Everything But The…™ ice cream is a profusion of flavor and textures introduced in 2000 by Ben and Jerry's (South Burlington, Vt.). Ever the innovators in the ice cream category, even Ben and Jerry could not have imagined the variety of flavors that would show up in the ice cream case over the next three years.

Today, the range of ice cream flavors has never been greater. With inspirations from all over the world and consumers expecting more from the food they eat, dairy manufacturers in every category are rolling out new flavors and products aimed at reviving a category once thought to have peaked decades ago.

Milk is in the midst of a resurgence after the introduction of more consumer-friendly single-serve containers and a vastly improved line-up of flavors. Unflavored and chocolate and strawberry flavors dominate milk's history, but now flavors such as Chocolate Caramel Craze and Pina Colada Chaos from Cadbury-Schweppes Beverages (Stamford, Conn.) Raging Cow line have “got milk” into the hands of kids again. Milk products are presenting a serious challenge to soft drinks' stronghold in school vending machines, which is further fueling growth.

Unit sales of yogurt and yogurt drinks increased by more than 10% in 2002, according to Information Resources Inc. (Chicago). Drinkable yogurts and yogurt's healthy image are driving this growth. While fruit flavors have been a staple in the yogurt section for some time, more exotic fruit flavors are becoming popular. Guava, mango and other tropical fruit flavors are Hispanic favorites in licuados or Mexican fruit drinks. Similar to a smoothie, licuados typically contain ice, milk, fruit and other ingredients blended to create a textured fruit drink.

The line between smoothies and drinkable yogurts is less clear every day with many drinkable yogurts marketed as smoothies. “I have never seen any regulatory standards for smoothies,” said Laurie Keeler, general manager of pilot plants at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Food Processing Center. “We have developed products labeled as smoothies made entirely of fruit ingredients, some that contain fruit and soy or whey protein, and others that contain fruit with varying amounts of milk or yogurt. We have even seen smoothies in the form of bar mixes and frozen novelties,” Keeler said.

Another product soon may confuse the issue further. Solero Smoover, a European product distributed by Unilever (London), is a soft fruit sorbet in a plastic pouch that can be eaten by simply squeezing it into the mouth.

Exemplifying the blurring line between smoothies and drinkable yogurts, Dannon’s (Allentown, Pa.) Light ’n Fit line is composed of non-fat yogurt and a variety of fruit purées.
As for cheese, a solid block of new specialty products is keeping the once-stale category appealing for consumers. Ethnic cheeses, particularly Hispanic varieties, are becoming popular even with non-Hispanic consumers. For instance, Queso Blanco con Frutas™ Pina y Mango, from the Specialty Cheese Company Inc. (Lowell, Wis.), is a white cheese with pineapple and mango that is often grilled and eaten as a snack.

European-inspired varieties are also common. California Mozzarella Fresca (Benicia, Calif.) recently introduced Tiramisu Espresso-flavored mascarpone cheese.

Milk, yogurt and cheese all have increased flavor variety, but none can claim to beat ice cream as the most innovative dairy category. Consumers have been indulging themselves with higher quality and higher priced ice cream in recent years. The premium and super premium categories now represent the majority of ice cream purchased, according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). These ice creams typically have lower overrun and use higher quality ingredients than regular ice cream. Increasingly, many premium and super premium products are referred to as frozen desserts to get around regulations that specify what constitutes ice cream. Ice cream is still the dominant dessert, though, making up 90% of the frozen dessert category, according to IDFA.

Hispanic Inspiration

The increasingly multicultural mix of the U.S. population, particularly the Hispanic segment, has spurred development of new flavor ideas for ice cream. Dulce de Leche, a traditional Hispanic dessert that includes milk and caramel, has become almost ubiquitous in the ice cream case. Another indulgent Hispanic dessert gaining popularity is Tres Leches—traditionally a “three milks cake” made with cream, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. Haagen Dazs (Minneapolis, Minn.) introduced a Tres Leches ice cream earlier this year.

In addition, the light, refreshing taste of tropical flavors, such as mango, guava, passion fruit, lemon and lime, have the potential to be very popular with many consumers.

While many desserts such as Dulce de Leche and Tres Leches are available as stand-alone flavors, the tropical fruit flavors lend themselves to blending with fruit, chocolate or pastry-based inclusions to create new indulgent frozen desserts such as key lime pie.

Aimee Holmes, a food technologist with a Dallas-based inclusion supplier, believes the development of Hispanic-inspired flavors has only begun. “I see us going further in that category for the growing Hispanic population in the U.S.,” she says.

With Dulce de Leche and Tres Leches showing such wide appeal, don't be surprised if a flan-like dairy dessert also shows up in the freezer case. Flan, an egg custard and caramel dessert, is standard fare south of the border.

Tamarind, sangria and Jamaica (hibiscus) are also flavors likely to be explored for the Hispanic market. Unilever already sells chili-flavored ice cream in Mexico and green tea-flavored ice cream in China. It also is exploring other savory combinations such as curry and cheese, and Parmesan and chili.

Edy’s Grand Ice Cream’s (Oakland, Calif.) Whole Fruit sorbet is flavored with passionfruit, pineapple and other tropical fruits. Interest in the Hispanic market may drive opportunities for more exotic-flavored dairy foods, such as tamarind to Jamaica (hibiscus) products.

Comforting Indulgence

Indulgence remains a trend in dairy desserts as manufacturers introduce new products based upon pastry shop favorites, classic restaurant desserts and homemade varieties. The Pastry Shoppe (a line from Perry's Ice Cream, Akron, N.Y.) includes flavors such as Cinnamon Caramel Streusel, Blueberry Cobbler and Southern Apple Pie.

