Frozen dessert manufacturers weigh consumers’ desire for healthier products against demand for great taste and indulgence.
Summertime traditionally conjures up images of cheering on a favorite team at the baseball park, swimming at the lake, hitting the open road on a family vacation and scooping up some cold, refreshing ice cream on a hot day.
This year, however, sky-high gas prices have made it prohibitively expensive for many Americans to stray very far from home, and escalating ingredients costs have forced many consumers to cut back even on one of the most simple summertime joys.
“Ice cream is not a necessary evil,” says Dennis Roberts, sales manager, Foster Farms Dairy, Modesto, Calif. “Except for those who have the expendable income to spend on feel-good sorts of products, ice cream is often one of the first things to go when prices rise.”
That appears to be exactly what’s happening. According to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), packaged ice cream sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, fell 1.8 percent in dollars and 1.5 percent in units during the 52-week period ending May 16, 2004.
Given the current economic conditions and the ice cream category’s pricing issues, one might expect a more significant decline in sales. But consumers aren’t about to give up ice cream altogether, according to Molly Murphy, marketing and sales director, Quality Chekd Dairy Association, Naperville, Ill. Instead, they have merely become more price-conscious, watching the weekly specials and shopping for bargains.
“When people have excess cash, they are going to buy the premium product,” Murphy says. “When they don’t, they are not going to deny themselves the treat, but they are going to look at the lesser brands or whatever’s on sale.”
One contributing factor that is surely keeping ice cream sales from hitting the deep freeze is the low-carbohydrate craze. While dieters of yore might have passed up ice cream due to its high fat content, Atkins and South Beach devotees care less about how many fat grams a product contains, but more how many carbs. Consequently, many ice cream manufacturers have taken advantage of the trend, developing low-carb products, with most using artificial sweeteners like Splendabrand sucralose in place of sugar.
“It’s really taken the market by storm,” says Walt Freese, chief marketing officer, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream Inc., South Burlington, Vt. “The companies and brands that have been able to react most quickly and have been most responsive to evolving consumer needs are really going to win this year.”
Seeking to earn themselves a spot in the “win” column, Ben & Jerry’s introduced Carb Karma, a line of low-carb super-premium ice cream pints. Guaranteed to “stimulate your mind, satisfy your belly and soothe your soul,” Carb Karma was developed in response to consumer requests for a low-carb product that still offers the same great Ben & Jerry’s taste.
According to Freese, that challenge tested the company’s R&D team, but he says the resulting product does indeed deliver on Ben & Jerry’s taste promise while bringing quality and innovation to a new segment. Containing 2 to 5 grams of net carbs per serving, Carb Karma made its debut in three flavors – Chocolate, Half-Baked and Vanilla Swiss Almond.
In Cleveland, meanwhile, developing a low-carb ice cream without losing the signature taste and texture of its super-premium counterpart didn’t pose much of a challenge for Pierre’s French Ice Cream Co., according to John Pimpo, assistant marketing manager. His company rolled out Splenda-sweetened Carb Success No Sugar Added Ice Cream in both Chocolate and Vanilla varieties. Sold in 1.75-quart scround containers, Carb Success features 3 grams of net carbohydrates per half-cup serving.
Green Bay, Wis.-based Good Humor-Breyers introduced its own line of Splenda-sweetened low-carb ice creams novelties under the company’s CarbSmart banner. Also sold in 1.75-quart scrounds, each flavor boasts 4 grams of net carbs per serving. Varieties are Butter Pecan, Chocolate, Rocky Road, Vanilla, Mint Chocolate Chip, Strawberry and Chocolate Almond.
And this past May, Good Humor-Breyers announced the launch of what it claims is the first zero net-carb ice cream and frozen novelties. With 20 calories each, CarbSmart Creamsicle bars sweetened with Splenda and other sweeteners – come in mixed boxes of orange and mixed berry varieties.
Brenham, Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries rolled out Crème de Carb, a pint-sized low-carb ice cream containing 4 grams of net carbs per serving. Sweetened with Splenda, Crème de Carb is available in Vanilla, Chocolate and Moo-llennium Crunch varieties. In Le Mars, Iowa, Wells’ Dairy Inc. unveiled a full line of Blue Bunny Carb Freedom ice creams in such flavors as Mint Chip, Butter Pecan and Vanilla Bean.
Meanwhile, Minneapolis-based Marigold Foods launched its Carb Promise line. The Splenda-sweetened ice cream features 3 to 4 net carbs per serving and is available in Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, Butter Pecan, Cow Tracks, Vanilla, Toffee Fudge Chunk and Vanilla Fudge Nut Sundae varieties.
Syracuse, N.Y.-based Byrne Dairy recently introduced Carb Sense ice cream. Available in half-gallons, the low-carb line features four flavors: Vanilla Dream – vanilla bean ice cream; Mint Chip Chiffon – mint ice cream with dark chocolate flakes; Peanut Butter Pleasure – vanilla ice cream with peanut butter cups and a peanut butter swirl; and Berry Bliss – black raspberry ice cream with red raspberry swirl.
While any on-package mention of reduced carb count is sure to attract the carb-conscious consumer’s eye, the name “Atkins” almost guarantees it. So far, two ice cream manufacturers have managed to snag the official Atkins license for low-carb super-premium ice cream products.
