Pushing the boundaries of flavor innovation

by Donna Berry
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Ben & Jerry's new ice cream flavors
Ben & Jerry's is rolling out three new ice cream flavors influenced by recent food trends.

CHICAGO — When Tom Vilsack, the newly appointed president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, Arlington, Va., was asked what his favorite ice cream flavor was at Dairy Forum 2017, which took place in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, he responded, “How can you pick one? I love them all.” He went on to say that when given the choice between white and chocolate milk, hands down, he picks chocolate.

Mr. Vilsack, like many consumers, has strong flavor preferences with some foods and is more willing to explore with others. That is why making a flavor connection can be important when introducing a new product to the marketplace.

Milk, and products made from milk, always have served as an ideal canvas to be creative with colors and flavors, as its creamy, neutral flavor and white hue is accommodating. Nobody knows this better than Ben & Jerry’s, which continues to push the limits when it comes to ice cream flavor development.

Ben & Jerry's ice cream - Urban Bourbon
Urban Bourbon is a burnt caramel ice cream with almonds, fudge flakes and bourbon caramel swirl.

The company is rolling out three new ice cream flavors that were influenced by recent food trends. For example, Urban Bourbon is a burnt caramel ice cream with almonds, fudge flakes and bourbon caramel swirl. The flavor name is a nod to urban millennials who are embracing whiskeys and other spirits, which had been shunned by the previous generation of wine and beer drinkers.

“Deep brown liquors are enjoying a renaissance right now,” said Eric Fredette, a product formulator with the Burlington, Vt., corporation, which is a subsidiary of Unilever, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. “Millennials are embracing classic cocktails like Manhattans, and bartenders are being super creative with bourbon. Dessert was the obvious next step. The caramel swirl in this ice cream complements the sweet caramel notes in the whiskey.”

Ben & Jerry's ice cream - Truffle Kerfuffle
Truffle Kerfuffle is vanilla ice cream with roasted pecans, fudge chips and a salted chocolate ganache swirl.

Another new flavor is Truffle Kerfuffle. It is vanilla ice cream with roasted pecans, fudge chips and a salted chocolate ganache swirl. Truffle confections have been trending in gourmet bakeries and confectioners for some time and recently have started going mainstream.

“The salty-sweet combination is a hard one to resist, especially in desserts,” Mr. Fredette said. “Salted caramel burst on the scene a few years ago, and now salted chocolate is getting some well-deserved attention.”

Ben & Jerry's ice cream - Oat of This Swirled
Oat of this Swirled is a buttery brown sugar ice cream with fudge flakes and oatmeal cinnamon cookie swirls.

New Oat of this Swirled is a buttery brown sugar ice cream with fudge flakes and oatmeal cinnamon cookie swirls. The flavor is all about homemade goodness. It is on trend with the “brown, burnt, toasted” flavor phenomenon, as well as the addition of a subtle kick of heat, which cinnamon delivers.

“Oatmeal, cinnamon and brown sugar are all about nostalgia,” Mr. Fredette said. “It’s like being in your grandmother’s kitchen.”

The truffle and oat flavor concepts also are delivering a dessert within a dessert. The concept of creating dessert flavors and adding them to other foods continues to drive innovation.

Chobani, Norwich, N.Y., has added three dessert-flavored options to its side-by-side (yogurt and inclusions) Flip brand. Take note of the brown, burnt and cinnamon flavors.

 

Chobani Greek Yogurt Flip
Chobani has added three dessert-flavored options to its side-by-side Flip brand.

Carrot Cake Creation is sweet carrot-flavored low-fat yogurt with a side of cinnamon-glazed cake pieces, walnuts and white chocolate chunks. The flavor contains carrots, pineapple and coconut to replicate the carrot cake flavor. Cinnabun Fun is cinnamon-flavored low-fat yogurt with a side of pastry pieces, caramels and cinnamon-roasted pecans. S’more S’mores is sweet vanilla-flavored low-fat yogurt with a side of honey graham crackers and milk chocolate and toasted sugar bits.

An important flavor trend to both the Ben & Jerry’s and Chobani introductions is the base flavor of the ice cream or yogurt. Vanilla and other lighter colors and flavors are being used more often as the base flavor, rather than deep, dark chocolate and other heavy flavors.

Clean, simple, pure, light and bright resonates with consumers. Chocolate is not going away but what appears to be trending is chocolate being more of an inclusion rather than a dominating base. The chocolate also may be paired with other ingredients to create unique textures. Think chocolate-covered ancient grain clusters, chocolate-covered almonds and chocolate-covered cherries. Now think of all three of those in a pint of French vanilla ice cream.

With vanilla-flavored products, brands have also started emphasizing the sourcing of the vanilla. Bean specks are more prevalent, as they are suggestive of a product more in touch with nature.

Vanilla dairy products
Brio, Liberte and Tillamook offers vanilla dairy products.

That is what you get with Brio frozen dairy dessert from Nutricopia Inc., Montpelier, Vt. After being in the market for about two years, the ice cream-type product line added a Madagascar vanilla variant. General Mills, Minneapolis, markets Liberte Indonesian vanilla bean whole milk yogurt, while Tillamook County Creamery Association, Tillamook, Ore., is rolling out Farmstyle Whole Milk Greek Yogurt, which includes a Mexican vanilla variant. Both of the new product lines emphasize the source of the ingredients, as the companies recognize that flavors of fruit vary by source. For example, the Tillamook line includes clover honey, Meyer lemon pear and northwest blackberry. The company also added maple vanilla and Oregon Hood River pear to its Good & Creamy (previously Tillamook Low Fat Yogurt) line. Note the maple (brown flavor) and vanilla combination.

The Liberte line made its debut this past July with Californian pomegranate, Baja strawberry, Ecuadorian mango, French lavender, lemon, Philippine coconut and Washington black cherry flavors. The brand recently added Nicaraguan coffee bean yogurt. General Mills partnered with Intelligentsia to use its Organic Los Delirios coffee beans, which are directly sourced from a family farm, in this product. This sourcing story is communicated to the consumer.

Another flavor trend gaining momentum in the dairy category is the addition of herbs, like Liberte’s French lavender. Noosa Yoghurt, Bellvue, Colo., is adding three new decadent yogurt flavors that support this herbal theme. The concepts pair Noosa’s plain yogurt with fruits and a hint of herbs and spices. The varieties are: orange and ginger, pear and cardamom, and strawberry and hibiscus.

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