Ice cream innovation

by David Phillips
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Ice cream is an on trend product category. In fact, it may be one of the trendiest foods in the grocery store. Sure, it has a rich regional and national history, but for decades the category has produced concept and flavor trends that make it one of the most dynamic segments in the dairy category.

At the International Dairy Foods Association’s Ice Cream Technology Conference that was held earlier this month in St. Petersburg, Fla., the next wave of emerging category trends was on display. Participants in the I.D.F.A.’s meeting had an opportunity to sample ice cream flavored with citrus fruits and even gin, while discussing technical advancements such as low-temperature freezing and the use of spray-dried yogurt powders.

“This year we sampled several products that captured the fresh taste of lemon, lime, pineapple and grapefruit while others were inspired by popular cocktail ingredients, such as gin and bourbon,” said Cary Frye, vice-president for regulatory and scientific affairs at the I.D.F.A. “This annual contest provides a unique opportunity to spot new trends. We also saw products that incorporated Greek yogurt into a frozen dessert and others that offered unexpected ingredients such as soy nuts, honey almond granola and chilies.”

The winning entry for the innovative ice cream flavor contest was carrot cake ice cream from Perry’s Ice cream, Akron, N.Y. Perry’s also took home the most innovative novelty award for its pink grapefruit sorbet bars. Sensient Flavors won most innovative prototype flavor for its Pistachio Brittle — Bourbon Caramel Ice Cream.

The citrus flavor trend Ms. Frye referred to has been making its way into the ice cream aisle for some time. Among the flavors in the Häagen-Dazs Five line is lemon ice cream, with lemon peel. Ciao Bella Gelato Co., Florham Park, N.J., offers a blood orange sorbet made with the juice of Sicilian blood oranges, and the company recently rolled out key lime gelato, with graham pieces. The latter is also an example of the well-established bakery flavor trend.

Technical applications, innovations
At the I.D.F.A. conference, Bruce Tharp Ph.D., a principal in Tharp’s Food Technology, a consultancy based in Wayne, Pa., gave a presentation on technical challenges and opportunities in ice cream product development. His presentation included the often discussed topic of guar gum supply and demand.
“Most ice cream makers use guar gum to inhibit ice crystal growth in ice cream,” Dr. Tharp said in an interview after the conference. “But currently, there is a shortage of guar gum and the prices have escalated.”

That shortage, Dr. Tharp said, has been caused by the use of guar gum in the process of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas exploration and extraction.

“For a long time, until this situation, guar gum was considered to be the low-cost alternative to things like cellulose gum,” he said.

Dr. Price added the price of guar gum has skyrocketed and in response many companies are turning to cellulose gum or C.M.C.

Another alternative with more availability is tara gum, which comes from the seed of the tara tree, said Dr. Tharp.

He said he also has noticed a tendency toward removing or minimizing the use of monoglycerides and diglycerides as thickening agents in “churned” products, perhaps in an effort to achieve a simpler, cleaner label.

“It’s just a theory, but it could be that they are able to modify their formulations because they are using the ultra-low temperature freezing technology that produces those products.”

Other developments worth noting, he said, include better spray-dried yogurt powders that may be used to make the next generation of frozen yogurts, the use of molasses as a flavor ingredient, and a new algae-based ingredient that may be used as a fat mimic.

“By using quality spray dried yogurt, it is easier to make a frozen yogurt,” Dr. Tharp said. “Now you can make a single mix, instead of two components, with one of them being cultured separately.”
He noted that some state regulations may require that additional live cultures be added immediately prior to packaging.

While molasses occasionally has been used as a flavoring, Dr. Tharp suspects it now is being used differently.

“Right now you see it at only a 2% to 4% usage, which means you would not taste it,” he said. “But it maybe has an impact on the texture and the perception of other flavors. It may mask the other flavors, which could include flavors related to higher levels of whey solids.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture standards of identity allow whey to be used at levels below 25% of the total non-fat milk solids.

The algae product, called whole algal flour, is made from cultivated algae, and has been introduced in Europe as a fat replacer. It soon will be introduced in the United States by Solazyme-Roquette Nutritionals, a European-American joint venture.

Chefs and celebrities
An emerging marketing trend within the category is the association of an ice cream brand or a particular flavor with an entertainment celebrity, or celebrity chef. Among new flavors from Ben & Jerry’s, Burlington, Vt., a Unilever business unit, is Late Night Snack, a flavor tie-in with television host Jimmy Fallon. Its ingredients include potato chips.

In Lamar, Iowa, Wells Dairy recently introduced several new ice cream and novelty products under its Blue Bunny brand. Among those are two associated with a celebrity chef.
“Blue Bunny is proud to partner with master cake baker, Chef Duff Goldman, in the addition of two new cake-and-ice-cream flavors inspired by the chef himself,” said Jill Feuerhelm, a marketer with Blue Bunny. “24 Karat Carrot Cake and Cup O’ Coffee Cake are the 2012 extensions of the partnership that commenced last year.”

The complete product line includes six flavors that combine real cake with Blue Bunny premium ice cream, Ms. Feuerhelm added. Other trends pursued by Wells include snack-size novelties, and sugar-free products.

Market research provided by Mintel International, Ltd. said that in 2011 14% of adults living in ice cream-buying households ate no-sugar-added ice cream products. Major manufacturers like Wells continue to expand these lines.

Both Mintel and the Chicago-based research firm SymphonyIRI Group indicate sales of no-sugar-added and frozen yogurt products are growing. The overall category has been soft during the most recent 52 weeks (ended Feb. 19), SymphonyIRI said, but Mintel pointed to more than 4% growth overall between 2006 and 2011.
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