by Cathy Sivak
Decadent additions to frozen desserts seek to bolster balance between the healthful and indulgent.
Indulgence remains key to frozen-dessert development, and ice creams chock-full of inclusions seek to balance consumer desire for decadence with the public’s ongoing interest in health and wellness. Product developers and inclusions suppliers continue to seek to combine the two into one all-inclusive product.
The light or “churned” ice cream segment is increasingly entrenched as a frozen dessert category performer that can serve all needs. As new technology and applications for churn-specific inclusions continue to develop, suppliers expect ongoing category growth. Pioneered by national powerhouse Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, the churned segment is now gaining regional brand play. For instance, the Ruggles Churned Premium Light Ice Cream line debuted this spring from Smith Dairy Products Co., Orrville, Ohio. The eight flavor line — which includes Butter Pecan, Cookies N Cream, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk and others — offers products with 50 percent less fat and one-third fewer calories than counterparts in the traditional Ruggles premium line.
“Increased interest in the health and wellness ice cream segment is forged by growth in light ice cream sales,” says Stephen Platt, vice president of new business development at Star Kay White, Congers, N.Y. As a result, Star Kay White is focusing on offerings of ingredients with a health halo benefit as well as indulgent ingredients to “make light ice cream more exciting,” Platt says.
Creation of churned light ice cream products with reduced fat and calorie levels and increased inclusion show is in demand by processors, agrees Shawn Sullivan, senior vice president of Gertrude Hawk Ingredients, Dunmore, Pa. “The manufacturers of the churned light products have done a nice job with enhanced flavor and taste, and are now focusing on increased show. The key to more show is to put more product pieces in,” Sullivan says, noting Gertrude Hawk has tapped technology to devise a solution.
The typical inclusion carries 350 pieces per pound. To boost show, Gertrude Hawk has created downsized versions of its chocolate-filled cups to fit more pieces into the same pound. The company’s Micro Cups feature a 700-piece-per-pound count, while Nano Cups carry 1,100 pieces per pound and experienced what Sullivan dubs as “major growth” in 2007.
Recent panned product technology investments help the company offer inclusions that provide show along with “innovations that focus on size, taste and color,” Sullivan says.
The latest entry, Gertrude Hawk Polar Bits, carries 1,500 seemingly random inclusion shapes per pound. In actuality, the precisely molded low-melt chocolate-coated ice cream inclusions are designed to prevent fines and to maintain finished product integrity. Flavors include Irish crème, Grand Marnier, dark chocolate, white chocolate, coffee, green mint and orange creamsicle.
Health-conscious flavor developers can also increasingly tap into reduced-fat inclusions or those with zero trans-fats, or utilizing only all-natural colors and flavors, Sullivan says.
Antioxidant-laden fruits continue to blossom in ice cream formulator plans, particularly in texture-driven variegates and as base flavors. Star Kay White, for instance, reports ongoing interest in its high antioxidant ingredients such as blueberry and pomegranate bases and variegates.
Future product development with fruit inclusions is likely to combine trendy base and inclusion combinations, such as a green tea ice cream base with a pomegranate variegate, says Melissa Althen, R&D specialist at Parker Products Inc., Fort Worth, Texas.
“Consumers are looking for any reason they can find to feel better about eating indulgent products,” she says. “They are also looking to try new flavor experiences and are becoming more adventurous in their flavor choices.”
Justification for dark chocolate consumption is as close as the latest news reports on the high antioxidant levels of cocoa beans, and inclusions created from dark chocolate is a trend with continued growth, Althen says. “Using dark chocolate is another way manufacturers can make consumers feel better about eating their indulgent products,” she says.
Likewise, Star Kay White notes its continuing efforts in the chocolate arena. “We are working on a number of ways to enhance the portfolio of chocolate products that our customers are manufacturing,” Platt says. One example is the company’s Chocolate Orange Truffle, a chocolate ice cream with swirls of chocolate orange truffle.
Naturals, Organics & Fair Trade
The health and wellness focus carries over to organic, natural and fair trade ice cream, and suitable inclusions are increasingly in the mix.
With all-natural varieties peanut butter cup and caramel cup inclusions the top-performing SKU’s in its line, Gertrude Hawk has naturally expanded its reach. In February 2007, Gertrude Hawk officially became a purveyor of certified organic ingredients.
“Our certification will enable organic ice cream/desserts to offer the same exciting flavor profiles as regular ice cream,” Sullivan says. “Organic ice cream is moving in a positive direction, but it still had has a long way to go. Inclusions are important; cups and shapes and fun sell ice cream. Organic needs to get creative right now and offer some of the same flavor profiles as mainstream lines. The bottom line is that ice cream is fun, and organic needs to tap into it.”
Gertrude Hawk’s most recent organic triumph is in the form of shell-molded inclusion cups and shapes, which Sullivan points to as “drivers for flavor creativity and excitement in ice cream.”
As industry suppliers gain organic certification and secure a steady supply of ingredients, they foresee price parity on the horizon. Despite advances, supply and pricing for burgeoning organic ice cream industry ingredients continues to pose challenges. Long lead time and an estimated 70 percent of organic crops under contract create a combination that leaves supply for made-to-order needs short of demand, Parker’s Althen notes.
