KANSAS CITY — Inclusions played a key role in Minneapolis-based International Dairy Queen, Inc.’s menu development strategy this summer. The restaurant chain’s Summer Treat Menu feature several products that capitalize on consumer demand for new experiences and textures. These are the trends that are propelling use of inclusions and creating points of differentiation for many brands.

Dairy Queen’s summer menu includes Blizzard shakes featuring pieces of toffee, Oreo cookies, brownie dough, marshmallow-filled chocolates, candy sprinkles and cheesecake as well as raspberries, blackberries and blueberries on individual items. Inclusions also showed up on Dairy Queen Cupfection sundaes and Cake Shakes.

“From cups to cones and creamy to crunchy, our new Summer Treat Menu will take fans on a flavor adventure — no sunscreen or life vests required,” said Maria Hokanson, executive vice-president of marketing for Dairy Queen.

Other restaurant chains adding menu items featuring inclusions include Burger King, a business unit of Restaurant Brands International, and Dunkin’ Brands Group. In May, Burger King began offering a vanilla shake with pieces of Twix candy bars. Dunkin’ followed with its Kit Kat Coolatta frozen beverage with pieces of Kit Kat candy bars. Dunkin’ also rolled out its Hershey’s Cookies ‘N’ Crème Donut, which is a square-shaped donut filled with vanilla-flavored buttercream and topped with Hershey’s Cookies ‘N’ Crème crumbles.

Inclusions aren’t for indulgent items only. Product developers are adding seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables to a variety of applications. It is a convenient way to add a dose of nutrition to a product and preserve a clean label or natural perception in a product category.

Nature Valley Crispy Creamy Wafer Bars, General MillsGeneral Mills’ Nature Valley Crispy Creamy Wafer Bars feature bits of oats on top of layers of wafers and other ingredients. Jif Stacked Power Ups from the J.M. Smucker Co. include pieces of granola in the formulation.

The trends behind these menu and product innovations focus on giving consumers new experiences from familiar ingredients and adding unique textures to traditional product formats. During an education session at the annual Sweets & Snacks Expo, held this past May in Chicago, it was noted that consumers are discovering new products in the forms of unusual colors, popping candy, hot and spicy options, cooling effects, and interactive, personalized packaging.

Nearly 60% of consumers under the age of 44 agreed “it is important to spend money on experiences,” giving rise to the concept of “sensorial snacking,” said Jared Koerten, head of packaged food at Euromonitor International.

“One element is visual; in an Instagram world where I’m taking a picture of everything on my smartphone before I eat it, color really, really matters,” Mr. Koerten said during a presentation at the Sweets & Snacks Expo. “It’s not just visual, though. It’s texture. It’s mouthfeel. It’s the idea that I want something crunchy and creamy and sweet and maybe a little salty, all at the same time.”

Products that appeal to younger consumers are classics with a twist, said Melissa Sunseri, senior manager of marketing for food service national accounts at Tyson Foods, Inc., Springdale, Ark. During a presentation at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food expo this past June, Ms. Sunseri cited Mondelez International Inc.’s Oreo brand as an example. On restaurant menus and retail shelves, the Oreo cookie has been incorporated into pie crusts, ice cream cones, chocolate bars, donuts and beverages. It has been delivered in the forms of bites and thins and lately features a broad assortment of limited-edition flavors.

“It’s about taking that everyday (item) and moving it to the next level,” she said. “(Generation Z consumers) consider themselves rule breakers … but they want to break the rule with one thing — is it color? Is it texture? Is it spice? Is it oversweet?”

Denali Ingredients inclusions

Inclusion innovation abounds

Denali Ingredients, New Berlin, Wis., said it is expanding its food ingredients manufacturing capabilities. The company announced it is opening a 98,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in New Berlin that will produce a new line of baked inclusions, including brownie and cheesecake pieces for application in ice cream and other sweet snacks.

The company said the expansion will double its production space and improve production flow of its current extruded doughs, bits, flakes and bark products.

“Adding a new capability — baked inclusions — expands our portfolio of products for our customers,” said Neal Glaeser, president of Denali Ingredients.

The facility will improve frozen storage capacity to provide sufficient space for expanding product offerings. It also includes modern sanitation equipment and processes, isolated production spaces and a quality control lab with updated testing equipment. The facility has several environmental impact improvements, including LED lights, high-efficiency boilers, water heaters and air handling systems and a robust recycling program.

Parker Products ice cream with inclusionsDenali Ingredients opened a research and development center three years ago with a small-scale pilot plant for product testing.

“This expansion of our portfolio, along with our emphasis on hands-on customer collaboration, provides our R.&D. team a broader platform to effectively address trends in today’s complex food environment,” Mr. Glaeser said.

Parker Products, Fort Worth, Texas, released its line of trending ice cream flavors earlier this year. Flavors on this year’s list included Get Churr-Own, which features sweet cream ice cream swirled with cinnamon cream cheese icing and blended with churro pieces and a cinnamon streusel crumble; It Takes Two To Mango, which are mango sorbet pops sprinkled with sweet, salty and spicy Chamoy sprinkles; and Million Reasons Why, a brown butter ice cream blended with shortbread cookie pieces and pecan brittle with swirls of dark chocolate.

Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, Wis., a business unit of Glanbia P.L.C., is delivering a dose of health with its inclusions. The company recently introduced its Crunchie Milk Protein Crisps. For bars and snacks, the inclusions are made with milk protein that deliver a protein boost to products. The ingredient is customizable to several sizes and is designed to create new opportunities for nutrition bars, confections, trail mixes and new snack formats, according to the company.

Glanbia enhanced its inclusion offerings with the acquisition of Watson, Inc. earlier in the year. In addition to offering such products as protein, pre-mixes and flavors, Watson offers edible glitter. The ingredient may be used as toppings or inclusions to bring added color and flavor to a variety of applications.