Combinations are cool at Baskin-Robbins. This week at its headquarters in Canton, Mass., the ice cream retailer unveiled its newest flavors and desserts for spring and summer.

The reigning theme is a mix of textures and tastes. For example, Sour Patch Redberry Blast Ice Cream (the April flavor of the month) mixes sweet red raspberry/marshmallow ice cream with a ribbon of tart red berry Sour Patch candy flavor.

Ancho Mango Sunrise, a limited-time summer flavor, combines chamoy mango-flavored ice cream with mango pieces and an ancho chamoy ribbon. That gives the sweetness a notable kick, reports Cheryl Alkon, a Boston-area writer representing Dairy Foods at the day-long media event.

On March 1, Baskin-Robbins unveiled its Warm Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches and Sundaes, made with a scoop of ice cream between two soft dark chocolate fudge, double fudge, peanut butter chocolate, or white chunk macadamia cookies.

“In 2016, we’re seeing food mash-ups, and we’re looking at what are the combinations that go well together,” said Jeanne Bolger director of research and development for Dunkin’ Brands, Baskin-Robbins’ parent company. Baskin-Robbins is also considering the possibility of a Donut Ice Cream Sandwich after testing the concept in Las Vegas and areas around Baltimore earlier this year.

Such flavor combinations will join other ice cream choices this summer, including flavors of the month Mom’s Makin’ Cookies (May), Made with Milky Way (June), and Oreo Birthday Cake ice cream (July).

The Polar Pizza, last seen in the mid-1990s, is returning this summer. Eaten by the slice, the dessert features a brownie or cookie crust topped with ice cream and options such as hot fudge or nuts. All Baskin-Robbins menu items are produced by Dean Foods.

R&D team finds ice cream flavor inspirations

The company’s research and development team consists of 24 foodies who travel the world to discover potential flavors, food trends and new frozen dessert concepts. The team meets monthly to test and develop new flavor possibilities for future ice cream choices, Bolger said.

“There are real people thinking about these things behind the products we launch,” said Jeff Miller, executive chef and vice president of product development.
With flavors of the month created separately for both the 2,500 U.S. ice cream shops and for the 7,600 shops located in more than 40 countries around the world, the R&D team is busy. Overall, they create more than 150 concepts each year, including flavors, ice cream cake concepts, and frozen desserts such as the Polar Pizza.

Ultimately, those concepts will be pared down to 30 new items yearly that “meet the evolving customer tastes and company programs,” said Kerry Burke, senior manager of research and development. More than 300,000 customers eat Baskin-Robbins items worldwide. Offering new items and flavors helps entice people to choose ice cream over so many other dessert options available such as pie, puddings, traditional cakes and others.
Social media also plays a role in recipe development, said Burke. “Pinterest is one of my favorite places to search for inspiration,” added Kelly German, a research and development technologist. Ingredient manufacturers also play a role in flavor development.

Customers want fewer artificial ingredients in ice cream

Baskin-Robbins has heard consumers’ requests for fewer artificial ingredients. All new flavors have natural flavors and colors, said Burke. Some international regulations prevent preservative use, so U.S. customers benefit when such flavors come from abroad.

Trio De Janeiro — a lemon, kiwi and blue raspberry sherbet sold overseas in June, 2014 to honor Brazil and the FIFA World Cup -- will be available nationally this August, said Bolger.

Giving customers what they want is key. Flavor innovation is no exception.

“There’s always something new to bring to ice cream,” German said.

Whether it’s perfecting a movie popcorn ice cream flavor or working on a turkey flavored ice cream (which she had high hopes for but ultimately admitted that “it was terrible.”), creating experiences for the general public involves keeping an open mind and an experienced palate. “There are always new flavors to try and new things to make.”