Dark flavors
Chocolate, cookies and matcha flavors are showing up in new introductions.

CHICAGO — Clean, simple, pure vanilla flavor bases, often with a swirl or side of something delicious, dominated the refrigerated and frozen dairy product aisles in 2017. However, after Cyclone Enawo hit Madagascar in March 2017, reportedly destroying almost a third of the country’s vanilla crop, dairy foods manufacturers recognized their 2018 innovations would need to take a different characterizing flavor pathway. That turned out to be chocolate.

Less than two months into the new year, consumers are seeing lots of chocolate dairy foods. Innovators are using dark, milk and white chocolate, often in combination with other brown flavors, such as coffee, honey and maple. And while caramel continues to flow throughout the dairy foods supply chain, the salty profiles that invaded the category just a few years ago are no longer the star attraction.

Further, unlike other food categories where ethnic and global flavors are being embraced, dairy loyalists did not take well to some of the more extreme flavor concepts of the past couple years. This has not dissuaded dairy processors from exploring new flavor combinations; however, they are doing so more judiciously, often in conjunction with a familiar flavor, providing the curious consumer a touch of the foreign to satisfy their taste for adventure.

The Kraft Heinz Co., Chicago, added such innovation to its Breakstone’s and Knudsen Cottage Doubles lines. The dual-compartment high-protein snack features low-fat cottage cheese on one side and mango spiked with a kick of habanero peppers on the other.

Recent vanilla-flavored introductions are relying on natural vanilla flavor combinations to deliver the flavor. The challenge is to find a vanilla flavor that matches the taste of pure vanilla natural extracts. The opportunity is to get creative, which is exemplified in the other new addition to the Breakstone’s and Knudsen Cottage Doubles lines: vanilla honey.

Product developers are learning to build a compounded vanilla flavor with other natural flavors. Depending on the application, the approach may provide the same vanilla taste expectation while requiring a smaller quantity of vanilla beans, thus, assisting with managing vanilla extract costs.

But, chocolate is where the action is in 2018, particularly in frozen desserts. Some companies are taking chocolate to the extreme.

The Magnum tubs from Unilever, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., use chocolate in a new fashion. In efforts to replicate the signature crunch one experiences when biting into a premium chocolate shell that encases a Magnum frozen ice cream bar, the company is coating the inside of the flexible plastic container with chocolate. The indulgent ice cream experience requires the consumer to squeeze the sides of the tub to crack the chocolate shell. In addition, the top of the pint is sealed with a thick layer of chocolate that the consumer must break with a spoon. All the shards of chocolate then are mixed into the ice cream base.

Another chocolate-centric ice cream concept comes from Nestle USA, Arlington, Va. Multiple crispy Belgian chocolate layers may be found in every Häagen-Dazs Trio container. The line debuted in 2017, and now the brand is adding three new flavors. Each package contains 17 layers of indulgent ingredients. The new varieties are coconut caramel chocolate, lemon raspberry white chocolate and vanilla caramel white chocolate.

Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s brand makes chocolate ingredients the star in two of the three flavors in its new Moo-phoria line, which contains 35% fewer calories than traditional ice cream and as much as 70% less fat. Chocolate Milk and Cookies is chocolate and vanilla light ice cream swirled with chocolate chip cookies. Caramel Cookie Fix is vanilla light ice cream with shortbread cookies and salted caramel swirl. PB Dough is chocolate light ice cream with chocolate chip peanut butter cookie dough.

Cookies and cake flavors are back

The flavors highlight the cookie and cake flavor trend that is returning to the ice cream and yogurt categories. This is best exemplified by General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, with its Girl Scout Cookie flavored yogurts. Flavors include Yoplait Whips! Thin Mints, Yoplait Whips! Peanut Butter Chocolate and Yoplait Original Caramel Coconut.

In the freezer, Alden’s Organic, Eugene, Ore., is introducing clean label versions of inclusion-loaded ice creams, including cookie and cake concepts. Chocolate chip cookie dough is creamy vanilla ice cream with organic chocolate chip cookie dough and chocolate chips. Birthday cake is cake-flavored ice cream with ribbons of purple icing. There’s also a birthday cake ice cream sandwich, which is the same ice cream simply packed between two vanilla wafers.

Quincy, Mass.-based Yasso recently launched a line of frozen Greek yogurt pints. Party Animal is cake-flavored Greek yogurt with rainbow sprinkles and chunks of cake. Rolling in the Dough is vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt with chocolate-flavored chips and pieces of cookie dough.

Among all that cake, cookies and chocolate one finds caramel, but not as the dominating flavor that salted caramel was a few years ago. Today, caramel and chocolate increasingly are being paired with other flavors.

Another one of Yasso’s new pint flavors is toasted coconut-flavored frozen yogurt with a caramel swirl and chocolate-flavored chips. There is also a coffee yogurt with chunks of brownies and crushed cookies, which is a nod to the booming cold-brew coffee category.

