by Lori Dahm
New technology paired with creativity brings excitement into the mix.
Ice cream continues to be one of consumers’ favorite indulgent treats, and new product excitement and innovation is a hallmark of the ice cream freezer case. As “limited-time” offerings and seasonal products have become a mainstay, consumers have given the green light to ice cream to be outlandishly different, exciting and nearly unbelievable in terms of flavors, inclusions and varieties.
Of course, at the same time that ice cream possibilities seem limitless, the new products in the ice cream case also represent and echo food and flavor trends at large — exhibited by the proliferation of Latino flavors appearing in ice cream, as well as chocolate tendencies and the trend toward maximum indulgence.
This rotation of new decadent flavor combinations appearing in the ice cream category is due to the emergence of new technologies and the development of creative new inclusions. Both of these forces make possible the ice cream products which are tantalizing consumer taste buds and stirring consumer imagination in the form of innovative new products introduced in foodservice and on the retail shelf.
Soft but Crunchy
There was new focus upon texture in ice creams from a few different angles this past year. One of the new technologies to hit the ice cream world was the textured variegate — the ribbons in ice cream that were formerly only available as different flavor varieties such as fudge, caramel, berry and the like could suddenly carry a crunch particle. The new variegate products often feature cookie crumbles such as chocolate cookies, graham crackers or nuts, or even baked pieces like pie crust.
“Textured variegates are still catching on,” says Kenny Haller, sales director at Kerry Sweet Ingredients, New Century, Kans. “There have been introductions in the market with not only graham variegates, but also cookie-type variegates, nutmeat particulates in variegates and crushed sugar cones in a variegate.”
Machines that manufacture these variegates need to be calibrated so a crunch particle can be included in the swirl without clogging the machine. The second challenge harks to the primary ice cream challenge for all inclusions: The crunch particle has to be resistant to moisture in order to withstand the ice cream manufacturing process and deliver the desired crunch upon consumption. However, conquering these challenges has been well worth it for manufacturers, since consumers have embraced the new textured variegates with enthusiasm.
“We have been working on a lot of textured variegates and sauces, like a caramel toffee swirl, which is a caramel swirl with ground toffee pieces in it,” says John Namy, vice president of culinary development at Pecan Deluxe Candy Co., Dallas. “The advantage with this particular textured sauce is that the caramel keeps the toffee separated from the ice cream since fat and water don’t mix; the caramel isolates the toffee pieces.”
John Namy is the creative force extraordinaire at Pecan Deluxe, where he translates the dessert trends he observes on restaurant menus around the nation into ice cream product prototypes that are mind-blowingly complex in their flavor meld and sophistication. Namy has created many versions of textured variegates, some of the most popular include ground shortbread pieces in the ribbon, two of which are called White Betty and Brown Betty Ribbons.
“The White Betty ribbon is a white chocolate with brown sugar, cinnamon and ground shortbread pieces in the ribbon,” Namy says. “The more traditional version is the Brown Betty, which is a caramel swirl with buttery brown sugar and ground shortbread pieces included. Both of these ribbons are perfect in a variety of new products, such our ‘Don’t Tell Grandma,’ which has praline pecans, spice cake pieces and swirls of Brown Betty Ribbon blended in Grandma’s Secret Ice Cream.”
And as textured variegates must be formulated so that the crunchy pieces keep their crunch, inclusions face the same fate. Creating pieces and chunks within the ice cream that will deliver the proper mouthfeel by the time the consumer spoons them out requires particular treatment and certain technologies.
“One of the most popular ice cream desserts is fried ice cream, a traditional Mexican restaurant menu item in which a fried ice cream ball is served dipped in caramel and rolled with flakes or nuts or coconut,” Namy says. “We’ve created a fried ice cream product which includes pieces of that fried ice cream ball using bunuelos as inclusion ingredients. We take a flour tortilla, fry it and rub it with oil and then bake it with cinnamon sugar. We then coat the piece to create the moisture barrier that maintains crunch, and these pieces are inside the ice cream.”
Most recently, Namy created a variety of shortcake and shortbread inclusion ingredients that he has included in ice cream prototypes, and these pieces are similarly enrobed to withstand the moisture of the ice cream environment and deliver the proper eating experience.
Although inclusion pieces like baked brownies, cookie dough and pie are all the rage with consumers, these are not baked pieces that can be simply transferred into the ice cream mix from a regular baking operation. Instead, they are developed and baked to yield certain softness or “melt” so that when surrounded by the cold climate of ice cream they do not become too hard or brittle upon consumption.
“We’ve seen new launches ‘loaded with inclusions,’ and several new launches with multiple inclusions, such as a flavor with both chocolate chunks and brownies,” says Beth Blake, national account manager at Kerry Sweet Ingredients. “Inclusions continue to be an important element of every flavor because indulgence is still the primary driver in the frozen desserts category.”
One influence upon inclusions is the growing appeal of organic, and the need for inclusions to be part of a healthier quotient if the ice cream product is designed to meet a specific nutritional profile.
