Fever for Flavors
by Cathy Sivak

Dairy Flavor Houses tap Into Trends, Offer new Spins on Established Favorites for 2007 and Beyond.
Chili ice cream, mango milk, cotton candy yogurt and peach cheese may not have mainstream recognition — or appeal. But each of these 2006 new flavor introductions taps emerging dairy category trends.
Category-by-category flavor introduction tracking from Naples, N.Y.-based Productscan Online reveals popular as well as innovative flavors rolled out last year. Meanwhile, Dairy Field’s snapshot survey of dairy flavor houses reveals trend factors behind the taste profiles: new twists on past successes (vanilla, chocolate and coffee); wellness and indulgence; tropical and ethnic influences; innovative blends; sustainability; and niche appeal — whatever it takes to grab the taste buds of consumers searching for the next great rollout or a fondly remembered favorite.  
International dairy flavor trends tend to be ahead of the domestic curve and offer a glimpse of potential flavor success stories for U.S. markets, says Tom Vierhile, director of Productscan Online, a division of Datamonitor.
Old Favorites, New Twist
Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry remain the best-selling dairy flavors in the freezer aisle and the fluid case. But even these old standbys have new twists to compete with rampant innovation.
“Vanilla is not vanilla,” says Paulette Kerner, marketing and communications director at Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Virginia Dare, listing variations such as Haitian, free-trade and organic vanilla. The same holds true with dark chocolate, with processors requesting chocolate made from beans grown in specific regions such as Tamarind.
Frozen dessert flavors rolled out in 2006 underscore the point, with 99 vanilla products, 91 chocolate products and 54 strawberry products hitting the market, according to Productscan.
Already on the U.S. list of new ice cream flavors for 2006, dark chocolate’s health-halo effects may move it up on the 2007 flavor scale. “People are beginning to see dark chocolate as a healthful product, but indulgent at the same time, an intriguing combination for ice cream sellers,” Vierhile says.
Stephen Platt, vice president of new product development at Congers, N.Y.-based Star Kay White, notes that 30 percent of all ice cream is straight vanilla and 10 percent is straight chocolate. “The reminder is the exciting stuff. Processors don’t want to see a nice little vanilla when flavor suppliers come calling. They want to see exciting new flavors,” he says. “We’re looking at ways to spike chocolate ice cream to create a ‘sweet heat’ profile.”
Platt says the trend is playing out in gourmet coffee shops and getting a toehold in the freezer case — think hot chilies and other spices.
Ethnic Trends
Ethnic considerations are one driver of new notes in the old standards.
“If you look at the sales patterns of ice cream in the Hispanic immigrant donor countries, it’s really still chocolate, strawberry, vanilla,” says Anton Angelich, vice president of marketing at Virginia Dare.
The difference is found in the flavor profile preference. For instance, Virginia Dare research shows Mexican-Americans tend to prefer a fruiter strawberry flavor than the mainstream American, who prefers a creamy strawberry taste. “So with strawberry, you are either targeting a niche to reach Mexican-Americans or you are working at evolving change in the mainstream that appeals to them,” Angelich says.
Hispanic influences in the frozen dessert case not only include dulche de leche, but also tropical fruits and even fried ice cream. The growth of Hispanic flavors and trends in 2006 helped increase the growth in tropical flavors for 2007 rollout such as guava, guanabana and passionfruit, reports Philadelphia-based David Michael & Co.
Fried ice cream had similar popularity as a concept with Givaudan Flavors customers. Star Kay White has a sopapilla concept in development — vanilla ice cream with swirls of honey cinnamon variegate and fried cinnamon sopapilla inclusions — while Kerry Sweet Ingredients launched its own version last year.
European trends as well as flavor influences from Asian and Hispanic cultures impact U.S. dairy product flavors, says Marie Cummings, manager of food applications and product development at David Michael. On tap for dairy innovation in 2007 and beyond are more ethnic tie-ins, including Greek flavors. Region-specific will continue to grow — for example, “Tuscan” rather than just “Italian,” says the team at David Michael.