Chocolate, caramel and coffee combinations also are showing up in the refrigerated yogurt department. Many yogurt brands are now offering products positioned as better-for-you indulgent snacks.

DanoneWave, Denver, is rolling out a new yogurt line inspired by the International Delight flavors of coffee creamers and iced coffee drinks. The 8-oz tubs come in four flavors. They are: caramel macchiato, Cinnabon classic cinnamon roll, French vanilla and southern butter pecan. The brand takes its flavor inspiration from international locales, with flavors inspired by desserts served in countries like Argentina, Belgium and France.

Londonderry, N.H.-based Stonyfield Farm now offers Brown Cow Specialties, a line of non-homogenized whole milk yogurts where the cream rises to the top for a layer of decadence. Flavors are café mocha, marbled chocolate raspberry and vanilla salted caramel.

To satisfy younger consumers’ chocolate cravings, there’s new Stonyfield Organic Kids Choco-Mooo low-fat yogurt pouches and tubes. This is the first chocolate-flavored yogurt designed to appeal to the taste preferences of children’s palates, as the product tastes like chocolate milk while containing 25% less sugar than most children’s yogurts, as well as less sugar than most chocolate milks.

Coffee, matcha flavors are trending, too

Coffee, often cold-brew coffee, continues to trend in the flavored milk category. It has even made its way into drinkable yogurts. At the end of 2017, Chobani, Norwich, N.Y., added a coffee and cream flavor to its drinkable Greek yogurt line.

Matcha, an authentic Japanese green tea known for its health benefits, has made much progress as a flavor in U.S. dairy foods. The flavor made its initial launch in Asian-style products such as mochi, which is a ball of ice cream wrapped in chewy sweet rice dough.

This past December, My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream, Los Angeles, took the flavor — and the sweet rice dough — out of the single-serve unit business and turned it into a scoop-able product. The company deconstructed the mochi ball into ice cream with mochi bits. The new pint-size treats are gluten-free and available in chocolate, green tea, mango, salted caramel and strawberry.

But matcha is no longer exclusively Asian. The New Nordic Dairy Company, San Francisco, is showing U.S. consumers that matcha complements the company’s authentic strained skyr. New Norr Skyr is made by a couple of dairymen from Scandinavia. Though their strained cultured products are rooted in Scandinavian dairy tradition, the traditional and whole milk single-serve containers of skyr are manufactured in Upstate New York.

The product introduces U.S. consumers to unfamiliar flavors. The original nonfat line comes in blueberry and lavender, elderflower, gooseberries, plain and sea buckthorn varieties. The new whole milk line comes in black currant, matcha, plain, and raspberry and rosewater varieties, with the flavored options touting wellness benefits.

The Norr Skyr flavors complement another flavor trend in yogurt, which is to incorporate only subtle amounts of flavor with minimal to no added sweetener. That is the strategy behind Chobani Hint Of, a simply crafted, blended Greek yogurt made with fruits and spices for just a “hint of” flavor with less sweetness. Varieties are: Alphonso mango, Gili cherry, Madagascar vanilla cinnamon, Monterey strawberry and wild blueberry.

On the savory side, most of the limited activity has been in the butter, cheese and dip categories. Product developers are exploring various peppers, often with a touch of citrus, maple or smoke to round out the heat.

Plymouth, Wis.-based Sargento brings a flavorful twist to the familiar with the new Southwest blend snack stick. This portable cheese bar blends the creaminess of Monterey Jack with chipotle cheddar, colby and pepper Jack cheeses.

Hillshire Snacking Small Plates from Tyson Foods Inc., Springdale, Ark., include a portion of cheese cubes. One of the varieties is Monterey Jack with Hatch chilies.

DanoneWave is getting ready to roll out Wallaby Organic Dips. The new refrigerated dips start with a base of Australian-inspired nonfat yogurt and then get seasoned into Everything Bagel, Spicy Red Pepper and Zesty Buffalo varieties.

For La Terra Fina, San Francisco, flavors and whole food ingredients is how the company differentiates itself in the dairy dip and spread category. The most recent introductions include lemon pepper asiago and spicy green chili jalapeño.

Adding flavor to butter may be either savory or sweet. Two recent introductions showcase the versatility of butter as a base. Chicago-based Medlee Foods offers seasoned butter medallions in basil pesto, garlic Parmesan, lemon herb and red chili. The compound butters come in eight portioned cups and are designed for sautéing.

The flavored butters from Slate Roof Creamery, Drexel Hill, Pa., may be used for cooking or as a spread. The newest flavors in the creamery’s lineup are cranberry orange, Himalayan pink salt and pineapple sriracha, which join last year’s debut of lemon herb, Maine blueberry, Parmesan garlic and sea salt caramel.