Parker Products, organic certified since July 2006, offers an organic cookies & cream grind price competitive with its conventional counterpart, Althen reports. Parker is “working diligently on exploring all organic ingredients available in order to provide organic inclusions that taste great but still meet the budget,” she says.
A possible bump on the organic inclusion horizon is a proposed airline organic product import shipping ban tied to environmentally detrimental carbon emissions. “This ban could drastically affect supply on certain organic ingredients,” Althen says.
Meanwhile, fair-trade ingredients such as cocoa, sugar, vanilla, coffee and spices are creating new inclusions “that allow consumers to show their support for fair labor practices and environmentally friendly farming,” Althen says. “Fair trade is a triumph for consumers who want to express their ethical stance on the environment and global economics through the food they purchase.”
Inclusive Formulafor Success
Formulation and functionality challenges and considerations inherent with inclusions use include moisture content, freeze/thaw ingredient stability, the melt points of fats, the type and degree of flavor, potential for color bleed and overall shelf life. “These are just a few of the traditional factors that must be considered when choosing an inclusion for a frozen system,” Althen notes.
An example is Parker’s lollipop inclusion, available in both coated and uncoated versions; some customers want the small round pillow of hard candy uncoated to achieve a color bleed effect, while others prefer coated for intact inclusion color, she explains.
Numerous inclusions are designed to help product developers address specific processing needs. For instance, custom blends of multiple inclusions offered by Parker Products provide a one-step feeding process with consistent mix results. The blends likewise help processors overcome challenges such as obsolescence in feature flavors with unique ingredients, Althen says.
In 2006, new technology brought a wave of textured variegates offering crunch particles in formerly creamy only standbys such as caramel, chocolate and berry. As processors embrace the concept, industry suppliers continue to add value and functionality.
“Having worked in an ice cream manufacturing plant, I can sympathize with production supervisors who have been given the challenge of running ice cream with a textured variegate,” Althen says, noting that textured variegates must incorporate the right size particulate in proper quantities to efficiently run through a ribbon pump; it’s simply often more efficient to infuse particulates such as cookie pieces through a fruit feeder. “But if you can create something that truly adds intrigue, like variegate with crunchy sprinkles made from edible glitter, then it becomes worthwhile.”
Texture and flavor combine in Star Kay White concepts such as Sugar Cone Crunch, a vanilla ice cream with a sugar cone variegate and milk chocolate peanuts. Its Toffee Apple flavor features a creamy caramel ice cream with a chunky apple variegate and pieces of toffee. “In the area of new approaches for inclusion applications, we are always experimenting with interesting ways to deliver texture and flavor,” Platt says.
“Every time we make a presentation we are aware that we must deliver mainstream flavor ideas,” he explains. “But at the same time, we want to leave our customers asking the question, “Is the market really ready for this idea?”
Trends point to demand for complex flavor notes that tap more than the collective consumer’s sweet tooth. “Ice cream is typically thought of as a sweet treat, but to create a generation of consumers addicted to your product, smart developers are learning to invoke multiple flavor experiences,” Althen says. “People want multiple layers of flavors that fulfill more than one sense of taste.”
Gaining ground in indulgent frozen-dessert experience creations is a combination of sweet, salty and savory umami, a derivative of glutamates and ribonucleotides. One example of an umami-rich food already embraced with ongoing success is green tea, which carries a high level of glutamates, Althen says. Parker offerings that tap this trend include a roasted pineapple/brown sugar variegate, salted caramels, ginger soy-glazed almonds and sesame brittle. Althen reports that even salt is used as a standalone inclusion, and can be both coated to stay crunchy and flavored to create greater depth.
“Parker’s inclusion developers don’t just want to create a new food item that tastes good — we want to create something that will have people hooked,” she says. “Many of our new inclusions are being developed to invoke satisfaction from multiple kinds of taste buds.”
Inclusions that translate the flavor and texture of other foods to ice cream in development at Parker Products seek better functionality than the original model. For instance, actual bread pudding does not perform well at frozen temperatures, but what Althen describes as a “soft flavored gooey” can mimic a chunk of bread pudding to create bread pudding ice cream. “The gooey piece remains chewy without becoming icy or soggy as actual bread pudding would,” she says. “Combine it with custard flavored ice cream and a sweet whiskey sauce and you’d swear you were eating rich bread pudding topped with smooth vanilla ice cream.”
Other new inclusion innovations and approaches emerging include unique combinations of separate desserts, such as Parker’s fried cheesecake ice cream concept.
For the future, Althen advises, watch for indulgent frozen dessert portion control to tap food-industry- wide health and wellness trends. “Rather than give up on the food items they love to indulge in, people are realizing that it is a more realistic goal to have better control over their portion sizes,” she says. Inclusion-infused mini-desserts with built-in portion control — what Althen describes as “a full dessert experience in a small package” — can help the category provide consumers with a “little boost in will power.”
Cathy Sivak is a freelance journalist and a former editor of Dairy Field.$OMN_arttitle="All-Inclusive Show";?> $OMN_artauthor="Cathy Sivak";?>