Individualizing ice cream

by Allison Sebolt
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Food service ice cream outlets offer so many different varieties, possible combinations and mix-ins it would be possible at many stores to have a heavy day of business with no two customers getting the exact same treat.

"It’s all about the choices," said Ray Karam, senior tastemaster for Cold Stone Creamery, Kahala Corp., Scottsdale, Ariz. "The customization — we all want our ice cream ‘our’ way. There is an almost infinite combination of mix-ins available. It’s fun to pick mix-ins and more fun to watch your ice cream being created in front of you."

Clearly, variety and breadth of options is an important consumer consideration.

"I think in the future you will see us evolving the mix-ins to a more sophisticated level — maybe as a small grouping, maybe (a limitedtime offering) and if some become real popular, we’ll keep them in the line-up," Mr. Karam said. "We could steer the groupings to be kid-oriented, supplier-specific or having more adult appeal."

Cold Stone has various types of mix-ins but strawberry is the most popular fruit flavor; almonds is the top nut; Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Gummi bears, M&M’s and chocolate chips are all well-enjoyed candy; and Oreo cookies are the most popular non-candy item. In the future, Mr. Karam sees exotic and tropical fruits, upscale chocolates, nostalgic candies and international treats being popular for inclusions and mix-ins.

In terms of how the economy will affect consumer purchasing patterns, Mr. Karam said consumers are still interested in mix-ins and no negative effects have been seen yet.

"People will always use ice cream as a personal treat in good or bad economic times, but maybe for now they’ll make a smaller creation, and maybe instead of four mix-ins they may get two," he said. "It’s still too early to see trends. I think this summer will teach us a lot about the purchasing habits for ice cream nationwide."

Gelato on the rise

Cristiana Ginatta, chief operating officer of Paciugo, a nationwide gelato chain based in Dallas, said she sees consumers concerned with not just the quantity and size of portion, but also the quality. She said about 70% of their customers are women, and the women enjoy having the option of buying a smaller portion.

Ms. Ginatta also said variety is key, as each store has about 30 to 38 flavors available, and consumers usually mix up to three flavors in a cup.

She said having fresh ingredients and making the gelato by hand every day is important as well.

"One of the most difficult things to achieve is also one of the most important — to have a balance," Ms. Ginatta said. "You want to have a gelato that is not too sweet, but is sweet enough because it is a dessert. You want it to be creamy and tasty without having too much fat … you want the flavor to be intense but not intense because it is artificially flavored."

Paciugo has many inclusions, and one includes dark chocolate chips. With this inclusion the company uses vanilla, mint, strawberry, pomegranate and raspberry, coffee, and peanut butter flavors. This summer coconut will be another flavor available for the combination.

Also this summer the company plans to offer a homemade granola inclusion to be used to make a raspberry parfait. The parfait will include a layer of raspberry sorbet, a vanilla-flavored gelato and a raspberry swirl along with the granola. Paciugo will provide the same kind of combination with a yogurt gelato.

Sweet and salty flavor combinations are important, Ms. Ginatta said. To this end, many different types of salted nuts are mixed with vanilla and other flavors of gelato, combining the sweetness of the gelato with the saltiness of the nuts. The company makes its own cookie dough as an inclusion, and also makes some gelato with the cookie dough in it so every bite includes cookie dough.

Ms. Ginatta said using more exotic ingredients adds variety and taste interest as well. Strawberry sorbet is a popular flavor, and to add interest black pepper, herbs, liquors or balsamic vinegar may be added.

"We have over 250 recipes, and a lot of these recipes are made by combining different ingredients and decorations (inclusions)," Ms. Ginatta said. "So when you have 50 ingredients and 50 inclusions … there is no limit to the creativity."

In order to prevent waste and reduce costs, she said leftover ingredients often are used in other flavor varieties. For example, leftover cherries and related juices may be used as a topping in sundaes or in combination with other recipes. Broken waffle cones are used in a recipe called "brown sugar waffle cone" that features pieces of cone.

"You have to have variety, and you have to give the customers an experience," Ms. Ginatta said. "More people are getting interested in experimenting ... trying something new is something that really appeals to people."

Paciugo’s new flavors for this spring include a vanilla raspberry swirl gelato, a black raspberry gelato and a blackberry cabernet sorbet. Some of the most popular recipes include a fondente gelato (a dark chocolate from Belgium), Mediterranean sea salt caramel gelato, crunchy chocolate swirl, mango sorbet and strawberry balsamic vinegar sorbet. The traditional balsamic vinegar is not actual vinegar and is not made from the acidification process of wine, so it’s not acidic. Instead, it’s made from grape and aged for 14 years in barrels of different woods. In Italy it is traditionally paired with desserts such as strawberries and vanilla gelato.

"Our challenge is to get people to try (gelato) the first time," Ms. Ginatta said. "Once they’ve tried it, it’s a product that appeals to any demographic, age group, nationality — we’re pretty popular with everybody."

Despite all of the emphasis on mixing numerous flavors and ingredients, when it comes to some premium retail products, consumers still want to see a clean label. Haagen-Dazs has introduced the Five series, and these products only include milk, cream, sugar, eggs and one of the following flavors — brown sugar, coffee, ginger, milk chocolate, mint, passion fruit, and vanilla bean. The goal of the line is to let the single flavor dominate the taste and let the consumers know exactly what the ingredients are in the ice cream they are eating. (See related story on Page 41.) DBN

Formulating yogurt for inclusions

Inclusions are being used widely in yogurt, and Minerva Calatayud, general product manager for sweet goods, cheese and dairy at Givaudan, Vernier, Switzerland, said yogurt provides significant opportunities for innovation. She said opportunities for innovation may be centered on fruit combinations and enhancement to support low-fat, low-sugar and functional products.

Ms. Calatayud also said superfruits containing naturally occurring antioxidants as well as functional ingredients may further enhance the perception of yogurt as a wellness food. She said a popular trend in the dairy category is a focus on low- and non-fat products as a way of meeting consumer desire for perceived health and wellness.

Dr. Kim Gray, senior application scientist for global application technologies at Givaudan, said flavors such as acetaldehyde and diacetyl are formed during the fermentation of converting lactose to lactic acid. As a result, flavors that complement such compounds as well as the sourness from the acid formation should be used. Flavors that work in this situation include fruits and berries. She said vanilla is a common flavor associated with general dairy, but chocolate does not work as well in yogurt due to the sourness. Overall, she said any flavors used must also be resistant to protein interaction.

When it comes to nonfat and sugar-free yogurts, which are becoming increasingly popular, Dr. Gray said whenever fat is removed from a product there will be a difference in mouthfeel, viscosity and texture. Fat replacers and fillers are added to mimic the removed fat, but there are flavor issues with this that may lead to unbalanced flavor profiles. Givaudan has developed techniques to develop new mouthfeel ingredients to improve low and nonfat yogurts. Similar issues with texture occur in sugar-free yogurts, and fillers also are needed to provide proper texture. Dr. Gray said non-nutritive sweeteners bring an offnote that is often unpleasant for many consumers and masking technologies are needed. To this end, Givaudan has developed masking compounds for artificial sweeteners and for stevia.

To fortify yogurts with functional ingredients requires masking, Dr. Gray said.

"Developers must understand the other interactions that can occur with functional ingredients," Dr. Gray said. "Take for example the substitution of dairy protein with soy protein. These proteins will interact differently with flavor compounds, and this needs to be understood to develop high impact and quality flavors."

Givaudan also is finding new masking compounds to improve such fortified products.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Dairy Business News, March 2009, starting on Page 10. Click here to search that archive.

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