New flavor sensations

by David Phillips
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Flavor innovation within the dairy products category requires maintaining a fine balance between providing consumers with their traditional favorites such as vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, but also exceeding their expectations with the addition of unique flavors or inclusions.

When Pierre’s Ice Cream Co., Cleveland, introduced its chocolate covered strawberry flavored ice cream earlier this year it was following a well-established pattern for developing a new flavor. First, review culinary ideas from outside the frozen dessert category, perhaps baking, or, in this case, confectionery. Then find a flavor trend from that segment that may be replicated with ice cream flavors and familiar ice cream ingredients.

Strawberry ice cream with chocolate chips appeals to a broad audience. Add the suggestion of a decadent chocolate covered strawberry and the melding of the two traditional flavors leads to the creation of a unique, indulgent treat.

Ice cream, flavored milk and yogurt are foods that are tightly rooted in familiar flavors, and yet there is room to innovate, and innovation is a natural way of differentiating brands.

“It’s important to watch trends because you want to create flavors that people not only want, but are memorable and put a smile on their face,” said Matthew Thornicroft, a marketing executive with Pierre’s. “Enjoying ice cream is an experience. Pierre’s customers associate our flavors with memories from their past or certain occasions.”

Popular flavor trends for the food and beverage category are monitored and forecast continually by a variety of research and flavor companies. Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill., publishes a list of expected trends in various food categories at the outset of each calendar year. In 2010, Bell predicted that the top flavor would be bacon, and that the broader trends would include tastes like sweet and salty and sweet and spicy. The top 10 sweet flavors on Bell’s list included honey, milk chocolate, rose, chocolate with bacon, Ellison orange apple and golden russet.

Mr. Thornicroft said companies such as Pierre’s look far and wide to find new flavors.

“Inspiration is everywhere,” he said. “It’s fun to always think to yourself ‘I wonder if this would make a great ice cream flavor?’ Years ago, whoever would’ve thought cake batter would catch on as it has?”

Pierre’s recently added a second cake flavor to its premium line, Mr. Thornicroft said.

While Bell’s top 10 list includes flavors that are catching the attention of research and development executives looking for a new flavor that will make it through the focus groups and get to market, Mintel International Group, Ltd., Chicago, keeps tabs on the flavors of products that have already hit store shelves.

For ice cream, the top flavors rarely change, with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry consistently ranked at the top. But in recent years the cookies and cream flavor combination has made its way up the top flavors list.

While the most popular flavors hold steady, new flavors are constantly introduced, and new trends tend to develop, said John Pimpo, a sales representative with Gertrude Hawk, a Dunmore, Pa., company that makes chocolates and inclusions for ice cream and baking.

“Some things that might seem old come around and have a rebirth, so that everything old is new again,” Mr. Pimpo said. “Dulce de leche is a good example. Now it fits in that sweet and salty and salty/caramel trend.”

Mr. Pimpo’s point was driven home this past August, when Häagen-Dazs, Oakland, Calif., and a Nestle USA brand, introduced ice cream, frozen yogurt and sorbet in 3.6-oz single-serve cups. The variety of flavors included in the new product format ranged from the traditional such as vanilla, chocolate and strawberry to dulce de leche and mango.

Mr. Pimpo added that the sweet and salty trend is gaining greater momentum in restaurants and food service desserts and likely will find a long-term place in packaged dairy products.

What’s for dessert?

The yogurt category also has been undergoing a resurgence in flavor innovation as companies seek new flavor combinations and day parts to grow market share. General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, through its Yoplait brand, remains the largest marketer of yogurt in the United States. Yoplait offers a variety of flavors in its largest selling lines. Earlier this year, the company added two dessert-inspired flavors to its Yoplait Light line of yogurts: Yoplait Light Red Velvet Cake and Yoplait Light Thick and Creamy Blueberry Pie.

In August, the company also introduced Yoplait Splitz, a new yogurt designed to taste like a sundae and extend the brand’s reach into the dessert category. The line is

available in three dessert-inspired flavor combinations: Strawberry Sundae, Rainbow Sherbet and Strawberry Banana Split.

The Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., a division of Groupe Danone, Paris, also has introduced some dessert inspired flavors as well as several that have capitalized on the superfruit trend. Dannon currently offers around 20 different flavors in its Light & Fit line of low-fat, low-calorie yogurts. These include classics like banana, blueberry and cherry as well as more innovative fare like Strawberry Cheesecake and Pomegranate Berry. New limited flavors include Raspberry Goji and Blueberry Acai, according to the company.

Mintel data show that vanilla and plain share space as the most popular yogurt flavors with a variety of fruit flavors filling out the other top spots. One newcomer that has become a popular yogurt flavor, according to Mintel, is honey, which may owe its popularity to the emergence of Greek-style yogurts.

Milk’s flavor dynamics

While flavor innovation has become a key marketing effort within the ice cream and yogurt categories, it remains a challenging endeavor for the processors of fluid milk products. A few years ago, several dairy processors began to increase efforts to produce more innovative fluid milk flavors. The gallon of white milk still accounts for more dairy product consumption than any other product types, but some companies believed promotional efforts surrounding flavored milk may provide new opportunities to reach more consumers, especially younger consumers and may keep them in the category.

As with ice cream, flavors for milk stick mostly with

tradition. Mintel has tracked milk flavors for years, and chocolate, strawberry and vanilla have remained the top flavors. For new products introduced in the period, chocolate easily outpaced the next three top flavors combined. And yet, there has been a spate of innovation within the category.

Garelick Farms, Franklin, Mass., a Dean Foods brand, features fluid milk flavors such as coffee and cookies and cream. The Shatto Milk Co., Osborn, Mo., has several unique flavored milks as well, including orange creme, root beer and banana. While the products may not be leading sellers for these companies, they do highlight how flavor innovation is extending into every aspect of dairy product development.

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