“Organic is the new trend that will be in cycle for some time; whether that is lowfat or full fat will be up to the consumer. Because of this new interest, we have just recently developed a line of organic confections that can be used as inclusions in ice cream,” says Greg Hodder, president of Parker Products Inc., Fort Worth, Texas. “And with trans-fat labeling becoming a consumer concern, we are developing inclusions that contain zero grams of trans fat. There is a nationwide push to eliminate trans fat from the consumer diet.”
As far as product trends, ice cream tends to echo the flavor trends in desserts overall, with a pumped-up indulgence quotient. However, one trend unique to ice cream is the preponderance of cake batter ice creams flooding the market right now.
“With cake batter ice creams becoming so hot, wedding cake and groom cake ice creams are the next big idea. The wedding cake ice cream is simply white cake batter ice cream with white cake piece inclusions, cream cheese icing flakes and swirls of raspberry sauce,” Namy says. “Although many areas in the country don’t have groom’s cakes, they are popular here in Dallas, and usually are chocolate or chocolate mousse cakes. Our groom’s cake product is a chocolate cake batter mousse ice cream with chocolate cake piece inclusions, chocolate covered pecans and swirls of thick chocolate fudge.”
Another notable trend is the ubiquitous reach of dulce de leche as an ice cream flavor. The unilateral appeal of dulce de leche reflects the current popularity of Latino-inspired desserts overall.
“In response to demand and demographic shifts, launches continue to address those groups with a taste for Latin American cuisine,” Blake says. “For example, a new launch this year, Mexican Chocolate, was a blend of cinnamon and chocolate flavors. We’ve also seen an interest in tamarind.”
Data from the top 200 restaurants indicates that Latin-cuisine inspired desserts rank in the top 10 percent as most popular and most preferred by consumers, with dulce de leche cheesecake topping the list as the most popular dessert nationwide right now. Desserts that feature the flavor of tres leches cake are not far behind.
“This popularity may be inspired by the second and third generation Latinos who are interested in well-executed desserts that feature the flavors of their authentic ethnic cuisine with an American spin,” Namy says. “Flan is popular, so we have a custard ice cream with swirls of flan and a caramel brown sugar sauce. We have a Tres Leches con Fresca product, which is tres leches cake pieces with a swirl of strawberry, and tres leches in a strawberry tres leches-flavored ice cream.”
Chocolate in ice cream is following chocolate trends overall, wherein consumers are interested in deep, dark chocolates that are less sweet and impart more of the bittersweet notes from the cocoa than was the nation’s preference five years ago.
“We have been doing a lot of chocolate work, particularly the deep, dark chocolate flavors. Our most innovative project right now is working to include real chocolate in an ice cream product so that product labels can boast ‘real chocolate’ content,” Namy says. “Real chocolate will taste waxy in cold ice cream, so the ingredients traditionally used are not real chocolate. We are working to include oils in real chocolate to lower the melt but still yield that desirable indulgent, deep chocolate taste.”
And the co-branding with candy bar companies and properties as well as cookie brands continues to be popular in the freezer aisle.
“Co-branding with either candy or other themes, such as Disney/Pixar, is still a very active niche that ice cream companies investigate,” Haller says.
Blake adds: “These are still popular, but what is ‘new’ about them is that we are seeing more authenticity about the product design. If it is a co-branded cheesecake, then it has actual cheesecake pieces in it.”
Akin to the limited-edition co-branded ice creams, other programs suggest ice cream rotations by season. For example, during the winter a hot chocolate ice cream (like that recently made by Texas favorite Blue Bell Creameries) could feature a dark chocolate ice cream with an amber-infused marshmallow swirl that approximates a toasted marshmallow, with chocolate flakes throughout the ice cream.
“Spring-flavored ice creams include lemon chiffon ice cream — a lemon cake batter ice cream with short cake pieces and swirls of lemon chiffon — and summer flavors could feature a variety of different short cakes like raspberry shortcake ice cream with raspberry shortcake batter ice cream, shortcake pieces and swirls of raspberry sauce,” Namy says. “A delightful fall ice cream would be pumpkin cream cheese ice cream, a pumpkin cream cheese ice cream with gingersnap cookie pieces, praline pecan pieces, swirls of marshmallow and a buttery brown sugar-cinnamon ribbon.”
Futuristic ice cream ideas include gelato-type products entering the market, fueled by the new interest and popularity in gelatos. Of course, technically speaking gelato is not ice cream, and therefore not bound by the stringent Standard of Identity regulation parameters that define ice cream products. Other futuristic ice cream iterations are more along the novelty vein.
“The future of ice cream may head toward convenience. Look at the increase in hand-held ice cream sandwiches and novelty SKUs over the past five years,” Haller says.
All told, loading up ice cream products with the maximum amount of indulgence, through ribbons and variegates and outrageous inclusions, spells success in the current market.
“Consumers want ice cream with inclusions that provide the ultimate decadent eating experience that they couldn’t have imagined,” Namy says. “Inclusions that are like truffles or that otherwise have an almost-liquid center are the next big inclusion ingredient hit, such as a layered raspberry shortcake bon with a raspberry center that oozes out of an enrobed coating that has been rolled in cake crumbs. Or a turtle cake bon with caramel that pours out of a pecan and chocolate-encrusted coat. Such new innovations are bound to wow the consumer.”$OMN_arttitle="Inclusions Galore";?>