Haagen Dazs made news in 2003 with its introduction of Desserts Extraordinaire. The flavors, based upon perennial restaurant favorites, include Chocolate Mousse, French Vanilla Mousse, Strawberry Cheesecake, Chocolate Raspberry Torte, Bananas Foster, Café Mocha Frappe and Crème Brulee.

The most pleasing part of many of these indulgent ice creams is the inclusions found mixed in the ice cream base. Crunchy, chewy, sticky or gooey, inclusions can be almost anything. The most common are candy, such as Heath Bar™ and M&M's™, but also include cookies, nuts and fruit-flavored swirls.

Consumers' desire for greater quantities and varieties of inclusions is being fed by a new trend in foodservice. Premium ice cream, an infinite number of inclusions and consumers' imaginations have created the latest trend in ice cream, in which consumers design their own creations in stores such as Cold Stone Creamery (Scottsdale, Ariz.) and Maggie Moo's International (Columbia, Md.).

Ice cream has been a comfort food for generations and attempts to make it healthier have met with limited success. Light, reduced-fat and frozen yogurt products were a focus for much of the 1990s, but manufacturers in every food category discovered consumers were not willing to compromise taste for a healthier product. This was especially true in ice cream and consumers reverted to treating ice cream as … well, a treat.

Vanilla-and chocolate flavored ice cream remain the top favorites, but could also be considered commodities.

Healthier Indulgence

However, consumers' desire for health and wellness has not disappeared. An aging Baby Boomer population and the growing obesity epidemic in the United States have consumers more interested than ever in products that are healthier. What does this mean for ice cream?

Reduced-fat and no-sugar-added products still interest consumers. While indulgence is fine, by nature, it results in sporadic consumption. If ice cream manufacturers want consumers to eat more ice cream, they must make it more convenient to eat, a la Haagen Dazs' To Go line; provide healthier options, such as decreased sugar, fat and carbohydrates; and add nutrients and functional ingredients, such as inulin, whey or soy protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The industry has been working on improving the quality of no-sugar-added and reduced-fat ice creams for some time, but current interest is particularly strong, especially for no-sugar-added. “We have had more demand for sugar-free inclusions and low-carb inclusions,” says Holmes.

With sugar being the largest source of carbohydrates in many inclusions, manufacturers are looking for low- or no-sugar alternatives. As a result, walnuts, almonds and other nuts are becoming more popular.

Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream’s (Green Bay, Wisc.) Turtle Sundae targets consumers who indulge in comfort foods. Nuts and sugar-free inclusions assist those formulating low-carb products.
Another simple option is using unsweetened fruit inclusions. Fruit inclusions often are packed in sugar or sugar syrup, which helps bring out their flavor. Unsweetened fruit—cherries, for example—can be used for visual and textural effect with cherry flavoring then added to replace the flavor that would have been provided by the sweetened cherry inclusion.

Developing product formulations that are “less bad”—light, nonfat and sugar-free—will continue to be a focus. The number of no-sugar-added products, in particular, is expected to grow next year. The notion of making products “better for you” is not new—milk has been fortified with vitamins for years—but it is moving to a new level.

Yogurt tastes good, but people buy it for its perceived healthfulness. It is regularly consumed as a snack, meal replacement and dessert. Is it such a stretch to imagine ice cream being eaten in a similar manner?

Flavor diversity obviously has been a successful strategy for jump-starting ice cream sales the past two years. But to increase unit and dollar sales long-term, manufacturers must begin focusing their efforts on creating a product that satisfies more than consumers' desire for a little comfort.

Website Resources

www.dairyinfo.com — Dairy Management Inc.
www.dairyfoods.com/articles/2003/03/ICO_SittingPretty.htm — Dairy Foods 2003 Ice Cream Outlook
www.unilever.com — Unilever
www.benandjerrys.com — Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream
www.idfa.org — International Dairy Foods Association
www.mex-grocer.com — MexGrocer.com
www.coldstonecreamery.com — Cold Stone Creamery
www.pecandeluxe.com — Pecan Deluxe Candy Company

Sidebar

Unilever's Solero Smoover, distributed across Europe, is a smoothie-type fruit sorbet in an exotic fruit flavor and packaged in a squeezable, resealable plastic pouch with a plastic screw lid.

Around the world, dairy-based frozen desserts with fruit bases are not uncommon. Nestlé Schöller (Nümberg, Germany) just launched Mango Crème Fraîche Ice. Concentrated skimmed milk, mango pulp and pieces (15%), cream (13%) as well as “whey with protein” and fermented cream appear on its ingredient list.

Sidebar: Nutraceuticals for Dairy

Omega-3 PUFA: primarily plant and fish oils may be used in the prevention/treatment of heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.

Phenolic compounds: plant materials including anthocyanins, isoflavones, tannins, flavones and flavonols, etc., may aid in cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, bone health, and reduction of PMS.

Terpenoids: plant-derived carotenoids (lutein, lycopene), tocopherols (vitamin E) may provide antioxidant activity to aid in cancer prevention and macular degeneration.

Dietary Fiber: plant materials including bran, fruit fiber, pectin, inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides may aid in gastrointestinal function, reduce cholesterol and provide cancer protection. Ingredients such as polydextrose also are useful for formulations such as reduced-sugar ice cream.

Proteins: plant or animal proteins such as soy or whey protein, and gluten reduce carbohydrates in products and add nutritional value.

Minerals: Calcium, potassium, zinc and so on— aid in bone health and treatment of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.