserts at Kerry Americas, Beloit, Wis. “A lot of these types of flavors are bakery-type flavors, such as strawberry cheesecake, brownie fudge or cake batter.”
The flavor mantra in ice cream products seems to be indulgence to the extreme.
“Classic-type flavors in ice cream remain strong, such as caramel, dulce de leche and other brown flavors such as coffee. Some popular flavor combinations are dessert and bakery types such as cinnamon bun, bananas Foster and s’mores,” says Paul Graffigna, vice president of marketing at Virginia Dare. “Decadent and indulgent flavors remain hot. We’re seeing a lot of interest in building layers of flavor.”
Ice cream was the category where limited-edition flavors first took hold, and has proven to be an arena where consumers will experiment with unique flavors and varieties. Manufacturers are continuing to push the boundaries of familiarity with new ice cream products.
“We have been working on sweet-savory combinations in ice cream that trend toward the indulgent side. Processors are requesting a twist to popular ice creams that add uniqueness to their products without getting outside the bounds of customer trial,” says Scott Geringer, senior category manager of dairy at Sensient Flavors. “While more predominant in Europe, we have seen an increase in requests for sweet-savory concepts in the United States, which may signal more of these product offerings in 2005.”
And the use of Hispanic flavors in ice cream products, once seen as exotic, is now standard fare in the freezer case.
“With America’s growing Hispanic population, we’re seeing more and more customer requests for Hispanic flavors such as dulce de leche, horchata, hibiscus and tres leches cake. This trend is two pronged. Hispanic consumers look to these products for a taste of home,” says Schleck. “For other consumers who have become familiar with ethnic cuisine by traveling, a horchata-flavored ice cream could bring back memories of a recent trip to Mexico. And then there are adventurous customers who just want to try something new.”
Top 10 2004 Flavor Introductions:
Yogurt and Yogurt Imitations
1. Strawberry (20)
2. Peach (18)
3. Blueberry (17)
4. Blend (16)
5. Raspberry (15)
6. Banana (8)
7. Cherry (8)
8. Vanilla (6)
9. Cream (5)
10. Berry (4)
SOURCE: Productscan Online (www.productscan.com), Naples, N.Y., January 1-December 21, 2004.
In frozen novelties there are two distinct audiences: the adults who are looking for dessert in a frozen format, and kids who want fun new products that delight all of their senses.
“When products are targeted towards kids in the frozen novelty category, new flavors are sometimes driven by a need to complement a licensed character,” says Jones-Dille. “For instance, lime and green apple flavors work well for Shrek products, while red cherry and strawberry are good for Spider Man products. Licensing is an important trend to remember when developing flavors for kids’ products since characters are a main purchase driver.”
Products that are extreme — whether in flavor, color appearance or changeability — are a hit with kids in new frozen novelties. And candy flavors such as bubble gum and cotton candy are continuing to be popular.
On the adult side, some of the fruit bar or water ice products include tropical fruit flavors such as pineapple, passion fruit and guava. And many of these novelties have also added fruit juice and vitamin C to improve their image as healthier products.
“We are noticing a specific trend in the development of high-quality fruit bar products for adults that feature all-natural flavors and colors with an emphasis on large fruit pieces,” says Geringer.
Yogurt
A limitless flavor palette seems to exist on the yogurt shelf. Almost every flavor imaginable has been created as a yogurt product, and the trend toward flavor experimentation continues.
“We’ve seen a lot of requests for floral flavors in yogurt. Our floral flavors pair exceptionally well with tropical fruit flavors, yielding innovative concepts such as mango mimosa and guava rose,” says Schleck. “We’re pairing unexpected flavor combinations with familiar applications. While mainstream tropical fruit flavors like Mango and Papaya remain popular, we’re seeing a trend toward more exotic tropical fruit flavors including lychee, prickly pear, guava and passion fruit.”
While there was a time when yogurt products seem to be turning into desserts entirely, now that the trend toward indulgent-flavored yogurts has steadied and fruit flavors top the list of most popular flavor introductions in the past year’s new yogurt products.
“One of the trends currently exhibiting itself in yogurt marries red and yellow fruit together,” says Pellichero. “So this might be banana and strawberry, or banana and a tropical fruit like mango or guava.”
Top 5 2004 Flavor Introductions:
Cheese
1. Cheddar (45)
2. Cheese (20)
3. Mozzarella (20)
4. Mild (17)
5. Garlic (15)
SOURCE: Productscan Online (www.productscan.com), Naples, N.Y., January 1-December 21, 2004.
It’s possible that the return to the popularity of fruit in yogurt products is due to consumers wishing to maintain yogurt as a healthy eating occasion, while indulging in dessert-like flavors in ice cream seems more appropriate. Coffee flavors manage to walk this fine line.
“We have been seeing more request for organic coffee extracts for yogurt products,” says Carroll. “However, often with yogurt, the acids in the coffees and the flavors of the yogurt do not work well together. We use masking agents that allow for the best flavor.”
Cheese
The flavor game in cheese products is not terribly active. The trend in the cheese category is that consumers are seeking more authentic artisan cheeses rather than cheeses that have been flavored. However, the appearance of heat and chilies in cheese is one emerging flavor trend, and others may follow.
“Gourmet cheeses such as asiago and manchego are appealing to consumers. With the addition of seasoning blends and flavors, exciting new cheese products are being introduced by both large manufacturers and Artisan cheese makers,” says Farace. “Look for the influence of Asian, Hispanic and Mediterranean spices and flavors in many cheese products.”
In the overall flavor perspective, it is clear that consumers are open to new flavor experiences in many dairy categories. While rich, indulgent flavors are the trend in many categories because consumers continue to love dessert, the key is to offer consumers excitement through flavors that are unique, yet remain easy to assimilate.  
“It’s important to understand that taste preferences tend to be anchored in familiarity. Dulce de leche is similar to the classic flavor of caramel, mango is peach-like,” says Graffigna. “Pairing a lesser-known flavor with a well-known flavor is a good approach in helping to make that new flavor more mainstream.”