Berry Well

by Lori Dahm

Flavor trends weigh in on both sides of the spectrum: fruits versus indulgence.

The flavors of dairy products continue to exemplify a few specific trends — berry flavors that are ethnic in origin, indulgent and decadent flavors in frozen desserts and cup yogurts, and flavors that easily pair with functional and healthy dairy products. As always with flavors, consumers are more accepting of new flavors when they are couched in a taste or experience that seems familiar.
But whether the flavor being incorporated into a dairy product is one of a tried-and-true nature or is bringing forward a new trend, consumers continue to demonstrate predictable and reliable trends in flavor preferences. Consumers enjoy decadence and indulgence fully within dessert, but also seek an entirely separate experience with the newest fruit flavors perceived as being complementary to healthy dairy products.
Berry a-go-go
Some of the flavor trends in berry flavors have debuted in the smoothies, drinkable yogurts and cup yogurts that have appeared in the new products over the past year. According to Productscan Online, while strawberry, vanilla, peach and banana still rank in the top four most popular new product introductions in 2006, raspberry and blueberry were the next most popular flavors appearing in yogurt products.
“Drinkable yogurts have become hugely popular and have helped to introduce more fruit flavor combinations to the dairy industry, such as grapefruit, passion fruit and mango. Traditional flavors such as strawberry still appear to dominate in these categories, but more and more flavor combinations can be found in the dairy coolers, such as strawberry-banana and peach-mango, reflecting growing interest in tropical combinations,” says Dania Rosenthal, marketing specialist of the natural products division at Mastertaste, Teterboro, N.J. “There has been an increase in both ethnic and berry flavors appearing in the dairy category. Many of these trends originated in Europe prior to their arrival in the United States. Some common flavors in the ‘berry’ category include apricot, pear, cranberry and plum.”
This trend toward dark berry flavors is because consumers perceive these as being healthier — the dark red fruits have garnered a reputation for their antioxidant content and corresponding health quotient — as well as a carryover from the growing popularity of the ethnic cuisines to which these fruits are inherent.
“Ethnic flavors and exotic flavors continue to grow, especially Hispanic and tropical flavors such as coconut, horchata, pineapple, mango and apricot,” says Peggy Pellichero, project leader for dairy applications at David Michael Flavors, Philadelphia.
In fact, it is telling that while strawberry was the most popular flavor in new milk and yogurt drinks in 1996, peach eclipsed vanilla, and mango ranked in the top 10. Coconut almost made it to the top ranks as well.  
“Also, dark fruits like prune and plum are showing up in newer products,” Pellichero says. “Not only do they add to the health benefits of yogurt, but it is also a way of attracting people at a young age to healthier foods.”
And the flavor of these yogurt products is expanding to include concepts such as flax and whole grain being a yogurt component, as well as the increasing acceptance of the flavor profiles of kefir and the fermented dairy products that are more popular in Europe. As probiotics and other healthy ingredients are making their way into dairy products, new yogurts on the market continue to bring consumers taste experiences that are new to them and meanwhile underscore their healthy positioning.
“We see innovation in many of the flavors for smoothies. Popular fruit flavors such as pomegranate, berry and mango are common in smoothies,” says Patty Baxendale, marketing manager at Givaudan Flavors, Bridgeton, Mo. “We’re also beginning to see smoothies with more exotic fruit flavors such as acai and goji berry. And several fruit flavors that recently gained popularity due to their health and wellness benefits are also showing up in ice cream — flavors such as blueberry and pomegranate in particular.”
Indulge in Health
Speaking of ice cream, while the triumvirate of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry will always reign supreme in the ice cream world, it is interesting to note that new flavor trends are including dark fruits as a transference from the healthy dairy halo. In fact, some predict a return to frozen yogurt for health reasons.
“This year the biggest news was the launch of packaged ice cream and novelties that were light products providing the flavor, texture and creamy mouthfeel of their full-fat counterparts,” says Karen Cycholl, senior marketing manager at Kerry Ingredients – Kerry Sweet Ingredients, New Century, Kan. “Most leading brands now market products in this category, which has raised consumers’ expectations of what a light product should deliver in taste and quality.”
