CHICAGO — Crunchy or chewy. Sweet or salty. Familiar or unique. These are some of the attributes of inclusions, those little extras that are blended into ice cream, served aside yogurt or added to soft cheeses and other cultured dairy products. Often, they are used to make limited-time offerings (L.T.O.s), thereby creating an incentive to purchase. The intent is to wow the consumer with flavor, texture and visual appeal. And dairy foods marketers are embracing their power.
“Today’s consumers want personalized experiences with their food,” said Jamie Wilson, director-business development, marketing, culinary, and research and development, Parker Products, Fort Worth, Texas. “In many applications, inclusions can assist.”
No one probably knows this better than Ben & Jerry’s, the company that loaded vanilla ice cream with cookie dough chunks back in 1984, starting a trend of packing inclusions into a pint. This summer, the subsidiary of Unilever, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., introduced three new flavors of cookie dough to scoop shops and for home delivery, showing consumers that cookie dough is not a stagnant flavor. New Off the Dough Block is chocolate chip and chocolate ice cream with chocolate chip cookie dough and chocolate chip cookies. P.B. Doughble Chocolate is dark and milk chocolate ice creams with peanut butter cookie dough and swirls of peanut butter cookie butter. Cinn-Dough-rella is cinnamon and caramel ice cream with cinnamon bun dough, shortbread cookies and oatmeal cinnamon cookie swirls.
The brand also now has a truffle line, which contains some of the biggest chunks of chocolate ever put into ice cream, according to the company. Chocolate shake is chocolate malt milkshake ice cream with chocolate cookie-covered fudge truffles and marshmallow swirls. Caramel chocolate cheesecake is caramel chocolate ice cream with graham cracker-covered cheesecake truffles and chocolate cookie swirls. Chillin’ the Roast is cold-brew coffee ice cream with chocolate cookie-covered coffee liqueur truffles and fudge swirls.
Breyers, another Unilever brand, introduced 2in1 ice cream this summer. The line extension comes in four combinations, each containing two types of branded candy or cookie inclusion-laden ice cream. Varieties include Oreo Chips Ahoy!, Reese’s (peanut butter cup with) Reese’s Pieces, Snickers M&M’s and Heath Waffle Cone.
Le Mars, Iowa-based Wells Enterprises takes inclusions and adds ice cream to make its new Blue Bunny Load’d Sundaes. The 8.5-oz single-serve clear plastic cups come in varieties such as Bunny Tracks, which is vanilla-flavored ice cream, caramel and fudge swirls, chocolaty covered peanuts and chocolaty peanut butter bunnies. Strawberry shortcake is strawberry ice cream, strawberry swirls, strawberries, shortcake pieces and candy-coated strawberry bunnies.
“On the sweet side, we are seeing a resurgence of old-time favorite dessert profiles, such as baked Alaska, key lime pie and s’mores,” said Smokey Waters, director of culinary innovation at Pecan Deluxe. “It’s easy to use inclusions to give a familiar base, such as ice cream or yogurt, a nostalgic twist.”
Earlier this year, Graeter’s, Cincinnati, introduced s’mores ice cream, a frozen rendition of the campfire classic with graham cracker-flavored ice cream, marshmallows and the company’s milk chocolate chips. Cleveland-based Pierre’s Ice Cream now offers french toast, which is maple-flavored ice cream with walnuts and cinnamon sugar shortbread pieces.
Focus Brands, Atlanta, is expanding its Carvel ice cream retail line with ice cream Crunchie Cakes, which come in four varieties: chocolate, strawberry and limited-edition mint and orange. The cakes have inclusions layered on the inside, as well as on the top and sides of the cake to ensure extra crunch.
“Not only are we realizing a much more sophisticated palate for flavors and flavor combinations, but also layers of flavors and a strong desire for textures to further engage the senses,” said Tara Gonzales, marketing manager at Pecan Deluxe. “Constant innovation is something that sets a brand apart from the others. It’s what today’s consumers are looking for, and those that can carve out their niche in a crowded and highly competitive market will have a distinct advantage. Creative inclusions can assist.”
Dairy foods marketers have become active in the L.T.O. sector, and inclusions allow them to be adventurous with little risk while providing consumers with some flavor adventure.
“With L.T.O.s, there’s a sense of high demand and low supply,” said Kami Smith, director of culinary showcasing, Pecan Deluxe, Dallas. “When consumers see this, there’s an innate emotional connection that pushes them to go get it, try it and hopefully get to enjoy it again before supply runs out.”
That is what visitors to the Ohio State Fair experienced this year. Velvet Ice Cream, Utica, Ohio, developed a sweet and slightly savory ice cream only sold at the fair. The concept featured sweet caramel ice cream swirled with cayenne-infused caramel sauce. It is a fusion of flavors that first cools the mouth, then warms it with the heat of cayenne pepper.
“Inclusions contribute to the popularity of L.T.O.s,” Ms. Wilson said. “Creations designed around specific consumer experiences — a holiday, a special event, a season — can be short-lived, yet powerful, opportunities.
“We can create inclusions with seasonal associations, like lemon for the summer, cinnamon for fall and peppermint in winter. Specific seasonal events also lend themselves to great L.T.O. opportunities. For example, a caramel milkshake with a dulce de leche crunch would be a fitting product around Cinco de Mayo.”
Yogurt and cheese products include inclusions, too. With yogurt, to keep inclusions crunchy and fresh, they are often an accompaniment, either in a dual compartment or dome top. The separation adds a play factor, interaction many consumers appreciate in their search for flavor adventure.
Dannon Oikos Protein Crunch is blended Greek nonfat yogurt with toppings such as whole grain oats, nuts and chocolate-covered clusters. The protein- and fiber-containing inclusions enable each 5-oz cup to deliver 17 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber.
Better-for-you is often a consideration when selecting yogurt inclusions. For siggi’s, New York, it’s the purpose of the brand’s new Simple Sides line. The inclusions in the dual-compartment whole milk yogurts contain no added sugars. Flavors are vanilla yogurt with dried coconut and cacao nibs, honey yogurt with dried figs and walnuts, vanilla yogurt with almonds and dried cherries and plain yogurt with muesli and currants.
“Yogurt with crunchy, tasty toppings as a side has become a popular snack among consumers in recent years,” said Siggi Hilmarsson, founder. “However, many of those offerings are sadly more comparable to sugary treats than wholesome snacks. (We) combine some of our classic yogurt flavors with simple toppings like dried fruit, nuts and coconut. All these toppings are made without any added sugar.”
Cultured dairy provides canvas for inclusions
Soft, spreadable cheeses, including cream cheese and goat, as well as sour cream and yogurt-based dips, welcome inclusions. They often include fruit and vegetable pieces, along with seasonings, but anything is possible.
Sonoma, Calif.-based Laura Chenel’s is adding cranberry and cinnamon to its fresh chèvre medallion collection. The 3.5-oz rounds will be available for a limited time during the fourth quarter of 2018. The tangy soft cheese includes cinnamon-seasoned, slightly sweet, yet tart, cranberries.
The brand is familiar with using inclusions to enhance its cheese. Other offerings include poppy seed with peppercorns, sun-dried tomato and basil, chives and shallots, and fig and grapefruit.