Let’s Twist Again
by Cathy Sivak
Sophisticated or subtle, traditional flavors take new turns.
Traditional favorites have long dominated the dairy scene. The vanilla-chocolate-strawberry comfort zone is often the first step for product developers and discerning consumers looking to expand flavor experiences.
But flavor development is a complex dance based on execution of gradual stages of flavor enhancements. “The industry always talks about making a great leap forward in flavor innovations, when in actuality, it is more of a series of small steps,” says Steve Wolf, director of flavor applications at Robertet Flavors, Piscataway, N.J.
The reason is simple. “Unique twists on traditional flavors allow for a new taste sensation while keeping consumers in their comfort zone,” says Michelle Huber, senior flavorist for Mastertaste Inc., Teterboro, N.J.
Myriad new flavor types and options carry opportunity for processors. “It is just a matter of pairing the application with the flavor and then finding a way to make the concept consumer friendly,” Huber says. “You must take the application, end product and target consumer preferences into account in order to create a successful product.”
New flair for old favorites could mean an indulgent new vanilla from Madagascar, an ethnic spin for chocolate or a hand-picked strawberry taste combined with a superfruit. New flavor twists also partner nicely with trends in health and wellness, indulgence, global fare trends and the natural and organic arena.
Vanilla, Chocolate Choices
The base flavor of the dairy industry and a perennial favorite with plain vanilla fans, new turns on vanilla flavors alone continue can add new depth to branding and line extension efforts.
“Ice cream manufacturers have a whole line of different vanilla ice creams, with more than one type of vanilla under one brand,” says Paulette Kerner, marketing and communications director at Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Virginia Dare. Different vanillas in the same brand line typically carry names denoting the source and varietals, she notes, similar to the cache wines have built with regional varieties.
“These days not many processors ask for regular chocolate flavor for yogurt or milk. We tend to create flavors that are a twist off the traditional,” Wolf says, citing recent requests that range from varietals of chocolate to ethnic tastes such as Ibarra chocolate, a take-off on a popular cinnamon-laced hot chocolate beverage in Mexico.
Amazon Chocolate, introduced as part of the new Häagen-Dazs Reserve line, is noted by Patty Baxendale, marketing manager at Givaudan Flavors, Bridgeton, Mo. “This product shows how the trend in origin specific chocolates can be translated to the ice cream category,” she says. “And it shows that consumers continue to be interested in variations on even the most basic flavors like chocolate.”
Pairings including fruit and white and dark chocolate flavors were a hit for Mastertaste in 2007. “Chocolate and strawberry have always been two of the go-to dairy flavors, particularly in milk. Now we are seeing twists on these, especially with chocolate,” says Dania Rosenthal, marketing manager for the Mastertaste Natural Products Division.
“With dairy products in particular, consumers may be a little wary of trying new, more exotic flavors. Because of this, it might be important to pair the new flavor with a more traditional one,” she says, noting the application is also a consideration. “Consumers might not think to try a lychee white chocolate milk product, while they may be more accepting of this flavor profile in an ice cream.”
A new development for chocolate is flavors derived from cocoa pulp, Wolf says. While the dried seeds of the cocoa bean provide the traditional cocoa used in chocolate, a new process creates cocoa pulp from the fleshy plant materials surrounding the seeds. “Cocoa pulp has a very light chocolate note; you’re not going to mistake it for chocolate. Since it’s from the same plant as chocolate, it’s exotic, but not too exotic,” Wolf says, citing potential for blends within the fruit matrix.
Chocolate is going beyond varietals specific to a country and into particular regions in other food categories, a trend expected to carry into dairy products, says Erin O’Donnell, David Michael’s marketing manager.
“We are seeing a lot more dark chocolate and more combinations of chocolate and coffees and dark flavors. Sophistication of the consumer palate is driving the trend,” adds Jennifer Elgrim, David Michael’s manager of sensory and consumer research. “There are bases that lend themselves to different flavors. We know that vanilla works very well in a fat-based dairy application, and chocolate is another that needs to be carried by fat. But when you’re talking about the ice type frozen products, the fruit flavors carry through better, such as the acidic fruits found in ices and in gelatos.”
Traditional fruit flavors such as strawberry, peach and blueberry offered indulgent takes in 2007. Meanwhile, the health benefits combined with ethnic taste demand and exotic appeal continue to grow demand for tropical and superfruits.
Blends like strawberry-kiwi and peach-mango gave secondary fruits an entry point into American grocery carts, and suppliers stress similar pairings are essential for superfruit flavors migrating into dairy. Fruits like pomegranate, açaí and goji berry are loaded with health potential, but carry tastes unfamiliar to U.S. consumers.
