Color, flavor and texture … inclusions provide sensory appeal to all types of dairy foods. But today’s consumers want more. They are seeking cheeses, dips, desserts and yogurts loaded with goodies that not only add life to a product, but pack in some punch.

Dairy processors are meeting consumers’ expectations through the inclusion of premium ingredients, many that often deliver a boost of nutrition. For example, The Epic Seed, from Epic Naturals, San Francisco, combines Greek yogurt with chia seeds.

“Chia is the Mayan word for strength, and some consider it nature’s perfect food,” said Jesse Rudolph, founder. “We believe we’ve filled a void in the marketplace and created a brand, which like the little chia seed itself, packs a real punch.”

A 6.6-oz cup of The Epic Seed contains omega-3 fatty acids and is loaded with antioxidants, calcium, fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and protein. The nonfat product comes in four flavors — blackberry, blueberry, peach and strawberry — with each serving providing 3 grams of fiber and 17 grams of protein.

Batavia, N.Y.-based Alpina Foods recently added Alpina Greek with Artisan Granolas to its product line. The authentically strained yogurts come with certified gluten-free granola mix-ins that were created by a health and wellness chef and are prepared by Udi’s Food, Denver, a manufacturer of gluten-free grain-based foods and a business unit of Boulder Brands.

“We believe this expansion will be received well in the marketplace as consumers are continually searching for unique and exciting Greek yogurt options that are delicious and healthy,” said Gustavo Badino, general manger.

Classic inclusions with a modern spin

Earlier this year, Strauss Family Creamery, Petaluma, Calif., introduced the first, and still only certified-organic, gluten-free cookies and cream ice cream. With a mission to source locally, Strauss is using chocolate cookies baked by Pamela’s Products, Ukiah, Calif., which is 80 miles north of the creamery.

Rich Products Corp., Buffalo, N.Y., gives a better-for-you spin to the classic ice cream cake. New Jon Donaire Greek Frozen Yogurt Cakes are designed to appeal to a younger audience seeking indulgent flavors and more healthful ingredients. The chocolate and strawberry varieties consist of flavored Greek frozen yogurt with low-fat granola, flavored puree, “crunchies” and whipped icing.

The company also is introducing Jon Donaire Mixed Berry Frozen Greek Yogurt Cupcakes. Sold in a six-pack clamshell, the white cupcakes are filled with mixed berry-flavored Greek frozen yogurt and berry-flavored whipped topping.

Lakeview Farms L.L.C., Delphos, Ohio, is taking a similar approach of using Greek yogurt as a base ingredient in order to position its refrigerated dairy desserts as a better-for-you choice. Pistachio Delight Dessert contains pieces of chopped pistachio nuts while Cookies & Crème Mousse contains pieces of crushed, cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies.

Chocolate pieces get hotter

Dark chocolate inclusions provide consumers with permission to indulge as they recognize that dark chocolate is a source of antioxidants. Ingredient suppliers now offer dark chocolate in bits, chips, flakes and pieces, as well as filled mini cups and truffles.

The better-for-you effort even works with cheese. Discount private label retailer Aldi, Batavia, Ill., recently offered limited-edition Cheddar with Chocolate. Product labels state the cheese is designed for those who have “passion for food.” The product is English cheddar cheese with large flakes of dark chocolate. The company also offered artisanal Blueberry Cheddar Cheese during the height of wild blueberry harvesting season.

Roba Dolce, Pomona, N.Y., offers gelato and sorbet under the Ocean Spray brand. A number of the varieties include chocolate inclusions. For example, hazelnut truffle is gelato with a blend of hazelnut and chocolate truffles. The vanilla bean pomegranate truffle combines the taste of vanilla bean gelato with dark chocolate pomegranate truffles.

Surprise and delight

Chobani, Norwich, N.Y., is using chocolate to give its authentically strained Greek yogurts a touch of decadence. The company also is including a number of trendsetting inclusions to entice new consumers to the Greek yogurt category.

“Our new products are designed to surprise and delight consumers — welcoming some to Greek yogurt for the first time through a familiar format like our blended yogurt, challenging the taste buds of others with exotic and trending ingredients like chia seeds and ginger, and servicing new occasions like snacking and mindful treats in order to help expand the category,” said John Heath, senior vice-president of innovation.

New offerings in the Chobani Flip Greek Yogurt line were inspired by the unique yogurt creations served at Chobani SoHo, the brand’s retail store in New York City. Using ingredients such as chia seeds, hemp seeds and pistachios, the four new varieties push the boundaries of yogurt creativity.

