CANTON, MASS. — Jeanne Bolger may have the best job in the world. As the director of research and development for Baskin-Robbins, a business unit of Canton-based Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc., Ms. Bolger experiments daily with ice cream flavors and ingredients.
“A lot of thought goes into every ingredient we put into a new ice cream flavor, including what the ice cream base flavor should be, as well as what inclusions and ribbons to add,” Ms. Bolger told Food Business News in an emailed interview. “We want to make sure all of the different components of the ice cream flavor go together, both in terms of flavor and texture.
“Sometimes we start with a specific end goal in mind, for instance creating an ice cream flavor that tastes like tiramisu, and other times we experiment with a range of different ingredients to try to come up with something completely new.”
Take the Polar Pizza, a new item set to debut this summer, featuring a soft-baked crust of chocolate chip cookie or fudge brownie topped with ice cream, candy or cookie pieces, frosting and sprinkles. The ice cream chain also is testing a Donut Ice Cream Sandwich in select markets. The item includes a sweet scoop and hot fudge between a halved powdered sugar donut.
“The Baskin-Robbins culinary team creates a number of potential new menu items in our culinary lab every year, but only a fraction of them make it through the testing process and into our shops,” Ms. Bolger said. “We always think about what our guests look for in a delicious ice cream flavor, cake design or frozen treat, and what would appeal to guests in our more than 7,600 shops in 50 countries worldwide.”
Baskin-Robbins' performance has improved in the United States, where the brand briefly fell out of favor during the frozen yogurt craze. The company has credited such programs as its Flavor of the Month campaign and the on-line cake ordering platform in driving an increase in transactions.
Read on for more innovation insights from queen of ice cream R.&D.
Food Business News: How long does it take to bring an idea through the stages of development?
Jeanne Bolger: This depends on the particular product, and if it’s an extension to an existing platform, like a new ice cream flavor, or if it’s a completely new platform, like our recently launched Warm Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches. Generally speaking, it can take about 12-18 months from coming up with an idea to having a finished product.
What’s in the Baskin-Robbins test kitchen?
Ms. Bolger: The test kitchen at Baskin-Robbins is top secret, and only a select number of people in the organization have access to the room.
Within the test kitchen, we have several stations where our culinary team members work to create new ice cream flavors and frozen treats. We have an area with several ice cream machines, an ice cream cake design station, and even an area that serves as a mock Baskin-Robbins shop, so we can use the same equipment our restaurants have on-site as we develop new products.
From where does the company draw inspiration for new flavors and combinations?
Ms. Bolger: Inspiration for new ice cream flavors comes from a range of different sources, from food and flavor trends to guest and franchisee feedback. Our culinary team members are also all serious foodies, so we draw inspiration from our own backgrounds, travels and culinary experiences as well.
Our April Flavor of the Month, Sour Patch Kids Redberry Blast, is a surprisingly delicious mix of sour and sweet flavors. It features red raspberry and marshmallow-flavored ice creams with a Redberry Sour Patch Kids ribbon. When you get a bite of the ribbon, it has the same texture as Sour Patch Kids candies, adding a whole new element to the flavor experience.
Can you provide an example of an idea for an ice cream flavor that simply did not work and never made it to market?
Ms. Bolger: We like to say there is no such thing as bad ice cream. One year, we were getting really experimental around Thanksgiving, and someone on the team decided to try a turkey and gravy ice cream. Needless to say, although we were pushing the boundaries of creativity, it didn’t necessarily work out into a flavor we could actually bring to market.
Is there a lot of consumer testing involved during the development stages?
Ms. Bolger: There is consumer testing involved in the development of new ice cream flavors and frozen treats. Depending on the product, it can include sampling potential products with consumer taste panels, and also market testing new products in specific cities or regions to gather feedback both from our franchisees and guests…We push ourselves every day to create delicious new ice cream flavors and frozen treats that our guests around the world will love. It’s important that we stay on the leading edge of food and flavor trends when developing new ice cream flavors and products, while also staying true to who we are as a brand. It’s a delicate balancing act, but one I think we do quite well.