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Inclusions take centre


Texture-based ingredients 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 and chilled desserts. Today, inclusions are coming into their own as the 'hero' product in many desserts.

Soft serve products are perfect for showcasing inclusions and larger-sized products have become the focus of many leading fast food chains’ soft serve desserts.

The challenge of portioning

In the fast-food segment, 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 can be achieved quite easily. Stored in a canister, inclusions for soft serve ice creams are dispensed consistently and evenly into the product, ensuring the customer receives a consistent quantity of inclusions per serving that does not adversely affect the overall eating experience.

Fudge and harder cookie pieces are the ideal inclusions 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 manage the serving size of inclusions and guarantee the customer has a positive experience with the product.

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 and storage considerations

The key requirement for many QSRs/casual dining operators is achieving the longest possible shelf life at ambient temperatures, regardless of whether an ingredient is supplied ambient or frozen.

Delivering items that contain more moisture and provide consumers with softer or chewier textures can be a real challenge, especially when operators need their products to have longer shelf lives. One way to overcome this issue is to supply frozen items which remain temperature-controlled along the entire distribution chain to stores. These can subsequently be defrosted and given 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.

In the case of 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 and Asia. 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.

Customer choice

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 want to mix and match flavours and textures to make one product.