The Prize Is Inside
By Deborah Cassell
In addition to dried fruits and nuts, and chocolate, cinnamon and maple flavorings, increasingly complex flavor combinations make nutrition bars and baked goods a rewarding treat.

For generations, mothers have been mouthing the same mantra to their children: It’s not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside that counts. This motto could not be more accurate for one area of the food industry — bakery inclusions. After all, what would a cookie be without chocolate chips? A granola bar without raisins? A muffin minus the blueberries? A fruitcake free from, uh, fruit? When it comes to baked goods, like cereal boxes, the prize is inside.
Although the holiday fruitcake is often ridiculed and re-gifted, its continued prominence speaks to the popularity of its components — dried fruits and nuts. These same ingredients have become a staple in some of today’s favorite baked goods and snack categories. Blueberries, cranberries, raisins, pomegranate seeds, peanuts and almonds lead the list of bakers’ must-have mix-ins.
However, bakery inclusions go beyond mere fruits and nuts. Cookies and nutrition bars contain everything from cinnamon chips to chocolate chunks. And more complex flavor combinations have come forward as consumers develop more refined tastes.
“The major trend has been the increasing sophistication of the consumer’s palette,” says Kathy Brophy, R&D director, Kerry Ingredients — Kerry Sweet Ingredients. New introductions from the St. Louis-based company include flavor combinations such as Ginger Peach, Pomegranate Walnut, Raspberry Lemon and Lemon Rosemary.
A renewed focus on better-for-you foods also is driving innovation in inclusions.
“A more important trend has been the development of healthier products,” Brophy says. To that end, Kerry has created products that contain no trans fat or sugar and higher levels of fiber, protein and whole grains, as well as items that are fortified with nutraceuticals. The ingredient supplier also has the ability to produce products containing real fruit and honey. Organic nuggets are another option, and a viable one at that, given increased emphasis on organic food products by retailers such as Wal-Mart.
Custom Characteristics
Demand for complex and healthful ingredients also has led to the availability of customized offerings.
In addition to offering a full range of fruit and berry inclusions that mimic the appearance of real fruit when baked, Sensory Effects, a division of Loders Croklaan, a Netherlands-based company, produces cinnamon and maple profiles in various shapes and sizes, among other items.
“Our niche is flavor customization and characterization, especially with complex flavor profiles,” says Mary La Guardia, sales and marketing manager for Sensory Effects.
Customization is key at Signature Brands, as well.
“Customers always seem to want different shape and color combinations than what are standard,” says Kyle Stenzel, contract sales and marketing manager for Signature Brands, Ocala, Fla. “Being able to offer customers customized mixes helps them differentiate themselves from their competition.”
For example, Custom Industries, a Kerry Ingredients-owned company, recently unveiled the Tropical Cookie, which combines mango, pineapple, macadamia and toffee flavors, and is complimented by a dark chocolate drizzle. The resulting health profile is trans fat free and contains less than 1 gm. of saturated fat per serving. This customized blend of complex taste, appearance and health is just what today’s consumer is craving.
Organic Options
More complex flavor combinations also define the snack/cereal/granola/nutrition bars that have become top-sellers among on-the-go Americans in search of hand-held, morning commute-friendly breakfasts and mid-afternoon munchies. Bar inclusions range from cranberries and raisins to almonds and peanuts to chocolate and cinnamon. In short, there’s something for every snacker.
For example, Barbara’s Bakery, Petaluma, Calif., has a new line of Crunchy Organic Granola Bars that are wheat-free, U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic and good for the heart. The bars also are free from trans fat, cholesterol, and artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. In addition, Barbara’s bars are considered an Excellent Source of Whole Grains by the Whole Grains Council. Consumers can choose from Cinnamon Crisp, Oats & Honey, Peanut Butter and Toasted Almond varieties.
In addition, Think Products, Ventura, Calif., has introduced two new organic snack bars: Tropical Nut and Cranberry Apple. Both products are without artificial ingredients or compounds and feature 100% organic fruit and nuts. They also are wheat-, gluten- and trans fat-free; use raw, unprocessed ingredients; and are suitable for vegans. Other organic bar varieties from the company include Apricot Coconut, Cashew Pecan, Cherry Nut and Chocolate Coconut.
“I would like to challenge all energy bar consumers to compare the list of ingredients in your favorite bar to the ingredients found in a Think Organic bar,” says Lizanne Falsetto, CEO of Think Products. “On average, our competitors have up to 30 often unrecognizable ingredients, whereas our bars feature only four to six. Every ingredient in our bars are real and whole foods.”
Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut
Nuts are a natural choice for inclusion in nutrition bars, organic or not. As consumers become more aware of the health benefits of antioxidant-rich nuts, bakers and snack manufacturers are taking advantage by introducing more products containing, for example, crunchy almonds.
For many consumers, nuts are best enjoyed in conjunction with chocolate … and not just in cookies and cakes. The sweet-meets-salty flavor combo packs a punch even in healthful nutrition bars.
For example, Kellogg, Battle Creek, Mich., this summer unveiled its new Crunchy Nut Sweet & Salty Granola Bars, which contain 5 gm. of protein per bar and are a good source of eight vitamins and minerals, including calcium. Consumers can choose from two varieties: Chocolatey Peanut and Chocolatey Almond.
“Our research shows that there are a growing number of people who love the delicious and somewhat contradictory sweet-and-salty taste combination,” says Jane Ghosh, Kellogg’s director of wholesome snacks marketing. “In the past, their best alternative was to concoct their own snack mixes. Crunch Nut bars fill a defined need for those craving a snack with this distinctive taste combination.”
Nuts aside, chocolate is by far one of the most popular bakery inclusions, as the classic chocolate chip cookie proves. Wilbur Chocolate, a Cargill-owned company located in Lititz, Pa., focuses exclusively on chocolate chunks, coatings, drops, flakes and rods, as well as a few confectionary offerings and Gerkens Cocoa Powder. This year, Wilbur also introduced a cinnamon drop that’s ideal for baking applications and holds its shape to maintain visible as a chip in batters.
“The new cinnamon drops are a means of delivering rich cinnamon flavor into batter systems,” says Scott Johnson, product development manager. “These novel drops have another benefit for bakers, as they can be used to add cinnamon flavor to breads without interfering with the leavening process.”
Raisin Healthy
Another popular inclusion for both baked goods and nutrition bars is the raisin. Children often develop a taste for this wrinkled treat when they are little, as parents consider the dried fruits a quick, ideal snack for on-the-go eating. As kids get older, their love of raisins translates into a liking for oatmeal raisin cookies and cinnamon raisin bagels, for example. Raisins are naturally cholesterol-free, low in sodium, virtually fat-free and full of vitamins and minerals, including iron and potassium. And most raisins, like other popular fruits and nuts, hail from the West Coast.
“California raisins are an excellent ingredient choice for so many bakery applications,” says Tom Payne, industry specialist and consultant to both the U. S. Highbush Blueberry Council and the California Raisin Marketing Board. “Their chewy texture provides pleasant and desirable mouthfeel, especially in low-fat and low-salt formulations like breakfast and sports bars, heart-healthy pastries and other baked goods and snacks.”
Raisins also work well with diverse flavors such as lemon, peppermint, cherry, strawberry, licorice and jalapeño pepper, as well as coffee, coconut, raspberry, almond, chocolate and other spices, Payne adds. And they can be colored to resemble a range of different fruits.
Another alternative for bakers is raisin paste, which is made from 100% all-natural raisins that are extruded through a fine mesh screen to produce course or smooth formats. Both raisins and raisin paste act as natural sweeteners, humectants, flavor enhancers and binders. They also can be used as fat replacers in select bakery products.
California raisins are a natural inclusion for snack foods since they are “nature’s original candy and one of the world’s most nutritious dried fruits,” Payne adds.
Blue Mood
As with raisins, consumers have long embraced blueberries. So have kids, who value not just their flavor, but the novelty of blue foods.
“Blueberries found their way into the earliest baked goods in this country, and no wonder,” Payne says. “The luscious, plump blueberry is one of the few native American fruits. Through North American history, the blueberry has been a staple inclusion in bakeries large and small. Sweetened blueberries are an excellent filling in pies, cakes, pastries and tarts.”
Bakers can use new formats such as the sugar-infused, osmotically preserved blueberry in mini-pastries, cupcakes, snack products and other baked foods, while dehydrated blueberries — available diced or whole — are suitable for upscale cookie and bagel mixes, Payne adds. High-tech blueberry powders work well in rice cakes and cookies. Other options include individually quick frozen (IQF), freeze-dried, shelf-stable blueberries and blueberry concentrates.
