Friday, June 20, 2014

Dairy Foods Inclusions that are Cause for Celebration

During the past six weeks I’ve attended nearly back-to-back finished food product trade shows, with the last one—FMI Connect—wrapping up this past week. As a food scientist, the best trade show for me starts this weekend in New Orleans. It’s the IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo. It’s where food product development begins, as ingredient suppliers showcase their technologies through innovative prototypes. Ingredient technology trends from the show will be spotlighted in future Daily Dose of Dairy blogs.

The Sweets & Snacks Expo was one of the many finished food shows I attended. I often think of this one as an ingredient show, too, because so many of the sweets and snacks on display have potential as inclusions in dairy foods. There are also interesting ingredient combinations that have application in dairy foods. For example, as this year’s expo, broad food industry trends--including ancient grains, power foods, herbs and spices—were just as prevalent as a resurgence of classic favorites ranging from raisins to peanut butter to barbecue. All of these ingredient combos work in dairy.

“This year we see an interesting mix of new products that push flavor boundaries and introduce innovative ingredients, alongside new products that have returned to classic taste profiles and comforting ingredients,” said Alison Bodor, executive vice president of the National Confectioners Association, the host organization of the Sweets & Snacks Expo. “It’s an interesting balance, on the one hand you have Sriracha and on the other, peanut butter. There are products with kale or chia seeds, ingredients many Americans are just getting to know, and products with coconut or marshmallows, classic ingredients being taken to a whole new level.”

(Photo source: General Mills Inc.)

Oldies but goodies, with an innovative twist

Mars showed the confections industry that old favorites do not need to be boring…Neither do vanilla and chocolate ice cream, or cottage cheese, cream cheese, etc.
The company is rolling out new forms and sizes of many of its flagship brands. Mars Bites deliver big taste in small, bite-size pieces. This year, Mars adds three brands--Twix, 3 Musketeers and Milky Way Simply Caramel—to its popular Bites portfolio, joining Snickers and Milky Way. Convenient, unwrapped Bites give consumers the full-taste experience of their favorite candy bars in a smaller portion. They’re easy to share and the resealable pouch makes it possible to eat some now and save some for later. This reminds me of Nestle Dibs ice cream. There’s room for similar concepts in the freezer case.

Mars also showcased limited-edition M&M’S Brand Birthday Cake Chocolate Candies. This melt-in-your-mouth-not in-your-hand variety is milk chocolate infused with birthday cake flavor, one of the hottest flavor crazes on the market. Many ice cream manufacturers have jumped on this bandwagon, all with their own personal twist! How can you bring the celebration to your ice cream? Think bite-size frozen or refrigerated truffles using ice cream, soft cheese and more.

On a premium note, consumers can tantalize taste buds with Dove Whole Fruit Dipped In Dark Chocolate, a combination of real fruit dipped in silky smooth Dove Dark Chocolate. This decadent new item comes in blueberry, cherry and cranberry, three top-selling fruits. How can this concept be turned into a frozen dairy novelty?

Not to be outdone by its rival, The Hershey Company unveiled its share of innovations. The company’s knowledge-driven approach and consumer insights to drive product development is evident in Ice Breakers Cool Blasts Chews. The new product is a first-of-its-kind mint and gum duo, providing an icy cool blast of freshness in a quickly dissolving chew. This makes me think of surprising flavors and exploding taste sensations in frozen dairy as well as kids’ dairy desserts, maybe even yogurt.

Hershey’s Brookside Crunchy Clusters features clusters of crispy multigrain and soft fruit-flavored centers with sweetened cranberry bits, covered in smooth dark chocolate. What a great mix-in for a dual compartment cottage cheese!

 Source: Gelato World Tour

Expect the unexpected

The bakery specialists at Swiss Colony Retail Brands showcased Icee Cake Bites, which are both colorful and pumped with flavor. Three classic frozen drink flavors—blue raspberry, cherry and lemon--are available in the little desserts for the retail channel. Each layered cake reveals vibrant colors inside that match the flavor profile. Could such Icee flavors…or other popular candy and kids’ drink flavors…be turned into colorful sprinkles or edible glitter that adorns a hand-held ice cream treat? Think push-tube sherbet with brightly colored flavorful crystals or prills swirled throughout the different layers.

The Jelly Belly Candy Company is embracing the craft beer movement with the launch of the world’s first beer-flavored jelly bean, Draft Beer Jelly Belly jelly beans. Hmm….combined with pretzel bits in a malt ice cream…salty caramel may have met its match!

On the salty side of snacks, bold and exotic flavors were the name of the game. As taste palates and demographics continue to shift, food manufacturers are increasingly adding more flavorful and exotic herbs and spices to a variety of products, including dairy foods.

Last year’s unexpected Sriracha shortage seems not to have had a lasting impact as food manufacturers continue to experiment with the red chili and garlic condiment. Similarly, Tabasco is popping up in a variety of products, often paired with chocolate. If the two can be teamed up together in a candy bar, why not in a flavorful inclusion intended for ice cream or even cottage cheese?
Other herbs and spices featured at the show included ginger, rosemary, wasabi, sage, sea salt and cracked pepper. All can become flavors of colorful fabricated inclusions.

