It was at Natural Products Expo West in early March that the salted caramel flavor phenomenon became very apparent. The “sweet meets savory” combination, a historically premium treat, made one of its early debuts as a flavor during Christmas 2009 when Caribou Coffee offered a Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Corn. Soon after, salted caramel started showing up in the scented candle and body lotion categories.
It was not until early 2012, when Häagen-Dazs rolled out Salted Caramel Truffle Ice Cream that the sweet and savory flavor was noticed by the food and beverage product developers, in particular frozen dessert manufacturers. Salted caramel makes an ideal inclusion for ice cream. In fact, it’s an ideal flavor for all things dairy.
That’s because traditional caramel confection is made with butter, cream and lots of sugar. It’s made with few ingredients using a simple cooking process and provides loads of color and flavor. Throw in a little salt, and you have a premium ingredient that satisfies both sweet and salty cravings.
Frozen dessert manufacturers learned quickly. Since Häagen-Dazs, most national and regional ice cream brands have introduced a salted caramel variety. A recent novelty format comes from The Pie People L.L.C., Chatsworth, Calif. New JC’s Nudies are the company’s original novelty — JC’s Pie Pops — in the buff. Both products are named after founder and president Jennifer Constantine, who created the frozen dairy pie-on-stick concept by accident in her home kitchen. New JC’s Nudies are like “naked” Pie Pops with a swirl, she said. One of the four varieties is salted caramel.
Arctic Zero, San Diego, the pioneer of Fit Frozen Desserts, which is also the brand’s trademarked tagline, markets namesake frozen desserts that are low glycemic, lactose free, gluten-free and G.M.O. free. A pint of salted caramel, which is part of its creamy line, contains only 150 calories. All Arctic Zero products use a base made of reconstituted whey protein concentrate, which is the source of the 3 grams of protein in every half-cup serving.
Vegan consumers may now satisfy their craving for the flavor with Bliss Salted Caramel in Chocolate bars from Bliss Limited L.L.C., Eugene, Ore. The caramel ingredient is not traditional caramel, as it is formulated using vegan ingredients.
Fluid dairy products make an ideal canvas for the salted caramel flavor, which suppliers offer in both natural and artificial formats. Shamrock Farms, Phoenix, is the first to offer the trending flavor in a muscle-builder dairy beverage. Each 12-oz bottle of Rockin’ Refuel Muscle Builder packs in 30 grams of protein. It’s a convenient on-the-go option to drink before or after a workout, or as a quick meal replacement. It’s also lactose free.
Earlier this year, Promised Land Dairy, Dallas rolled out a salted caramel latte flavored milk as the first of three new limited-time flavors for 2015. The variety features the flavors of caramel swirled into a cafe-style latte, topped with a pinch of gourmet salt and blended with Promised Land’s milk. The new flavor retails for $2.99 for a quart-size bottle until the end of April, or while supplies last.
Sunshine Dairy, Portland, Ore., is introducing three naturally flavored “real cream” coffee creamers. Sold in pint gable-top cartons to convey the “real cream” inside, the creamers come in Mayan chocolate (has hints of cinnamon), salted caramel and vanilla stout (vanilla with hints of malt) varieties. Like its other dairy products, the creamers are cold crafted, using a batch pasteurization process of a lower temperature for a longer time followed by rapid cooling. This process is said to better preserve the flavor of milk and cream.
For the non-dairy consumer, ULIVjava, Cross River, N.Y., now offers ULIVjava Lean Iced Coffee with Almond Milk. The 100% vegan beverages pack in an array of functional ingredients, including green tea extract, yerba mate, astragalus, and vitamins and minerals. There are three varieties: Bali mocha, Madagascar vanilla and, of course, salted caramel.
The salted caramel flavor is conducive to a number of beverage formats, including hot cocoa mix, which Starbucks Corp., Seattle, debuted this past fall. Bigelow Tea Co., Fairfield, Conn., infuses black tea leaves with an all-natural salted caramel flavor extract.
And what goes better with hot tea or cocoa than a yummy homemade brownie? Pinnacle Foods Inc., Parsippany, N.J., now offers its Duncan Hines Decadent Brownie Mix with a package of salted caramel drizzling sauce.
All types of snack foods — sweets, salty snacks and even fruit — are getting a dose of salted caramel. Mariani Packing Co., Vacaville, Calif., is coating raisins, while Kraft Foods, Northfield, Ill., dusts peanuts with a salted caramel seasoning.
Alter Eco, San Francisco, brings premium confectioner counter quality salted caramel truffles to the packaged retail marketplace. The organic dark chocolate truffles are crafted with Ecuadorian cacao and nutrient-rich organic coconut oil.
New York-based Kind Healthy Snacks, a company at the forefront of innovation in the nutrition bar category, recently introduced Kind Healthy Grains Popped bars. The bars feature popped sorghum, which the company calls a super grain. To read more about innovation at Kind, click here.
The Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., offers its new Special K Chewy Snack Bars in a salted caramel chocolate variant. The bars all start with a base of chewy rolled oats and are topped with a sprinkling of rice crisps. Each bar delivers 9 grams of whole grains and 100 calories.
For the athletically inclined, Promax Nutrition Corp., Newport Beach, Calif., continues to grow its high-performance protein bars with options for those who want to lower sugar intake. Each 2-oz Promax LS bar, which includes a salted caramel variant, contains 18 grams of protein and only 3 grams of sugar.
Salty snacks may still be healthy snacks and with the flavor of salted caramel may have an indulgent component. For example, Snyder’s-Lance Inc., Charlotte, N.C., recently added Pretzel Crisps Gluten-Free Salted Caramel Minis to its salty snack lineup. The company also has added the trending flavor to its Cape Cod Popcorn line. The popcorn is naturally gluten-free and is a source of whole grains.
As Caribou Coffee recognized back in 2009, popcorn is an ideal carrier for salted caramel. In fact, for long, consumers have been enjoying the flavor simply by eating a popped kernel of caramel corn at the same time as a slightly salted original.
Other popcorn players are building on the medley. For example, Boulder Brands Inc., Boulder, Colo., coats its Glutino gluten-free pretzels with a salted caramel glaze, while Popcorn, Indiana, Englewood, N.J., drizzles its popped kernels with Dark Fudge Sea Salt Caramel.
Bare Snacks, San Francisco, bakes apple slices, dips them in caramel and sprinkles them with sea salt. The gluten-free apple chips are fat free and a good source of fiber.
The condiment category also is starting to get salted caramel fever. Smucker’s has a topping, Fischer & Wieser a mustard sauce and Skippy a peanut butter.
Salted caramel, as an inclusion, a sauce or even just a flavor, turns yogurt into a health indulgence. Tillamook County Creamery Association, Tillamook, Ore., has introduced a line of Dessert Yogurts.
America’s No. 1 Greek yogurt marketer, Chobani L.L.C., Norwich, N.Y., added Salted Caramel Crunch to its successful Chobani Flip Creations brand. And Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., introduced the country’s first Non-GMO Project verified Greek yogurt. The new Brown Cow Non-GMO 0% Fat Greek Yogurt line includes, of course, the country’s hottest flavor.
For a long time, marketers have asked what would be the next cookies and cream flavor. It’s becoming clear the designation is salted caramel.