Flavor Game
by Lori Dahm
Familiar and well-loved flavors maintain popularity; ethnic flavors make a formidable showing.
The flavors that debuted in new dairy products this past year upheld the presence of long-time favorites such as chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, but also demonstrated the permeation of Hispanic flavors into the market, and promised innovative flavor entries in dairy products that are designed for health.
Mango replaced peach on the flavor roster in almost all dairy categories this year in new product introductions, a sign that mango — once considered an ethnic flavor — has now gone mainstream. Berry flavors also continued to be popular across the board, and the widespread appearance of flavors such as passion fruit, guava and coconut demonstrated that flavors from Latino cultures are continuing to build in popularity. And although consumers expect that familiar stand-by flavors will be available in the dairy products they love, the year also showed that when consumers seek amplified health quotients in new dairy products, they are open to flavor experimentation.
All told, the flavors appearing in new dairy products this year upheld expectations, but also demonstrated a gradual shift in what is considered a “mainstream” flavor. Consumers are seeking excitement in new dairy products through flavors that were once considered ethnic or exotic, often paired with the familiar or presented in a format that can easily be understood.
Milk and Smoothies
Flavored milk continued to be a display of the three tried-and-true favorite flavors. This year strawberry was the most oft-introduced flavor in new milk products, followed by vanilla and then chocolate. Banana continued to be a popular new flavor in milk, and other notable appearances included mango rather than peach this year, and coconut, which appeared for the first time in the top 10 most popular new flavored milks.
“Although the same three flavors remain the most popular for new milks, there were many requests this past year for flavors which could compensate for a reduction in sugar and/or from full-fat milk to 2 percent or even 1 percent flavored milk. This is probably due to the upcoming revisions to the school lunch programs,” says Steve Wolf, technical director of flavor applications at Robertet Flavors, Piscataway, N.J. “This year we saw flavor requests for milks with root beer and even watermelon, and on the ethnic side horchata was a common request as well.”
Other developments in flavored milks included the widespread use of creamy notes with vanilla, as well as a move toward indulgent sweet, brown flavors like caramel, hazelnut and toffee, often paired with chocolate. Mocha coffee was a popular flavor exploration for prototypes as well as some crème brulee flavors. This indulgent flavor wave can be interpreted as a crossover from other categories of ready-to-drink dairy-based beverages.
“Flavored milks follow two other popular categories: RTD [ready to drink] coffee and tea products, and indulgent ice cream/candy bar products. Following Starbucks’ lead, many companies are developing RTD coffee beverages that are really adult flavored milks, and developing chai products combined with both dairy and soy,” says Scott Backinoff, food scientist at McCormick and Co. Inc., Hunt Valley, Md. “Pertaining to indulgent ice cream/candy bar products, there has been heavy licensing of major candy bar items such as Snickers, Starburst and Hershey going into milks as well as traditional ice cream flavors.”
The candy bar flavor migration into flavored milks is, in fact, echoed in other dairy categories. This trend seems to resonate with today’s consumer seeking decadence, indulgence and dessert in every format possible — particularly products that can be eaten on the run like packaged milks.
Top 10 2005 Flavor Introductions:
Milk, Non-dairy milk and yogurt drinks
1. Blend 39
2. Strawberry 25
3. Vanilla 22
4. Chocolate 19
5. Banana 14
6. Berry 10
7. Cream 7
8. Mango 6
9. Raspberry 6
10. Coconut 5
Yogurt and Yogurt Imitations
1. Strawberry 19
2. Blend 18
3. Vanilla 14
4. Peach 12
5. Blueberry 8
6. Raspberry 8
7. Banana 6
8. Chocolate 6
9. Cherry 5
10. Plain 4
SOURCE: Productscan Online (www.productscan.com) , Naples, N.Y., January 1 – December 31, 2005
Other flavor introductions that were newly emerging last year became more firmly established on the shelf. For example, although orange did not top the list of the 10 most popular flavored milk introductions, orange cream did remain present in existing products. An interesting perspective in the flavor introductions in milks is to consider what inspired a new flavor trend.
“We actually saw cranberry appear as a flavor request this year for milk, and cranberry is a hot fruit. We watch the Australian market and observe the flavors introduced in milks there, because surprisingly, Australia has the most flavored milk launches in the world,” says Kevin Riley, technical director at Mastertaste, Teterboro, N.J. “In general, the Asia Pacific region has the most dairy beverages and most innovation in dairy because dairy beverages tie in so well as a perfect vehicle to deliver nutraceuticals. Flavors are often paired with dairy products that are probiotics or designed to help control blood pressure and such.”
In fact, if smoothies are to be the next delivery vehicle for Americans looking to embrace nutraceuticals and functional foods, it is important to note the flavors that appeared in new smoothie products this past year. Smoothies generally contain straight-forward berry and fruit flavors currently, although the influence of flavors from Hispanic cuisine again was a force in this category.
“The most popular dairy-based smoothie flavors have been strawberry-banana, mixed berry, fruit and tropical punch,” says Marie Cummings, senior food technologist at David Michael, Philadelphia. “New flavors are more of a tropical type with mango combinations or blends of a more familiar fruit and a less well-known fruit.”
Tropical fruits that have made an appearance in new smoothie products include pineapple and guava flavors.
As retail smoothies become products that contain fortification akin to the “boost” consumers can add at their local smoothie chain, new flavor introductions are likely to expand.
“Retail smoothies have been more of the generic flavors, versus foodservice where the smoothies are much more innovative and packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals,” says Lynn Jacobus, marketing analyst at Mastertaste. “There we see flavors like green tea or acai [a large purple berry from the Amazon rainforest] in addition to the blending of fruits like blueberry, pineapple, peach and more.”
