Dairy Trends 2014: Innovation Until the Cows Come Home

Bolder flavors, natural colors and better cultures are available for ice cream, Greek-style yogurt and other dairy products, so let the innovation begin.

By David Phillips, Technical Editor

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Diary Flavor trends

Blue Bell Creameries, Brenham, Texas, is another regional ice cream maker that's big on flavor innovation. Blue Bell offers seasonal and rotational flavors, some with a particular bent toward southern desserts and a favorite Texas ingredient — the pecan.

Spiced Pumpkin Pecan is described by Blue Bell as a “delightful spiced pumpkin ice cream combined with tasty sugar-coated pecans and a rich cinnamon-honey-praline sauce.”

Ciao Bella of New York makes super premium gelatos and sorbets with ingredients such as blood orange, key lime and pistachio. Ciao Bella recently launched a line of Gelato Squares, small, hand-held sandwich-type snacks with flavors that include Key Lime Graham and Belgian Chocolate S'Mores. Ciao Bella also offers a triple espresso flavor that includes espresso concentrate, coffee concentrate and ground coffee.

Back at Black Dog in Chicago, flavors that combine savory and sweet are creating excitement and they have come to be expected by customers, Oloroso says. Especially at the original location in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood, adventurous consumers are happy to try flavors that include blue cheese or bourbon, as well as the signature Goat Cheese Cashew Caramel.

So what does she expect to emerge as this year's ice cream flavors? Not that she doesn't pay attention to trends, but Oloroso says she spends more time trying to invent something unique than trying to match the latest perceived consumer interests.

“I try to keep my head down and create by what inspires me,” she says. “I steered clear of salted caramel for a long time because I tend to stay away from what is supposed to be the next hottest flavor. But I think the salty-sweet-savory combo approach is something that will not go away anytime soon.

“I also think simplicity will stay, consumers will want more locally sourced ingredients and the farm-to-table movement will continue, and ice cream will stay in line with that as well.”

Broader dairy-applicative flavor trends that could emerge or continue to thrive in 2014 include tropical fruits, intense chocolates, super fruits and salted caramel.

Sweetening the pot

Tillamook Ice CreamSince 2008, stevia has been gaining approval and acceptance in the U.S. and major trading markets, and the sweetener has become more available in easier to use forms. The naturally derived plant extract has been used successfully in numerous beverage categories. It also is a natural for dairy, says Melanie Goluson, Truvia stevia leaf extract application manager for Cargill, Minneapolis.

“Dairy is a category where stevia works well – especially yogurt and chocolate milk,” Goulson say. “The wholesome appeal of stevia for reducing sugar and calories in this category of all-family favorites is a great fit for consumers.”

In addition to its well known cheeses, Tillamook County Creamery Association, Tillamook, Ore., also makes a full line of dairy products including ice cream and yogurt. It recently used Cargill's Truvia stevia leaf extract to reformulate its light yogurt line.

The dairy industry has responded to criticisms about the sugar content in flavored milks served to children (especially in schools where soft drinks have been demonized) by working to reformulate chocolate milk and other flavored milks. This is one opportunity where stevia makes sense.

In addition, there are numerous natural color options available that can work for products such as strawberry milk. Keeping flavored milk attractive to children while curbing sugar or artificial ingredients will bolster the dairy industry’s argument that milk is a nutrient-dense food that is good for overall health and nutrition.

While stevia is a relative newcomer to the commercial ingredient market, honey has been available for much longer, but is also finding its way into more dairy products.

“The dairy industry is using honey more than ever, in products ranging from flavored spreads to flavored milks,” says Catherine Barry, director of marketing for the National Honey Board (www.honey.com), Firestone, Colo. “The booming yogurt industry also has turned to honey to provide a sweet flavor to a variety of products.”

This is especially true for Greek-style yogurt, where honey is part of the tradition; and, after all, Greek-style yogurt is where the action is in dairy. 

Yogurt and cheese

A recent study conducted by the NPD Group indicated the overall yogurt category is clearly and firmly showing double-digit growth, not only at retail but also in foodservice.

“Total dollar volume of yogurt shipped through foodservice distributors to foodservice outlets grew 10 percent and units shipped [grew] by 7 percent in the year ending September 2013 compared to a year ago,” the firm said in a press release. Those figures come from NPD’s SupplyTrack, which is a monthly tracking service that tracks every product shipped through leading broad-line distributors to foodservice operators. Retail sales of yogurt also have grown steadily in recent years, and retailers have made room for wider variety.

Cultures are crucial for yogurt products, but so are flavors, fruits and sometimes texturants and colors. Sweeteners come into play too. When developing yogurt, formulators need to first decide who their target consumer will be, because the variety of yogurt products has expanded to meet the special needs of different types of consumers.

Category leaders like Chobani, Dannon and General Mills offer a broad cross-section of products in an attempt to reach as many different consumers as possible. They also reformulate products to meet changing consumer expectations.

At the 2013 American Cheese Society Judging and Competition, held last summer in Madison, Wis., 257 North American artisan cheese makers companies submitted 1,794 different products for judging. From those entries, the Cellars of Jasper Hill's Winnimere was awarded best of show. A full-flavored cows milk cheese washed in locally made craft beer, Winnimere has been a favorite of artisan cheese fans since it was developed about a decade ago.

The Cellars at Jasper Hill, Greensboro, Vt., is one of the most successful artisan cheese companies in the U.S. The company is an outgrowth of a family-owned farmstead cheesemaking operation, Jasper Hill Farm, but the the Cellars now ages and markets numerous cheeses including cheeses made by other Vermont artisans and cheese Jasper Hill makes in collaboration with other cheesemakers.

Those cheeses are sold in specialty shops, Whole Foods Markets and other retail outlets coast to coast.

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