“Pairing these new superfruits with something familiar like a strawberry or raspberry is important, or consumers are going to shy away,” O’Donnell says.
Wolf predicts future dairy incorporation of intriguing new superfruits such as camu-camu from Brazil, a source of vitamin C also said to support immune function, heart health and serotonin levels in the brain to act as a mood enhancer. Dragon fruit (pitaya) — rich in fiber, vitamin C, minerals and antioxidant properties — is emerging, O’Donnell says.
“We see more new flavor concepts and introductions that may contain a traditional flavor, but are combined with a more indulgent or exotic partner.” Mastertaste’s Huber says, citing processor experimentation with the sweet litchi fruit (also known lychee) with a standard berry flavor.
With or without an exotic spin, traditional fruit flavors remain key. Consumers’ general interest in blueberries and antioxidants has driven multiple blueberry-infused product launches over the last two years, Baxendale says.
Flavors for milk are expanding to meet school system demands for healthier beverage options such as Sherbet Milk from Robertet. “It is a berry flavor, but sherbet-flavored milk sounds more exotic,” Wolf says.
Flavored milk has also translated into indulgent profiles like strawberry as well as peach or blueberry fruit cobblers for Robertet, while its yogurt offerings have included strawberry-licorice, strawberry shortcake and strawberry-peanut butter. “Once you go beyond traditional strawberry, then you have to decide if it is foodservice cake or Grandma’s strawberry shortcake,” Wolf says, noting regional taste differences are also in play. Robertet’s new natural line, Xtreme Flavors, offers familiar fruit flavors with what Wolf calls “more pop.”
Increased interest in natural and organic products extend the segment’s fresh ripe flavor profiles into “regular” dairy products, says Anton Angelich, group vice president of marketing at Virginia Dare. An example is a ripe, field-picked strawberry taste crossing over to influence traditional jam-like strawberry flavors.
Peach has likewise shifted its overall note. “For a long time, the peach profile that was a winner with consumers was a canned, cooked peach taste. Now processors are moving into a ripe peach flavor,” Angelich says.
In peach yogurt, twists include combinations such as grapefruit-peach, passionfruit-peach and peach with tropical superfruits such as goji and açaí berries, Wolf says.
Ice cream flavors — including mango, passionfruit, papaya and guava — scored high on the “have not tried, but would like to” scale in a recent Virginia Dare survey of 300 frequent ice cream consumers.
Mango is another formerly “new” flavor twist in transition to become more authentic to appeal to ethnic consumers, says David Michael’s Peggy Pellichero, senior food technologist for dairy applications. “Some of these mango flavors introduced a year ago weren’t quite authentic, it was more of an ‘orangey’ mango, something we thought the consumers would accept,” she says. The latest mango incantation showcased by David Michael is the juicy Manila Mango, grown in Mexico.
Citrus is another area of interest in the overall beverage category that is likely to migrate to dairy, with orange flavors trending toward tangerine, and interest in Italian flavors such as lemoncello, Angelich says.
Coffee-laced indulgence is a hit in the flavored milk segment, Wolf says, noting particular appeal with teens found lingering over lattes at the neighborhood Starbucks. “What the kids in the coffee culture are mostly drinking are very light on the coffee, and are actually more of a dairy beverage,” he says.
Often the twist is in the name or the product crossover, Wolf says. Indeed, the biggest portion of taste of frothy coffee drinks comes from syrups with traditional dairy flavors such as vanilla and caramel. “Vanilla-almond is not a new flavor combination. But if you call it Coffeehouse Twist, all a sudden it seems new,” he says.
Coffee ice cream has “always had a strong consumer base” in New England, Angelich says. “But that was very traditional, sweet, milky dairy coffee, almost like a latte. With so much exposure to the Starbucks flavor profile, ice cream processors are not so much interested in the milk lattes flavors, but more the espresso of the deep roast.”
The taste and health benefits of tea will continue to make new varieties and tea flavor applications a force in the product development year ahead, Angelich predicts.
Collaboration between flavorists and product developers is critical for the health and wellness segment, suppliers agree. Products with reduced or no sugar or fat can encounter taste and texture issues that flavors can help overcome. Meanwhile, those with extra nutritional elements create different flavor challenges.
The aging of America is driving fortified nutritional products, particularly for hospitals, nursing homes and other institutional settings. “But if it doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t serve the purpose of providing the nutrition these people need,” Angelich says.
The product development year ahead will continue to bring new concepts to old flavors, one step at a time. Wolf predicts: – going to be another half a twist forward.”
Cathy Sivak is a freelance journalist and a former editor of Dairy Field.