Dried blueberries are great for granola and trail mixes, Payne notes. “They work well in rice cakes and ultra-performance foods, where they are becoming a staple ingredient because of the antioxidant and anthocyanin content,” he says. Other favorite uses include blueberry-filled Newtons, Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain kosher cereal bars with blueberry preserve, Barbara’s Bakery’s Nature’s Choice Multigrain Blueberry Cereal Bars and Power Bar’s Harvest Bar with blueberries.
Whether it’s nutrition bars, cookies, breads, pastries or other baked goods consumers are purchasing, mom is right: It’s what’s on the inside that counts. SF&WB
Topping Off
No matter how tasty a baked product is once you bite into it, some consumers still judge a dessert or snack by its cover, er, topping. It is with these aesthetic interests in mind that bakers add tasty, decorative toppings such as streusel, nuts, berries and chocolate to their cookies, cakes, breads and muffins.
Children are especially interested in how food items look, which sometimes makes the difference in whether they’re willing to try it.
“One popular category is fun toppings that have kid appeal,” says Kathy Brophy, sales coordinator for Kerry Ingredients—Kerry Sweet Ingredients, St. Louis. For example, Kerry offers “toppings that change color when the consumer adds it to a high-moisture food and toppings that contain edible glitter.”
Signature Brands of Ocala, Fla. offers sugar shape decors and sprinkles — also popular with the the youngest of consumers — for use as both inclusions and toppings. Other options from the company include colored sugars in various granule sizes, nonpareils, icings, gels and glaze products. Kid-friendly sugar shapes resemble everything from hearts, leaves, butterflies, moons and stars to holiday themes.
Nut For Everyone
Peanut allergies have become as common as lactose-intolerance among children. For this reason, a growing number of factories have gone nut-free.
“A couple of years back, we did have peanut-based toppings/inclusions, but we decided to discontinue that product due to the increasing amount of inquiries we had concerning peanuts in out facility,” says Kyle Stenzel, contract sales and marketing manager for Signature Brands, Ocala, Fla.
Kerry Ingredients also has been affected by this trend.
“Although we offer several items that contain nuts, most of our plants are nut-free,” says Kathy Brophy, sales coordinator for Kerry Ingredients — Kerry Sweet Ingredients, St. Louis. “A significant number of our customers have also converted to nut-free operations. We have developed a line of nut-free particulates that have flavors and textures that closely simulate peanuts and other nuts.”
Not only are non-allergenic inclusions being used to replace nuts, but non-dairy cheese inclusions now are available, as well.
“These also have the added advantage of long shelf life and no refrigeration needed, compared to real cheese,” says Mary La Guardia, sales and marketing manager for Sensory Effects, a division of Loders Croklaan, a Netherlands-based company.
Ethnic Ingredients
It’s common knowledge that the growing Hispanic population has affected consumer taste preferences in both sweet and savory categories.
“There has been increased interest in Hispanic sweet flavors,” says Kathy Brophy, R&D director, Kerry Ingredients — Kerry Sweet Ingredients in St. Louis. “We offer a number of productions that have a dulce de leche flavor profile. We have also seen an increased interest in Hispanic combinations such as chocolate and cinnamon or caramel and cinnamon.”
“Typically, national branded products require a standard flavor profile,” adds Mary La Guardia, sales and marketing manager for Sensory Effects, a division of Loders Croklaan of the Netherlands. “However, a mainstay product such as cinnamon can be adopted to appeal to demographic/ethnic preferences such as ‘red hot cinnamon’ or ‘chocolate cinnamon.’ Additionally, as inclusions become more widely accepted by research chefs and product developers catering to culinary applications, the opportunity for tailoring profiles to serve geographic and demographic preferences is almost endless.”
Since the U. S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) started exhibiting at events such as EXPOPAN, a large bakery show in Mexico City, a few years ago, “blueberries have quickly found a place in the Hispanic spectrum, where bright colors add to the festive atmosphere surrounding celebrations, holiday feasts and even everyday meals,” says Tom Payne, industry specialist and consultant to the USBHC. “Vibrant colors like deep blueberry-blue top the sweet pastries called conchas and decorate the cookies known as polvorones. In savories, the acidic sweetness of blueberries is a perfect match for aromatic herbs and picante spices. Blueberries balance the heat of chiles and add sparkle and zest.”
The more Hispanic regions of the country favor much brighter colored inclusions, adds Kyle Stenzel, contract sales and marketing manager for Signature Brands, Ocala, Fla.