Improving product textures offers key to success
As Adam Utley, account director at ingredients business Pecan Deluxe Candy explains, improving product textures is set to be a major area of focus for product developers
The feel and satisfaction provided by unexpected or contrasting textures make it an important component for food companies to develop new product lines that excite consumers. It is becoming prominent as a key contributor in providing consumers with a break from the routine and stress of their lives, and now has the ideal opportunity to feature in formulations that aim to engage more of the senses.
Texture-based ingredients are particularly important because they are responsible for delivering much of a food product’s flavour and consistency, and inclusions have always had a massive part to play in lines such as ice cream, chilled desserts, baked goods and beverages. Now, however, the climate is shifting and inclusions are coming into their own as the “hero” product, no longer content to simply sit on the sidelines.
Inclusions currently in demand across Europe can be found atop beverages such as milkshakes, freak shakes, premium coffees and hot chocolates, as well as enhancing soft serve ice cream. An increasing number of restaurants are using hero pieces as the focal point of their products; they are no longer broken up or blended into the product – they are the focus in their own right.
Soft Serve as a Platform for Texture
Let’s look at soft serve products in more depth. They are perfect for showcasing inclusions and larger sized products have been the focus of many leading fast food chains’ soft serve desserts across Europe. Large brownie pieces are the focal point of a soft serve item in France, chunky cookie dough pieces will feature in a German QSR’s dessert line and salted fudge pieces are key to a new soft serve at a Portuguese fast food chain.
If we look at these particular products, texture is a key focus across each of them. Take fudge, for example. When fudge pieces are added to soft serve ice creams minutes before serving, there is no time for the fudge to chill or freeze, and the soft bite that the consumer would expect from the confection is ensured.
Cookie dough itself has a unique texture, and when incorporated into a soft serve ice cream the pieces are often blended up and the consumer is left with a combination of three different textures in one mouthful. First, the smooth, cold nature of the ice cream, second the gritty crunch of the cookie dough piece and to finish, the slight bite of chocolate chip.
A chocolate chip cookie piece is made from essentially the same ingredients as chocolate chip cookie dough, but is baked to create a crunchy piece – which shows how texture finishes can be so quickly altered by a simple change in process.
The Challenge of Portioning
In fast food chains, where quick service is key, inclusions must be easy to serve with consistent sizing to ensure regular delivery and reduce yield deviation.
With instant eat soft serve desserts this is quite easily achievable. Stored in a canister, inclusions for soft serve ice creams are dispensed consistently and evenly into the product, ensuring the customer receives a regular quantity of inclusions per serving that does not adversely affect the overall eating experience.
Fudge and harder cookie pieces are the ideal inclusions to work in this environment, as they are added immediately before serving and the texture of the product therefore does not change from its original form. This quick delivery method helps to operate and manage the serving size of inclusions and helps guarantee the customer’s experience with the product is not tainted.
Adding softer inclusions without clumping can be a real challenge, which is where alternative scooping methods come into their own to avoid this issue. It is also important for manufacturers to develop softer products such as cookie dough that can withstand portioning.
Serving & Storage Considerations
The key requirement for many QSRs/casual dining operators is to try and achieve the longest possible shelf life at ambient temperatures, regardless of whether an ingredient is supplied ambient or frozen.
Delivering items which possess more moisture and provide consumers with softer or chewier textures can be a real challenge, especially when operators need their products to possess longer shelf lives. One way in which to overcome this issue is to supply frozen items which remain temperature controlled throughout their distribution chain to stores. These can subsequently be defrosted and given operationally feasible secondary shelf lives at restaurant level. Packing into smaller pack formats can also ensure this approach remains operationally feasible, whilst still delivering indulgent textures.
If we look at brownie pieces, supplying and transporting them frozen ensures that they maintain the moisture and texture that a customer would expect from a brownie. Alternatively, the same brownie piece can be double baked by the manufacturer to reduce moisture content which would then allow the inclusion to be shipped and handled at ambient temperatures.
A new trend is emerging for “instant eat” dessert bars and kiosks, particularly in the Middle East, Asia and warmer European countries. Customers purchase desserts and consume them straight away, as opposed to the traditional approach of buying a hamburger and dessert at the same time and keeping the dessert back to eat at the end of the meal – potentially impairing the texture of any dessert inclusions.
Often providing salad bar type selections of toppings and sauces, instant eat kiosks and dessert bars allow customers to customise their desserts and experiment with different textures and experiences. Combining a soft brownie with a crunchy cookie piece or layering a chewy fudge piece with crunchy honeycomb are commonplace at these establishments, as consumers have no limitations on the products available to them and desire to mix and match flavours and textures into one product.
Texture combining of different inclusions is prevalent across many dessert lines in the current marketplace available to consumers. Ben & Jerry’s recently launched an ice cream topped with a chocolate ‘lid’ and Magnum has created an ice cream pint encased in a hard chocolate shell. Haagen-Dazs has also developed a multi-textural ice cream product that combines bites of chocolate with velvety ice cream in one spoonful. It’s clear that texture is a huge trend and selling point – and it isn’t slowing down. QSRs have incorporated texture into their dessert lines for many years – not least with the Crème Egg McFlurry boasting large chocolate pieces as the hero product.
Foodservice outlets are always looking for novelty for an edge over their competitors, and there’s no doubt that engagement with all the senses will dictate market developments in desserts for some time to come. Meanwhile, texture is here to stay and is inspiring key changes in the way that inclusions are used and products are developed within QSRs in particular.
In fact, Pecan Deluxe’s own history is testament to the value of contrasting textures: who knows what would have happened if the company’s founder, J C Brigham, hadn’t decided to add pecan pralines to its popular home-made ice cream way back in the 1950s? We may now have all the science and the research to tell us what the consumer wants, but perhaps JC knew it all along.