KANSAS CITY — Nostalgia and novelty are driving flavor innovation in dairy product development. Breakfast, booze and botanicals are trending in the ice cream aisle, while a number of recent yogurt, dip and cheese introductions feature savory or ethnic twists.

“Consumers are seeking more premium indulgent flavor profiles that expand outside of the traditional chocolate and vanilla,” said Sarah Diedrich, customer marketing manager at Synergy Flavors, Wauconda, Ill. “This can be achieved by adding a layer of sophistication in various ways.”

Spirits are in the spotlight in a new line of Häagen-Dazs desserts from Nestle USA, Arlington, Va. The Häagen-Dazs Spirits Collection ice cream flavors include Irish cream brownie, rum tres leches, bourbon vanilla bean truffle, stout chocolate pretzel crunch and bourbon praline pecan. The line also has a non-dairy amaretto black cherry almond toffee frozen dessert.

“The Häagen-Dazs brand is built on a passion for transforming the finest ingredients into extraordinary ice cream experiences,” said Rachel Jaiven, brand manager for Häagen-Dazs. “The Spirits Collection was expertly crafted to offer new, extraordinary ways to indulge. Each flavor is perfect to pair with your favorite cocktail, elevate a boozy float or simply enjoy on its own.”

Creameries are churning creative combinations, including churro dough and brandied banana. Culture Republick, a new premium light ice cream brand from Unilever United States, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., offers unexpected varieties such as matcha and fudge, lemon and graham, and turmeric chai and cinnamon.

“Every flavor is two distinct ingredients that we thought pair well together,” said Leslie Miller, marketing director of ice cream at Unilever.

Häagen-Dazs Spirits Collection

At the Ice Cream Technology Conference, presented by the International Dairy Foods Association and held April 16-17 in St. Petersburg, Fla., small and large ice cream makers and flavor suppliers unveiled soon-to-be-released innovations. Concepts featured flavor profiles inspired by fruity breakfast cereal, chocolate stout, lavender and even dill pickle.

“This year’s contest really wowed us with a mix of sweet and savory, combining liqueurs with candy crumbles and spices, and bakery flavors like cobbler, french toast, cookies and pie crust,” said Cary Frye, senior vice-president of regulatory affairs, International Dairy Foods Association.

Parker Products, Fort Worth, Texas, received recognition at the Ice Cream Technology Conference for a prototype featuring brown sugar ice cream blended with white cake pieces and swirls of whiskey sauce. The concept was among 10 creations included on Parker Products’ annual list of ice cream Feature Flavors for 2020. Developed by the company’s research and development and marketing teams, the recipes reflect current industry trends and combine complex flavors and ingredients. The list includes ice cream concepts inspired by key lime pie, churro and s’mores.

“At Parker, we are dedicated to intriguing people with exciting new flavors, and these unique combinations do just that,” said Greg Hodder, president of Parker Products.

Popular cultures

Yogurt makers are stirring indulgent flavor profiles featuring salted caramel, dark chocolate and cold-brew coffee.

Wallaby yogurtWallaby Yogurt Co., Broomfield, Colo., offers a line of Australian-style creme yogurt in strawberry red wine, spiced peach and caramelized pineapple flavors. The products are described by the company as “our richest, most indulgent yogurt yet.”

General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, earlier this year introduced four Yoplait yogurt varieties in a partnership with Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc., Canton, Mass., which include Boston Kreme donut, apple fritter, cinnamon coffee roll and french vanilla latte. Over the past year, Yoplait has launched several limited-edition flavors, including root beer float, watermelon, cherry sno cone and rainbow sherbet, plus a Girl Scout Cookie collection featuring Thin Mints, caramel coconut and peanut butter chocolate flavors.

At the other end of the spectrum, savory yogurt may gain appeal as consumers seek lower-sugar options. Vegetable-based varieties such as carrot, beet and sweet potato have taken root in the United Kingdom and Australian markets. However, similar products launched in the United States in recent years have failed to catch on.

The recent resurgence of cottage cheese may change that, as new offerings stand out with fruity, savory and spicy flavors.

“While many baby boomers have long viewed cottage cheese as a low-calorie or diet food, the millennials are embracing it as a healthy protein-filled alternative to yogurt without the sugar found in so many yogurt or cultured products,” said Roger Mullins, senior vice-president at First Choice Ingredients, Germantown, Wis. “The flavor offerings in the cottage cheese category can be exotic, such as pineapple starfruit or Meyer lemon tart. Savory offerings are also emerging, with trending flavors such as cucumber dill, toasted onion and chive.”

RifRaf ricotta cups - serrano pepper and honeyOffering a product similar to cottage cheese, RifRaf Ricotta Cups, Brooklyn, N.Y., combines spoonable whole-milk ricotta with flavors including serrano pepper honey, sun-dried tomato, Meyer lemon and strawberry balsamic. The product line was inspired in part by a restaurant-industry trend of serving premium ricotta as an appetizer or dessert with various garnishes, according to the company.

Ethnic regional cheese varieties also are on the rise as consumers crave authenticity in dairy applications, Mr. Mullins said.

“Labneh (Lebanon), paneer (India) and manchego (Spain) are a few examples of the more exotic cheeses we have concentrated into powders and pastes over the last year,” Mr. Mullins said. “Consumers continue to yearn for new culinary experiences, and these cheeses play an integral role in the cuisine of each region.”

The problem with plant-based

Dairy alternatives derived from nuts, grains and seeds are snagging shelf space from traditional yogurt, ice cream and cheese brands. The non-dairy ice cream market is forecast to exceed $1 billion in U.S. retail sales by 2024, according to Global Market Insights, Inc.

Perry’s Ice Cream Co., Inc., Akron, N.Y., debuted a line of vegan products in April. Made with oatmilk, Perry’s Oats Cream is available in seven flavors, including blueberry pancake, coconut caramel, oat latte, peanut butter coffee cake, peanut butter and cookies and snickerdoodle.

“For more than 100 years, we have brought innovative flavors to our ice cream line, using only fresh cream and milk,” said Robert Denning, chief executive officer of Perry’s Ice Cream Co. “However, we recognized today’s consumers have a growing desire for great tasting, plant-based frozen desserts. Simply stated, not everyone has been able to enjoy Perry’s ice cream due to lactose intolerance and other dietary choices until now.”

Perry's oats creamPlant-based dairy alternatives present unique flavor formulation challenges, said Corunda Pruitt, Ph.D., senior beverage technologist at Synergy Flavors.

“The biggest challenges when incorporating flavors into dairy applications arise when formulating for reduced-dairy applications,” Dr. Pruitt said. “When reducing the dairy components, there is less fat and fewer milk proteins to help carry the indulgent profile. Naturally derived dairy flavors can build back mouthfeel and enhance the dairy components of butter, cream and milk.”

Consumers desire creamy, rich, indulgent flavors; however, plant-based alternatives may include an array of off-notes, such as beany, bitter, cereal, chalky, metallic, nutty, vegetative or waxy, Dr. Pruitt said.

“We use traditional flavors in conjunction with natural masking technologies to minimize lingering off-notes,” Dr. Pruitt said. “For example, when developing a high-protein plant-based yogurt, a decadent milk chocolate flavor can help mask the vegetative profile of the base, and a masking technology can reduce the linger of bitterness from sugar alternatives.”