Hammond’s Candies showed attendees that bold and adventurous is not limited to chips and crackers. The company added seven flavors to its Brittle Crisps line, giving the classic treat a fresh new edge. The new flavors include buttery Maple Walnut, imaginative Jalapeno & Lime Peanut Brittle, a sublime Sea Salt Caramel Drizzle Peanut Brittle and for the adventurous, truly spicy Cayenne and Cashew brittle. I brought a few samples home and tried them in ice cream and cottage cheese. They were unbelievably delicious!

A number of interesting gum products were unveiled at the show. Mondelez International transformed its popular Sour Patch super sour gummy candy line into a sugar-free kids gum line under the Stride brand. Concord Confections Inc., puts some sparkle in the chew with Fizzers, a line of fizzing bubble gum. Vidal Candies makes gum sporty with gumballs designed to look like soccer balls and baseballs.

These gums made me recall that horrific (sorry) original bubble gum ice cream from Baskin-Robbins that contained rainbow-colored mini pieces of real chewing gum. You really could store them in your mouth, much like a squirrel, and once the ice cream was done, chew and blow a bubble. (My first job was scooping ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins in 1982 for $2.20 an hour. Minimum wage was $3.35, but I was underage and appreciated the income….and the two free scoops I got after every shift!)

The fact is, kids love gum and candy. How can these fun new gum concepts be translated into an ice cream inclusion? (Photo source: Unilever)

So, if you are one of the fortunate to attend IFT this coming week…I know, New Orleans in June sounds so appealing…keep your eyes open for innovative inclusions that can put the “wow” back into your dairy foods. Talk with the suppliers. See how they can customize their bits and pieces to be your signature extra.
Here are some new products in the market that recently caught my eye. Note how these companies use inclusions to make their products stand out from the competition.

Baker, baker, bake me…some inclusions for ice cream

I don’t think I will ever recover from Ben & Jerry’s take a few years back on the Saturday Night Live (SNL) Schweddy Balls episode. The ice cream flavor featured Fair Trade vanilla ice cream with a hint of rum and was loaded with fudge-covered rum balls and milk chocolate malt balls. 

(Photo source: Revol)

Ben & Jerry’s is celebrating SNL humor once again with two new flavors. This time for scoop shops only. New Lazy Sunday is inspired by a rap song about the famous cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery. The ice cream takes the song’s culinary cues with vanilla cake batter-flavored ice cream, yellow and chocolate cupcake pieces and a swirl of chocolate frosting.

Then there’s Gilly's Catastrophic Crunch, which is based on Kristen Wiig’s frantic, mischievous little girl character. The new flavor combines chocolate and sweet cream ice creams, with caramel clusters, fudge covered almonds and a marshmallow swirl.

Not SNL related, but just as new is Turtle Cheesecake. As the name suggests, it is cheesecake ice cream with pecans, fudge flakes and a caramel swirl.

There’s a lot to learn from the bakery category and a great deal can be translated to dairy, predominantly frozen desserts.

Friendly’s is showing us that the packaged sundae is much like the freshly scooped gelato, just with all the bits, pieces, candies and more that we love in ice cream.

The company recently introduced Red Velvet (red velvet frozen dairy dessert with red velvet cake pieces and cream cheese frosting swirl) and Nutty Caramel (vanilla frozen dairy dessert with sugar cone pieces covered with chocolate-flavored coating, chocolate-covered peanuts and caramel swirl) under its SundaeXtreme sub-brand.

Limited-edition sundae flavors include Turtle Sundae, which is vanilla frozen dairy dessert with chocolate-flavored caramel-filled candies, pecans and caramel swirl.

Doughnuts are the new cupcake and Target Corp., is right on track with its new Mini Doughnut Ice Cream sold under the private-label Market Pantry brand.

Other recent innovations from Target include Cinema Snack, which is popcorn-flavored ice cream swirled with sea salt caramel, fudge-covered potato chips and pretzels. It’s the big screen in a bowl.

There’s also Cake & Sprinkles, which is just what the name suggests.

Wells Enterprises, manufacturers of Yoplait frozen yogurt products, introduces Greek with Granola in blueberry and strawberry varieties. The product resembles a frozen “breakfast” yogurt novelty product that the company had offered a few years back under its Blue Bunny brand. The new Yoplait item is a frozen fruit-flavored yogurt center dipped in a yogurt-flavored coating containing granola clusters. 

(Photo source: General Mills Inc.)

Think beyond the freezer
One of the greatest opportunities for dairy processors in the U.S. is the under-developed category of refrigerated dairy desserts. (Sneak peek: Monday’s Daily Dose of Dairy will spotlight a new dessert concept from Dannon.) Inclusions play an important role in these convenient, premium refrigerated treats. Single-serve layered treats packaged in clear containers can convey all the goodies inside. The package is key to the concept.

(Photo source: Sensient Colors)

Dessert cheeses, spreadable cheeses and cheese tortas all rely on inclusions for flavors. I challenge product developers to think beyond traditional fruits and nuts and get creative with this category. (Sneak peak: keep your eyes open for a new range of cheese balls that will soon be featured as a Daily Dose of Dairy.)
And here’s the last goodie to share before I must start packing for IFT. Dean Foods is extending its popular TruMoo milk brand to the freezer. This is just a sneak peak. The product line will be featured this Tuesday as a Daily Dose of Dairy.

Here you see TruMoo S’more Bars, which is a frozen low-fat chocolate milk core with marshmallow-flavored low-fat ice cream surrounded by a chocolate-flavored shell with graham pieces. The product is really made with TruMoo Chocolate Milk!

See you in NOLA!

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