Chocolate peanut, red velvet, refreshing lemon fig. When it comes to ice cream flavors, Kim Premo has not only tasted a lot of them, he's made them. Premo is vice president of research and development at Denali Ingredients LLC in New Berlin, Wisc. He grew up on a farm in Columbus, Wisc., and obtained an undergraduate degree in food science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1977.
What does he do?
Premo, 57, supervises a staff of five that creates flavorings and related ingredients for dairies and other customers to use in their ice cream, frozen yogurt and other dessert products. He came to Denali in 2009 but has been in the industry for 35 years.
How does he come up with ideas for flavors?
Premo and his team each fall prepare to have flavors ready for Denali's sales team to market in late spring or early summer. One way they come up with ideas is by taking field trips to restaurants, candy shops and other establishments. "You may come up with 100 ideas, then narrow down to 30, then develop concepts on the bench top and screen to eight to 10 new ideas to present to customers," Premo said. Co-workers enjoy three or four tasting sessions during the flavor creation process. By late spring, the food scientists have pint-size samples ready for the sales team to present to potential customers, he said.
Do customers have input?
About 75 percent of the team's ideas come from customers. The rest are what Premo's team concocts, which are available to any customers who want to use them.
"The neat thing about the frozen dessert industry is they've always had the mind-set of putting something new in their freezer case. You're always working on something new and trying to come up with that new great idea like cookie dough was," Premo said.
Flavors created by Premo's team that are being marketed right now include red velvet, maple butter blondie and lemon bar twist. Another is Chocolate Peanut Moose Tracks. Denali Ingredients' sister company — Denali Flavors Inc. in Wayland, Mich. — owns the Moose Tracks brand, which gives smaller dairies a national brand to help them compete.
What kind of flavors work — and don't?
"My experience is that anything with chocolate, with caramel and with nuts will do well," Premo said. "Anything outside of those arenas may have short-term success, but will it maintain?"
Premo and his team always try to add one or two more "extreme" flavors to those that are taken out to customers. Flops happen. Denali didn't get any takers for chocolate bacon chip or for refreshing lemon fig, which had a lemon "background" with cinnamon-flavored strudel pieces and fig-flavored ribbons, Premo said.
What does he like best about his job?
"When I tell people what I do, they smile," Premo said. They always have a positive reaction and comment about what a "neat" job it is, he said. And there's never a shortage of flavor suggestions.
"I always listen, then I have my own screening mechanism," Premo said.
Premo likes chocolate ice cream with a coconut "background," fudge cake pieces and a caramel swirl. "I'm a German chocolate cake guy," he said.