The technology or ingredients used to create these lowfat ice cream products are by now well known, but some manufacturers are still developing new and innovative means of playing in this lowfat market.
For example, David Michael is experimenting with using naturally lowfat crème fraiche in ice cream. Crème fraiche ice cream is prepared by combining cream with buttermilk in place of standard cream in the base mix. The cultured cream imparts a smooth texture, enhancing mouthfeel and creaminess and providing the illusion that the product is higher in fat than its 5 percent.
“Thirty percent real fruit in a crème fraiche base yields an amazing, velvety-smooth frozen confection that is all natural, wholesome and lower in fat than traditional ice creams. And it meets the standard of identity for a light ice cream,” says Marie Cummings, manager of food applications and product development at David Michael.
However, despite the movement toward lower fat in ice cream, it is also worth noting that the flavors of fudge, caramel and peanut butter still ranked in the top 10 most popular flavors in new ice cream and frozen dessert products in 2006, according to Productscan Online.
“Indulgence continues to be the primary driver in ice cream. Indulgent flavors such as cheesecake and brownie have shown steady growth in recent years,” Baxendale says. “However, ethnically influenced ice cream flavors are becoming popular. Our customers are becoming more interested in ethnic flavors with mainstream appeal such as mango and fried ice cream.”
One way that consumers are embracing indulgence in ice creams is through inclusions; the newly popular fried ice cream variations often include delightful chunks of fried dough or batter inside the ice cream mix.
According to research conducted by the Kerry Group, consumers fall into one of two groups: “purists” who like the classics such as vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, versus the “enthusiasts” who like ice cream loaded with chewy, chunky or gooey pieces.
“The ‘enthusiasts’ make up almost 50 percent of the market, and the ice cream industry has responded in kind, with indulgent flavors that mimic desserts. Peanut butter cheesecake, turtle pieces and fried ice cream are growing in popularity,” Cycholl says. “Baked inclusions show growth, with flavors like sticky bun and toffee cake doing well in the market. Candy inclusions are strong, and some of the more adventurous products include unique twists on classic inclusions like chocolate and pomegranate combinations or European-style biscuits mixed with tea varietals like white tea and green tea.”
The growing innovation in inclusion ingredients has led to more indulgent inclusion pieces as well as some new developments, such as the trend in single origin chocolates being translated into inclusion varieties. As well, trends include regional flavors and authentic ethnic inclusions and flavors.
“Futuristic flavor trends include more ethnic flavors, especially Asian. Flavors such as sesame might soon debut, and sesame makes a great peanut flavor replacer,” says Erin O’Donnell, marketing manager at David Michael Flavors. “Green tea, red bean and white tea can appeal to both Asian American and mainstream palates. And red tea is a flavor that is truly excellent in ice cream.”
Some of the continuing trends in the ice cream aisle are the limited edition flavors.
“Especially around holiday time, manufacturers introduce ice creams flavors with seasonal spices, such as ginger and pumpkin,” Rosenthal says.
In fact, many predict that the “aroma” flavors such as rose and lavender are the next big innovation destined for the ice cream aisle.
“Although it hasn’t quite trickled down to the mainstream supermarket levels yet, we think that spices, herbal and floral flavors have a great deal of promise in the dairy category – especially in ice cream,” O’Donnell says. “Look for other new developments like chipotle or wasabi in dairy products. A few companies have already launched ‘hot’ flavors in their products, such as red-hot cinnamon and chili pepper.”
And what is a remarkable and unifying trend is that with all of the indulgent flavor trends and new inclusion ingredients in ice cream, the overriding health focus seems to reign supreme.
“Consumers are seeking products that are both indulgent and healthy,” Pellichero says. “Calorie control is a hot button, especially for children. For those products that are simply indulgent, portion control may be necessary.”
Experts emphasize the need to create dairy products that offer the ultimate health positioning to consumers.
“There is tremendous opportunity for innovation in the dairy industry, and flavored milk in particular,” Baxendale says. “Consumers already understand the health benefits of milk. By adding more indulgent flavors, possibly with non-nutritive sweeteners and UHT packaging, dairies can give consumers more of what they want.”