Ben Wilkinson, resident fruit expert and technical manager at European processed fruit supplier Cobell, reveals an insight into what the industry is looking for when it comes to flavours and fillings of bakery goods.

Selecting and sourcing the perfect fruit to include in any recipe can be quite a time-consuming and complex process, particularly with such a wide choice of different fruits and sub-varieties from around the globe readily available today. And it’s not just about that whole raspberry atop a fresh cream meringue, or that half peach in a Danish – fruit, in one form or another, meets a range of requirements and is now found at the core of a wide variety of food preparations and products.

Ensuring product consistency is almost as critical as developing the perfect product, so many of the major manufacturers have people dedicated to procurement and new product development. Artisan bakers, on the other hand, often don’t have the luxury of large development functions, so NPD can be a daunting process that is often seen as highly time-consuming and potentially very costly. However, this does not need to be the case, as some suppliers, Cobell included, provide NPD as part of a wider range of services beyond simply supplying ingredients.

By making use of these NPD services to draw on suppliers’ expertise in their specific areas, everyone - from the largest manufacturers through to individuals artisan bakers - can benefit from using semi-processed ingredients. The potential benefits are multifold: processed ingredients can often be stored far longer than their fresh equivalents, making for year-round availability; use of controlled specifications ensures batch-to-batch consistency that isn’t possible with direct use of natural ingredients; and sizes and formats can be tailored to suit an application thereby improving handling efficiency and reducing waste.

To successfully accomplish this, both extensive product knowledge and market awareness are vital, and over the past 12 years Cobell has helped many in the food sector develop products that are now found in creations offered by companies ranging from small bakeries with a flair for creative cakes through to the largest brands and retailers. Its highly experienced in-house team welcomes any challenge and can use their experience to help bakers create everything from innovative new recipes through to improvements and cost-saving ideas for revision of existing product lines.

So just what has been happening in the baking sector?

A significant development among larger bakers over recent years, particularly those manufacturing cereal bars and biscuits, has been an increased use of products like deionised (stripped) apple and grape juice concentrates as a source of natural sugars. These are used in place of added sugars, potentially making for a label declaration that is more appealing to consumers, as their awareness of added sugars and fats in foods continues to increase.

Cobell believes there is scope to extend this principle further, as the same sugar content is present in standard apple and grape juice concentrates. By carefully selecting products, particularly apple and grape, from origins and fruits whose flavour is naturally less prominent, it is possible in some applications to entirely replace added sugars with concentrated fruit juices.

The benefits of this approach are obvious to anyone who has seen any recent media coverage of the food industry in general, but particularly to those tasked with labelling and marketing – 100g of concentrated apple juice typically contains 60g+ of sugar. So a cereal bar containing 10g added sugar could use 17g of the concentrate instead, which is equivalent to over 100ml of apple juice, and in this respect it is worth noting that the five-a-day portion size for fruit juice is 150ml.

This isn’t a universal solution as suitability does depend on the characteristics of the product, but shows what can be accomplished by sharing knowledge between different areas of the food manufacturing sector. And in principle what manufacturer would not want to replace added sugar with the equivalent of a full portion of fruit, without sacrificing the sweetness that so many people look for in a baked snack?

Of course, even when the perfect product is identified, availability in appropriate pack sizes can be critical to making a real financial difference with regards to waste. It can also make it easier for production operatives to handle - and even reduce - complexity in the manufacturing process. For example, using banana purée is significantly easier than handling and preparing fresh bananas, but not all manufacturers are able to handle 1.1 ton bins. They may also have a batch multiple that doesn’t suit the standard 200L drum, but being able to offer a 20kg pack size from stock gives manufacturers, regardless of their size, a much greater degree of flexibility in their raw material sourcing. Of course, if purée doesn’t give the characteristics required, then there are various other options available. Banana chips can give an interesting variation and texture in a muffin, or powdered dried banana can give an evenly distributed flavour without adding extra moisture that can cause a headache for recipe development.

“By working closely with individual bakers and food manufacturers, we cannot only help identify the perfect ingredients but also how best to package and deliver it to them,” explained Ben Wilkinson. “One manufacturer we work with has a requirement for a juice concentrate in reasonably large volumes, but the standard 20kg or 25kg pack sizes sat awkwardly with their batch sizes. We therefore offered to supply in 23kg units instead, calculated to suit their batch multiple perfectly. They now don’t have any waste from this ingredient or the need to store any part-finished packs. It is also easier for their production team as they simply add whole-unit multiples to their recipe.”

Likewise for another, replacing lemon juice with a concentrate and adding a small quantity of lemon essential oil in the preparation of their lemon cake made a significant difference in the final product, improving the aroma while retaining the flavour and saving money. Several manufacturers go even further by using specific varieties, such as Sicilian lemons, as this can help elevate and differentiate their product in the market and so command a premium in terms of retail price.

Using non-liquid processed fruits also has potential advantages - dried, semi-dried or IQF fruits can contribute positively to a recipe while conveying a variety of advantages over their fresh equivalents. For example, semi-dried pineapple chunks retain the sweet fruity flavour of the fruit and can introduce an interesting texture while avoiding the introduction of large quantities of moisture that can create problems in manufacturing baked goods.

A couple of years ago, antioxidants and ‘superfruits’ fruits like blueberry and goji berries were really in vogue, but Cobell is now seeing a slowdown in new product developments in this area. In part, this is due to market saturation, but in many cases the premium prices consumers have to pay for the perceived benefits they deliver is just not sustainable in the current economic climate. However, NPD in general remains active and there is still a demand for something that bit more exotic or unusual. For example, a recent enquiry was from a customer looking to develop a product using yuzu – a wonderfully aromatic citrus fruit of Japanese origin related to the mandarin.

Specific provenance remains a popular approach to product differentiation – whether to add a more individual flavour from a particular variety or origin or simply to help a new product stand out from competitors with an offering that may be perceived as higher quality or more authentic to a traditional idea.

With so much choice now available, bakers should take another look at what fruit could do for their products - whether they are currently struggling with delivering a new twist to an old recipe or wanting to examine options for improving efficiencies. The right fruit can give you that next great flavour experience, and irrespective of the quantities needed, or when and where it has to be delivered, Cobell’s team of experts are available to help – just call 01392 825 400.

Cobell stocks and distributes a comprehensive range of fruit and vegetable juice concentrates, not from concentrate juices, purées, preparations and blends, all sourced from some of the world’s most prestigious fruit processors. They operate a blending and processing site in Exeter, and at any one time it holds up to £2 million of stock in the UK in a wide range of pack sizes, all ready for quick delivery. Consistency of service and quality of product are paramount to Cobell irrespective of quantity.

Ben Wilkinson and his colleagues can provide more detailed information on specific fruit varieties or NPD advice, and can be contacted by email at or by calling 01392 825400.