Flavor houses advise proceeding with a dose of reality when it comes to ethnic trends, as the translation doesn’t always immediately appeal to the masses. For processors looking to appeal Hispanic customers, it’s critical to consider regional preferences and immigration patterns for target U.S. regions, Angelich notes.
“Hispanic is not a simple thing. There’s a misconception that all Hispanics like mangoes, but there are certainly differences in mango preference in different Hispanic populations. If you think about places like Argentina, that’s not a place where they have a lot of mangoes growing,” he explains.
“Green tea ice cream is a cultural phenomenon in Japan, but here in the States, it’s a novelty and an acquired taste,” Angelich continues, noting that ethnic niche flavors like green tea completely have potential for widespread sampling when part of limited edition or feature flavor lines.
Coffee Klatch
Coffee flavor demands are shifting from milky-cream cappuccino to richer, deeper roast flavors. “People are being ‘Starbucked’ in their preferences,” Angelich says, referencing the assimilation of the collective American taste buds to the ubiquitous coffee purveyor reflected in Virginia Dare’s recent consumer ice cream survey.
Coffee-flavored milk hit No. 12 on the world list, but only tied for 19th in Productscan’s U.S. rankings (though a perennial favorite in regions like New England). “Flavors inspired by coffee house menu items are popping up in frozen desserts and yogurts. Mocha and coffee shop favorites have also found a home in dairy beverages and smoothies,” notes Peggy Pellichero, project leader of dairy applications at David Michael.
The dairy industry is showing an “enormous jump” in coffee flavor interest, particularly in the frozen dessert and yogurt categories, agrees Cathy Kalenian, chief operating and financial officer of coffee extracts manufacturer X Café LLC, Princeton, Mass. Dairy processors are particularly interested in specific coffee offerings and origins, and it seems the credo is the stronger, the better. “This past year we noticed increasing popularity in our Sumatra blend,” she says. “Our standard products have always included Colombian medium and dark roast, but the Sumatra offers a strong coffee note.”
New U.S. Ice Cream, Novelties & Frozen Yogurt Flavors, 2006
Flavor and fragrances Number of Reports
Blend161
Vanilla99
Chocolate91
Strawberry54
Fudge46
Peanut Butter35
Caramel34
Cherry28
Raspberry27
Mint25
Grand Total:1,218
SOURCE: Productscan Online, www.beta1.productscan.com
Wellness Goes Tropical
Flavor houses agree that tropical, exotic and so-called “superfruit” flavors such as acai, pomegranate are blueberry are on the radar and increasingly in play in dairy products. Health and wellness trends combine with ethnic influences to create tropical flavor offerings that cross category boundaries.
“In dairy beverages especially, health and nutrition has been a major influence, specifically antioxidants and cholesterol,” Cummings says. “Foods in which those benefits are naturally present, such as dark fruits and berries, have driven flavor trends along with fortification and the addition of grains to dairy foods.”
Likely driven by Hispanic demographic influences, tropicals also have mainstream appeal. Tropical flavors such as mango, guanabana, passionfruit and guava — either alone or paired with berry — are expected to be hot trend items for 2007 and beyond, reports David Michael & Co. “The use of high-antioxidant fruits was a huge trend in 2005-06, and we are starting to see some of these innovations in dairy,” adds Jessica Jones-Dille, industry trend analyst for Wild Flavors Inc.  
Vierhile notes mango is No. 4 on yogurt’s global new flavor roster, but only reaches No. 10 in the United States. “Apricot is another yogurt flavor that has a much bigger following overseas than in the U.S., not that I see that changing anytime soon,” he says.
The recent survey of ice cream consumers by Virginia Dare found interest in maple flavor  growing on the strength of its perception of a natural, healthy and organic flavor.
Virginia Dare’s work in experimental markets such as university towns and ethnic communities is revealing a deeper wellness trend aimed at the spa and aromatherapy set may translate well in dairy products, particularly ice cream. “Flavors with lavender, orange blossoms and other floral notes are being incorporated into artisan products that will be tested by consumers for viability.” Angelich says.
