We are intrigued by the idea of managing costs by maximizing the utility and flexibility of one mix to play multiple “roles,” thus minimizing the total number of mixes an ice cream processor must make.

Manufacturers face myriad demands related to new products, ease of manufacturing, contract manufacturing, regulatory limitations, operation flexibility and the like. They also seek to achieve “commercial parity” with targeted sensory attributes by using formulation, overrun, flavor, color, cost and resistance to heat shock. So minimizing the number of mixes creates huge operational opportunities.

Take a hard look at your existing portfolio of mixes (including ingredients, compositions, whipping/freezing performance, labeling, etc.). Are they:

  • Compatible with consolidation?
  • Flexible enough to allow for commercial parity?
  • Limited by other quantitative and/or qualitative factors (i.e., mix composition, functionality, sensory appeal, and economics)?

Mix parameters

Many such elements can be managed by relatively objective mix parameters. Consider the most restrictive of all frozen desserts, standard full-fat ice cream.

Commercial parity. How close is “close enough for all practical purposes”? Factors to match will differ company–to-company, line-by-line and flavor-by-flavor.

Color/flavor. Although qualitative in nature, mix differentiation can be done at the flavor tank and/or at the freezer. The more options available from any given mix, the more flexibility and consolidation of mixes that can be considered.

Sweetness. This must be matched to the amount/type of flavor and other physical parameters in the mix. Sweetness can be added at the flavor tank via added flavors, bulky flavors and liquid “bases” that provide color, flavor, water management needs, etc. If allowed and compatible with labeling considerations, a small amount of a properly balanced combination of high-intensity sweeteners could add sweetness delivered at the flavor tank.

An objective evaluation of the properties of a proposed consolidation mix with regard to key elements of processing behavior and sensory properties needs to be made. Two useful tools for that evaluation include consideration of freezing profile and water mobility in the unfrozen portion of the ice cream.

Freezing profile involves the calculation of the freezing point (FP) of a composition and of the amount of water frozen at temperatures below the freezing point. This provides insight into the effect of the amount of water frozen during freezing/whipping on initial ice crystal size. Freezing profiling also allows consideration of the influence of freeze concentration, which has a direct influence on water mobility in the unfrozen portion of the product.

Water Control Index (WCI) is a new approach to water behavior management. It can be used to reflect the influence of nonstabilizer ice cream components (proteins and high-molecular weight carbohydrates) on the mobility of water in the unfrozen portion of the finished ice cream.

Working with the WCI

The application of WCI to the process of mix consolidation represents the use of a new perspective that adds clarity to considering differences. For example, there may be concern about the lower total solids of any given mix. However, a greater WCI may compensate for that. WCI also may provide guidance to a stabilizer supplier as to the amount of any given stabilizer/emulsifier blend to use depending on functionalities necessary to bring a single mix into commercial parity with mixes it may be replacing.

The table illustrates the application of these principles to consolidation of three mixes into one mix. The stabilizer/emulsifier blend applied is assumed to be the same for ingredient labeling purposes.

Compositions A, B and C represent a portfolio of full-fat ice cream mixes for consolidation into a single mix, identified as “Consolidated.” For each of the compositions, freezing point, WCI and equivalent sweetness (compared to sucrose) are shown for comparative considerations.

The process of developing the consolidated product is guided by the objective of keeping the key characteristics of the single mix as close as possible to those of the other mixes. This involves application of the following criteria:

  • Differences in WCI within ± 5% of the target value are insignificant;
  • Differences in absolute equivalent sweetness in ice cream within ± 5 % of a targeted sweetness cannot be distinguished;
  • Differences in freezing point within ± 0.5 F can be tolerated.

The existence of values outside of these ranges means you might have to change processing conditions, such as freezer draw temperature. Or, it might be necessary to investigate the marketing suitability of achieving parity by using ingredients outside the range of those used in the products being replaced.

Once you achieve a sense of textural and economic commercial parity, a single mix could be further differentiated by the amount and type of flavor, color and/or overrun applied.

Ultimately, qualitative assessments should include marketing suitability and factors related to sensory appeal. You also will have to look at product positioning, content claims and ingredient lists when considering approaches to consolidating mixes.

You’ll have a lot to contemplate. But you’ll find a lot of opportunity, as well. 

For further study

Extensive information relevant to the overall approach and concepts used can be found in “Tharp & Young On Ice Cream – An Encyclopedic Guide To Ice Cream Science And Technology” (available at dairyfoods.com and onicecream.com). 

 For more about portfolio management, mix consolidation and principles relevant to delivering commercial parity, attend the Tharp & Young on Ice Cream Technical Short Courses, Workshops, & Clinics. For dates and venues go to www.onicecream.com, or call 610-975-4424 or 281-596-9603.