Baking Inclusions That Boost Products’ Sensory Experience

Bits of chewy bacon in the Breakfast Scone at Scone City in Chicago. A cascade of colorful nonpareils and sprinkles in the Explosion Cake at Flour Shop in New York City. Popping candies inside Oreo’s limited-edition “Firework Oreo” that hit grocery store shelves nationwide in 2017. In a bid to grab consumer attention—and stand out from the competitive crowd—bakeries and baked-good manufacturers have turned their attention to inclusions in a big way.

“Inclusions are a fast, economical way to innovate,” says Dennis Reid, vice president of marketing at Inclusion Technologies Inc. Rather than overhaul a recipe entirely or experiment with new baking formats, manufacturers can use mix-ins, such as dried fruits, nuts, candies and herbs, to alter a popular item’s taste, color, aroma or texture, he says. “When done right, it adds a signature stamp and creates a new product.”

And consumers are eating it up. The global food inclusions market is expected to hit $17.2 billion by 2026, nearly double its $9.2 billion in 2017, according to Maximize Market Research. And in Mintel’s 2018 global trends survey, analysts identified texture—and the sound, feel and satisfaction it can provide—as a hot trend for consumers and companies alike. “Encounters that appeal to multiple senses can provide consumers with escapes from the routine and stress of their lives, opportunities to make memories, or generate ‘like-worthy’ social media posts,” the authors noted.

“Adding new inclusions to your current portfolio can take an ordinary bakery item and turn it into something exciting,” says Smokey Water, director of culinary innovation at Pecan Deluxe Candy Company, headquartered in Dallas. “And consumers seem to be more willing to try something new when it’s ‘familiar with a twist.’” 

Yet successfully using inclusions takes more planning and tact than simply dumping some blueberry nuggets into the muffin batter and calling it a day, Reid points out. Depending on the finished bakery product, inclusions can alter everything from shelf life to size, baking process to mouthfeel. Before the R&D team hits the test kitchen, here’s what to consider.

Lavender Muffins

Organic Lavender Muffins

1. Know the Trends and Try Lesser-Known Inclusions

“I think today’s consumers want something a little more unique or specialized,” says Annie Li, a product developer with Tree Top Inc. in Selah, Washington. “Salty and sweet combinations, tart fruits like sour cherry or Meyer lemon, and indulgent inclusions are all trending,” she says. Before you start experimenting, take time to consider which type of inclusion will stand out on the bakery and grocery shelves, she says.

Baking inclusions to consider:
Chopped pecans
Mini chocolate chips
Sour cherries
Meyer lemon
Macadamia nuts
Exotic dried fruits
Cocoa nibs

2. Use Chocolate to Deliver New Flavors

Chocolate is always a perfect conduit to deliver that unique spice or blooming peppercorn that no one would have tried on its own,” says Kami Smith, of culinary showcasing at Pecan Deluxe Candy Company, because it marries the new-to-them flavor with a tried-and-true familiarity. 

3. Rethink Recipe Formulations

“If you want to include a crunchy inclusion, for instance, moisture migration is definitely a big concern” or consumers could be sinking their teeth into a soggy bit of cookie or caramel, Li says. “Likewise, if you’re adding strawberry fruit pieces in a white cupcake, you need to find a way to ensure color bleed is minimized so the white cake doesn’t become stained pink.” 

Bakers might find the most consistent results if they skip the grocery aisle in favor of trusted vendors who offer specialized baking inclusions, whether that means blueberry powder or dried fruit nuggets.

4. Plan Beyond the Bakery Item

Even the smallest tweaks to your manufactured baked goods can create a ripple effect of changes in the labeling and packaging department. To avoid allergen concerns and stay FDA compliant, you’ll want to carefully adjust ingredient lists and allergen warnings. If the inclusion resembles nuts but is actually nut-free, it might be worthwhile to make that clear on the label as well to attract would-be wary customers who avoid nut-containing items. 

And if the inclusion might shorten the product’s shelf life or mean it needs to be refrigerated, don’t rely on labeling alone to signal that change to third-party vendors. Whether the new item is going to be sold in restaurants or grocery stores, reach out to your point of contact to ensure they know the new SKU has different storage or display parameters, to avoid problems down the road.