New U.S. Milk, Non-Dairy
Milk & Yogurt Drinks Flavors, 2006
Flavor and fragrances Number of Reports
Blend34
Chocolate26
Strawberry21
Vanilla14
Peach11
Banana7
Milk7
Mango6
Original6
Raspberry5
Total introductions:231
SOURCE: Productscan Online, www.beta1.productscan.com
Meanwhile, Star Kay White senior food technologist Stephanie Bosia-Brady says: “Everyone is getting in on the antioxidant, getting adventurous. We’re seeing acai pop up in new places. But more mainstream and acceptable is the combination of blueberries and pomegranate.” The company packs whole fruit into its blueberry-pomegranate ice cream concept to make sure the fruit taste delivers.
Philadelphia-based Sweet Ovations is among the flavor houses reporting high levels of dairy interest in health and wellness products. Perceived health benefits led green tea ice cream to top its category new flavor requests for 2006.  
Proceed with caution when considering inclusion of antioxidant flavors in dairy-based products. “For adults, there might be some conflicts of benefits between the antioxidants and the caloric intake of something like a whole milk acai product,” Angelich urges. “People can get antioxidants more readily without questioning the whole nutrition package, so we need to ask if dairy is the best place to deliver antioxidants.”
That said, the smoothies and shakes segment building on the healthfulness research on blueberries and other berries, Kerner notes.
New U.S. Yogurt & Yogurt Imitations Flavors, 2006
Flavor and fragrances Number of Reports
Blend26
Strawberry26
Vanilla15
Raspberry13
Banana12
Peach11
Blueberry9
Cherry8
Yogurt6
Apple5
Grand Total:223
SOURCE: Productscan Online, www.beta1.productscan.com
Meanwhile, fruit-flavored European cheese launches such as a product incorporating cranberries may spark new direction for U.S. cheese cases.
Decadent Indulgence
Americans profess an interest in health and wellness but continue to demand decadence. Dairy’s inherently healthy qualities may find an extra in related to decadence, particularly in fluid milk and yogurt products.
“Indulgence and a play on desserts continue to drive flavor development in most sweet dairy categories.,” says Jones-Dille.
Hot demand flavors for 2007 dairy product development at Wild Flavors include cream-based flavors, fruit-chocolate combinations and coffee-based innovation, Jones-Dille says.
Yogurt innovators should consider international flavor trends such as desserts and tropical flavors, Vierhile says. “Chocolate is a much more common flavor internationally than in the U.S., and tropical flavors also have much more traction outside of the U.S.,” he says.
Despite dire obesity warnings, indulgent rollouts continue to thrive in the ice cream case.
Indulgence also is key in the single-serve fluid market, which continues to play off the established mainstays of chocolate, strawberry, the occasional vanilla and seasonal eggnog, but new confectionary blends are sweeping the market.
David Michael reports its crème fraiche ice cream, shown in Wild Berry and Summer Fruit (apricot, plum and peach), is receiving multiple requests. The crème fraiche is substituted for heavy cream, giving the product a creamy and indulgent texture and a lowfat profile (5 percent). “We see this breaking through in 2007 as a new trend because it is a delicious way to enjoy naturally light ice cream without making a sacrifice in flavor,” Pellichero says.
Niche Predictions
The organic boom continues in the dairy case, and is bolstering interest in naturally flavored products as well as fledgling fair-trade product demand amongst the same core consumers.
The same popular flavors in the mainstream categories are going to be hot in the organic dairy segments. “But with that comes the challenge of creating the best flavors that work in organic,” Kerner says.
Meantime, exotic flavors in organic products are likely to be a future advancement as formulation challenges and sourcing issues are resolved. “The largest consumer base in organic wasn’t there that long ago, and they are willing to try new things,” Angelich says. “You can use purchase behavior as a bellwether.”  
A rise in alcohol flavors may be one dark horse running the flavor race. Classic cocktail flavors in non-alcoholic products, such as mint julep, fruit liqueurs with cream and Irish cream, are some high-octane flavors David Michael reports success with in 2006. “So far, these flavors have been popular additions to ice cream, beverages and RTD cream liqueurs,” Pellichero says.  
Cummings, who is also watching champagne flavors in candy for potential dairy applications, adds: “Think wine in cheese, instead of wine and cheese.”
Cathy Sivak is a freelance journalist and a former editor of Dairy Field.