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Ice cream manufacturers can use flavor technology to navigate production costs
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Scooping-up savings: How ice cream manufacturers are leveraging flavor science to tackle rising production costs

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As summer approaches and temperatures across the US start to rise, consumers flock to supermarkets and retail stores looking for refreshing ways to cool down with a frozen treat.

Ice cream and frozen desserts are among the most popular items in the supermarket, with over 94% of US adults buying products in this category and demand peaking during hot summer months.1​ Frozen novelties are growing even faster than traditional ice cream, with ice cream sandwiches, bars, cones and sundaes representing more than 50% of the category in the last two years.1

The immense popularity of frozen treats – despite growing emphasis on healthier eating habits and price increases – is a testament to the importance of enjoyment and indulgence for most consumers.

However, despite its immense popularity, the ice cream category is not immune to major economic factors like inflation, rising ingredient costs and supply chain issues. Major ice cream manufacturers across North America have faced serious challenges in recent years after their operations have been impacted by rising production costs that threaten to significantly squeeze profit margins.

In a category that relies heavily on delivering enjoyment and indulgence, brands cannot sacrifice product quality, so ice cream and frozen dessert manufacturers are leveraging the latest advancements of flavor science to solve these production challenges.

Reformulating through flavor matching

One proven cost-cutting technique is flavor matching, an advanced process that analyzes the target flavor profile with the goal of recreating that flavor using cost-effective ingredients, without compromising on taste or quality. One of the key leaders in developing and refining this process is California-based T. Hasegawa, one of the world’s leading food and beverage flavor manufacturers.

“Flavor matching is a multifaceted process that combines scientific and artistic intuition,” explains Doug Resh, T. Hasegawa USA’s Director of Commercial Marketing.

“We use high-tech analytical tools to identify key compounds in natural flavors and replicate those using carefully curated ingredients.”

Using advanced gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, flavorists can identify the precise molecular components responsible for the distinctive taste of certain foods or ingredients. These specific flavor molecules are then balanced with aromatic compounds, taste enhancers and texture modifiers to craft a flavor profile that closely mimics the desired taste.

While this is often a trial-and-error process that requires running numerous taste tests and gathering feedback, experts can continually refine the flavor matching process to arrive at the perfect formula. One reliable approach is the Triangle Test – a sensory evaluation method widely used in the food and beverage industry to determine if there is a discernible difference between samples of a product.

In this blind taste test, two samples of the original flavor and one sample of a newly formulated matched flavor are randomly coded, so they cannot be identified. Tasters are then asked to identify the sample that is different from the other two, and the test is repeated in multiple rounds until participants cannot differentiate between the original flavor and the new matched formulation.

“In many cases, a matched flavor formulation can even offer a greater depth of flavor, nuance or improved top notes, compared to the original product,” adds Resh.

Flavor matching is a valuable tool that empowers brands to elevate their products and customer satisfaction while optimizing the cost. The importance of flavor is paramount within the ice cream category; according to a 2023 Mintel report, 71% of US frozen treat buyers consider flavor to be the most important attribute when purchasing these foods in retail stores.2

Cutting costs through mimetic technology

Within the ice cream and dairy categories, one of the leading factors in rising production costs is edible oils. Nearly half of all food and beverage products in supermarkets contain some form of edible oils, such as rapeseed, sunflower oil, soybean and palm oil.3

Since they are a great source of fatty acids, edible oils are added to products as a synthetic fat replacement to help with food preparation, improve shelf stability, flavor and even taste experience such as a rich consistency with better mouthfeel. With inconsistent and sometimes soaring prices on edible oils, ice cream and frozen dessert manufacturers are turning to flavor science for ways to ensure product quality and consistent production with limited dependence on edible oils.

One example is T. Hasegawa’s EmulsitractTM​ milk colloid emulsion, a fat mimetic technology that can be added to dairy products such as ice cream, yogurts and coffee creamers to deliver a rich flavor profile with improved mouthfeel and minimal use of edible oils.

Fat mimetic technologies like EmlusitractTM​ are also widely used in the production of plant-based dairy alternatives, a growing subcategory within ice cream and frozen novelties. While consumer interest in non-dairy ice cream products has continued to grow, with more than a third of adults aged 18-24 purchasing plant-based or lactose-free ice cream products, consumers crave the rich, creamy mouthfeel that dairy provides.1​ The viability and success of these non-dairy ice cream products relies heavily on replicating the taste experience that dairy ingredients provide.

“In certain liquid products such as non-dairy coffee creamer and dressings, the emulation of milk fat has commonly involved utilizing edible oils,” explained Holden Rouse, Senior Beverage Technologist at T. Hasegawa USA.

“However, Emulsitract presents a more natural and authentic taste replication. Beyond delivering cost-efficiencies and manufacturing advantages, this technology enhances the sensory experience for consumers within the plant-based dairy sector.”

Dishing out indulgence with ‘newstalgic’ flavors

The ice cream and frozen treats category is simultaneously driven by tradition and innovation, and the flavor industry keeps serving up solutions that help brands deliver what consumers want. Comfort foods have grown increasingly popular in recent years since they provide a respite from the fast-paced world.

There is no subcategory that better represents familiar comfort foods and nostalgia like ice cream and frozen treats – but consumers are looking to explore new flavors that offer a twist on tradition. Brands are catering to this demand in the form of ice cream products that blend classic flavors like chocolate, vanilla and strawberry with unexpected ingredients such as yuzu citrus, limoncello and bourbon.

Other brands are tapping into the appeal of baked treats like cinnamon buns, birthday cake and snickerdoodle cookies to create compelling ice cream flavors that are both new and familiar. Several ice cream manufacturers are even collaborating with popular 90s candy and cereal brands to create new products that resonate with millennial consumers.

These ‘newstalgic’ flavor pairings tap into the emotional appeal of foods that remind consumers of their youth. This is no small trend, with 38% of US consumers agreeing that they like flavors that remind them of childhood.4

The challenge that brands face is tapping into the nostalgia of childhood flavors while delivering excitement and even better-for-you (BFY) healthier options that offer a ‘guilt-free’ indulgence as an adult – but it comes with a catch.

“Whether it’s a shift to non-dairy ice cream, or formulations that satisfy consumer health demands such as increased protein, reduced sugar and fat, or even adding functionality – every ingredient that is added or subtracted from an ice cream product impacts the flavor and experience,” explains Resh.

“Advancements in flavor science allow us to modify foods on a molecular level and adapt ice cream formulations to perfectly balance indulgence and health.”

Food and beverage brands who are looking to take their ice cream product​ to the next level of flavor can explore the possibilities by contacting T. Hasegawa USA​ or by calling (866) 965-0502.


1.​ Mintel. Ice Cream and Frozen Novelties.​ 2023.
2.​ Mintel. Enhancing Consumer Experiences with Ice Cream Flavors​. 2023.
3.​ World Wildlife Fund. 8 Things to Know about Palm Oil.​ 2023.
4.​ Mintel. Newstalgia: Keep the Past in the Present​. 2023.

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