Although dairy manufacturers have ridden the wave of smoothie popularity happily, many experts are predicting that smoothies will soon transition to a product that will include fortification and nutraceutical benefits.
“I think this category is ripe for new flavor exploration, especially chocolate and chocolate blends like chocolate/raspberry, chocolate/banana and even chocolate/peanut butter,” Backinoff says. “Currently, smoothies and drinkable yogurts tend to mimic the flavors in cup yogurt. However, as developers and marketers attempt to mask the flavor of vitamins and minerals used for enrichment, stronger flavor profiles will be tried.”
Yogurt and Ice Cream
Flavors in the cup yogurts have returned to a predominance of fruit and berry flavors, after a brief sojourn into decadent flavors that didn’t quite deliver enough of a dessert experience. Also, consumers seeking yogurt as a healthy product may be less interested in a product flavored to resemble decadence.
It can be difficult to deviate from fruit flavors in yogurt because the pH and acidity of yogurt makes caramels and chocolates hard to execute without the flavors tasting fruity or floral. Often times such flavors will pair a fruit with chocolate, such as cherry and chocolate. Cream is an indulgent flavor that can be accomplished more easily in the yogurt format, as well as key lime or strawberry cheesecake.
“Some of the more interesting indulgent flavors that did appear in yogurts were cobblers — blackberry, peach and apple seemed to lead the way,” Backinoff says. “Particularly innovative was the introduction of whipped yogurts that are meant to mimic chocolate mousse with chocolate flavors and chocolate and fruit flavors. These products are a way to attract even more adult female consumers to the category by lightening the calorie load with the incorporation of air.”
In fact, moving cup yogurts toward the ice cream paradigm was another notable innovation in the category.
“I would characterize new yogurt introductions as ‘fortified’ versus ‘indulgent.’ Many yogurts introduced have added fortification such as calcium or other vitamins,” Cummings says. “On the other end of the spectrum is adding chocolate mini morsels to a vanilla or strawberry yogurt with cream sold in 32-ounce containers as more of a dessert product.”
Top 5 2005 Flavor Introductions:
1. Cheddar 45
2. Mild 19
3. Mozzarella 19
4. Garlic 15
5. Blue Cheese 14
SOURCE: Productscan Online (www.productscan.com) , Naples, N.Y.,
January 1 – December 31, 2005
In the realm of dessert products and the new flavors in ice creams and novelties, most of the popular flavors were similar to years past.
This year fudge debuted as the third most popular flavor introduced in new frozen desserts. So, too, brownie made the top 15 list of most popular new flavor introductions this year. This is a symptom of where more flavor excitement in the ice cream category is currently transpiring: the inclusion.
“Co-branding in ice cream products is big, and so candy pieces of every type are appearing in ice cream,” Riley says. “The flavors in ice cream generally remain the same, but what is making the difference today are the inclusions and variegates. We see caramel swirls, fudge swirls and peanut butter swirls, and new equipment makes it possible to include crunch in the swirl.”
But, the new trans fat labeling law that went into effect in January might wreak havoc upon this trend.
“Many manufacturers that used baked particulates as well as compound chocolate pieces and coated nuts are either going to be reformulating or relabeling if there is a drop-off by consumers due to the new trans fat labeling. This might be a highly opportune time to bring out new products that are not so reliant upon fat,” Backinoff says. “New fruit flavors, more intense chocolate or better quality coffee products might come into vogue. Healthful products that are still rich and flavorful might be right around the corner, like green tea and fruit ice creams that use high anthocyanin fruits such as blackberries, pomegranate, cherries, acai and even grape.”
Top 15 2005 Flavor Introductions:
Ice Cream, Frozen Novelties and Frozen Yogurt
1. Vanilla 93
2. Chocolate 92
3. Fudge 45
4. Strawberry 40
5. Caramel 27
6. Cream 24
7. Orange 24
8. Peanut Butter 20
9. Cherry 19
10. Cookie 19
11. Mint 18
12. Chocolate Chip 17
13. Almond 14
14. Brownie 14
15. Coffee 15
SOURCE: Productscan Online (www.productscan.com) , Naples, N.Y., January 1 – December 31, 2005
Such fruit flavors are already starting to be seen in sorbets and frozen novelty products, where adults often choose a frozen fruity dessert that is slightly healthier than an ice cream with a high fat content. Of course, slow-churning technology has revolutionized how fat is distributed in the newest light ice cream products, resulting in an excellent eating experience with less fat.
“Expect to see the continued introduction of exotic fruit flavors in frozen novelties such as pomegranate, guava and acai. And if the actual fruit is included in the novelty it could even offer a health benefit,” says Peggy Pellichero, project leader for dairy applications at David Michael. “We have introduced several new ice cream flavors combining fruit flavors with herbs, such as Blueberry Lavender, Pear Apricot Ginger and Vanilla Anise.”
The flavors most popular in frozen novelties designed to appeal to kids remain the interactive varieties, such as changing colors, morphing flavors, sensory effects such as heat and the extreme flavors like super sour and super tart. Several of the new novelty products for children include vitamins, particularly vitamin C, or boast a high fruit juice content.
“If you are looking for the next flavor execution in the dairy category, you watch the new and emerging beverage products, which usually precede a lot of other categories by about six to 12 months,” Riley says. “The successful flavors trail off into the dairy beverage category flavors, yogurts down the road and finally frozen desserts. It wouldn’t surprise me to see cranberry pomegranate as the next hot dairy flavor.”  
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