Blueberry Power is blueberry nonfat Greek yogurt with chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts, a combination inspired by Chobani founder and chief executive officer Hamdi Ulukaya’s daily breakfast. Nutty for Nana is banana low-fat Greek yogurt with honey roasted salted almonds and dark chocolate.

Savory sensations

Not all inclusions are sweet treats, as exemplified by Moondarra, a new cheese offering imported from Australia. The namesake company uses inclusion combinations with a unique method of processing and packaging (vacuum-sealed technology) to allow its products to be experienced in the United States. The 120-gram rolls of seasoned cream cheese come in three varieties: apricot and almond, cranberry and macadamia, and fig and walnut.

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Point Reyes Station, Calif., has turned its award-winning namesake blue cheese into a line of dips through the use of inclusions. The product line features several varieties, including bacon and caramelized onion, which is smoky and sweet with a hint of Kentucky bourbon; original blue; port, cherry and pistachio, which is sweet and nutty with port-soaked Bing cherries and toasted pistachios; and truffle and sage, which has an earthy flavor with layers of savory umami.

Caramelized onion is one of the hottest savory inclusions in the cheese and dairy dips business. For example, retailer Safeway, Inc., Pleasanton, Calif., now offers Open Nature 100% Natural private label Greek yogurt dips in varieties such as caramelized onion, roasted red pepper and asiago cheese, and spinach artichoke and Parmesan.

The new dips are available in 10-oz containers and merchandised in the self-serve deli. Though the dips are made with Greek yogurt, they remain indulgent, with a 2-tablespoon serving containing 40 to 60 calories and 2.5 to 6 grams of fat, depending on variety.

Lynnfield, Mass.-based HP Hood L.L.C.’s Heluva Good! brand of Greek Style Yogurt Dips include savory inclusions such as french onion and herb Ranch, as well as Southwestern chipotle and fire roasted vegetables. The company recently learned through a national survey conducted by Mom Central Consulting that bloggers and their families use the dips in creative ways — from spreading it on sandwiches to using it as a marinade. For example, the fire roasted vegetables are often used as a topping for chili.

Kemps L.L.C., St. Paul, Minn., also has gone Greek with its cottage cheese. The new single-serve 5.7-oz cups for on-the-go dining provide 19 to 21 grams of protein due to the addition of whey protein concentrate and milk protein concentrate. A serving also contains 2 grams of fat along with 130 to 180 calories, depending on variety. Inclusions such as cucumber with dill bring innovation to the cottage cheese category.

Surprise, surprise

Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., offers mix-ins with its new line of Jell-O pudding snacks. The snacks include varieties such as banana caramel pie (caramel flavored bits and crust pieces), birthday cake (rainbow sprinkles), German chocolate cake (almonds, coconut and pecans), Oreo dirt cup (colored flower-shaped candy bits and crushed Oreo cookies), strawberry shortcake (strawberry-flavored dehydrated apple bits and shortcake cookie pieces) and turtle sundae (almonds, chocolate chips and pecans).

Nestle Dreyer’s Ice Cream Co., Oakland, Calif., is offering two limited-edition frozen dairy dessert novelties that feature the flavors of cinnamon, graham and chocolate. The new novelties are not ice cream, as the formulation does not conform to the standard of identity. In fact, whey is the first ingredient. The Nestle CinnaMunch Bars feature cinnamon-flavored dairy dessert covered in a chocolate coating that contains cinnamon graham cracker pieces. The Nestle Drumstick CinnaMunch Cones are a bit different. Besides the obvious use of a sugar cone rather than a wooden stick, the cones also have a sweet cinnamon caramel center. The sugar cone has a chocolate lining and the base has a sweet, chocolate nugget. The chocolate shell contains cinnamon graham cracker pieces.

Blue Bell, Brenham, Texas, makes it possible to have your cake and eat it, too. Its new Italian cream cake is made with vanilla ice cream with pieces of Italian cream cake, shredded coconut, roasted pecans and a cream cheese icing swirl.

New tortilla chip crumbs from Azteca Ingredients Inc., Chicago, provide color, crunch and a Hispanic twist to all types of foods. Imagine a savory, single-serve cottage cheese with an attached dome cup of tortilla chip crumbs that a consumer may mix in. In food service, the crumbs may be a topping on a dulce de leche caramel ice cream. The gluten-free, all-natural crumbs come in three colors: blue, gold and red.

That’s close enough to red, white and blue. And it is such innovative inclusions that make U.S. dairy foods so desirable.