First, Lakewood, NJ.-based Mister Cookie Face launched Atkins Endulge ice cream in portion-controlled cups. Then, Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based CoolBrands International Inc. rolled out Endulge pint flavors and novelties.
“Atkins had been looking to establish their brand across many food categories as rapidly as possible, given that the way was continuing to rise as far as participation and that the credibility of that lifestyle has been endorsed over and over,” says Matt Smith, CoolBrands vice president of marketing. “We’ve always had our finger on the pulse of what consumers really go for, so we aggressively went after that license.”
Each offering in the CoolBrands Endulge line features 3 net carbs per serving. Current varieties include Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl, Vanilla Swiss Almond, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Vanilla Fudge Swirl, Chocolate, Butter Pecan and Mint Chocolate Chip. According to Smith, they offer consumers “the best of both worlds” in that they bring down the sugar but maintain 16 percent butterfat content, ensuring the product’s great taste.
Down But Not Out
For those seeking to reduce their intake of both carbs and fat, Good Humor-Breyers recently introduced Splenda-sweetened Breyers CarbSmart Frozen Yogurt. While it seems natural that health-conscious consumers would be flocking to frozen yogurt, particularly in light of the current market conditions and diet trends, apparently this has not been the case.
“As ice cream suffers due to a combination of the increased prices and the closer look people are taking at their diets, you would expect frozen yogurt to have a little bit of a bump out of this because it has less fat and calories,” says Erik Drake, product manager for desserts, Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H. “But yet again, it’s soft and going down.”
Indeed, frozen yogurt sales continue their downward spiral, falling 8.5 percent in dollars and 7.8 percent in units, according to IRI. Freese believes the continued decline in the frozen yogurt category say less about frozen yogurt itself than it does about the emergence of a wealth of other better-for-you frozen desserts.
“It used to be if somebody was concerned about healthier options, they would gravitate toward lowfat frozen yogurt,” he says. “Now, they’ve got increased availability of low-carb and no-sugar-added ice creams and sorbets and a whole host of other products.”
While overall frozen yogurt category sales are down, both Ben & Jerry’s and Stonyfield report strong consumer interest in their frozen yogurt lines. Stonyfield claims to have experienced a 20 percent increase in frozen yogurt sales during 2003, while Ben & Jerry’s says its frozen yogurts typically perform well.
According to Freese, that’s primarily because consumers are surprised to find that the frozen yogurt version of a popular flavor, such as Cherry Garcia, tastes remarkably similar to the original ice cream. And, he says, that just may be the secret to turning around the faltering category. “If you produce a truly indulgent product, something that delivers on taste and texture and is better-for-you, then consumers will buy it,” he says.
Processors are answering that demand in a number of ways, including the introduction of reduced-fat and no-sugar-added products. Foster Farms, for example, just introduced a three-item line – Strawberry Swirl, Vanilla, and Fudge Swirl – of no-sugar-added ice cream in half-gallon squares. Ben & Jerry’s, meanwhile, unveiled two no-sugar-added ice creams – New York Super Fudge Chunk and Strawberry – as well as three Light Ice Cream flavors – Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Vanilla and Chocolate Mint & Cookies.
Oakland, Calif.-based Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream introduced a new version of its Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand Light, made with a new slow-churning process, which stretches fat molecules in a way that make lowfat frozen products taste more like their superpremium counterparts. Dreyer’s chief executive officer Gary Rogers describes the process as a high-pressure/low-temperature freezing technology.
Although the resulting product contains half the fat and one-third of the calories of regular Dreyer’s/Edy’s ice cream, the company reports that nearly eight out of 10 consumers participating in blind national taste tests believed it was either a full-fat premium or superpremium ice cream.
Good Humor-Breyers unveiled a number of new, “health claim” products this year, including Breyers 98% Fat Free No Sugar Added Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream. According to the company, it’s the first ice cream on the market that’s both has no added sugar and is 98 percent fat-free. The company also introduced what it calls the “first 98 percent fat-free frozen yogurt in the health claim category.” Breyers All Natural 98% Fat Free Frozen Yogurt is sold in two flavors – Vanilla and Vanilla/Chocolate/Strawberry – and contains 1.5 grams of fat and 120 calories per half-cup serving.
The company also improved the texture of its Breyers All Natural Fruit Sherbet. Available in both Orange and Rainbow varieties, Breyers All Natural Fruit Sherbet contains 1.5 grams of fat per serving.
“The opportunity in ‘health claim’ has not reached its full potential, and there is still more that can be done,” says Dan Hammer, vice president of marketing and development at Good Humor-Breyers. “Developing products that deliver on consumers’ desire for healthier products but that still meet their desire for great taste will continue to be a key catalyst to category growth.”
Room for Indulgence
That’s not to suggest that consumers have lost their taste for all-out, full-fat, full-sugar ice cream. On the contrary, processors report that premium and superpremium offerings continue to drive the category.
“Ice cream is comfort food, so when you want ice cream, you want something that’s high fat, creamy and delicious,” says Steven Rubin, owner of Lee’s Ice Cream, Owings Mills, Md.
Rubin is putting his money where his mouth is, as Lee’s focuses its efforts on growing distribution of its “fresh baked” superpremium ice cream, featuring chunks of Claudia’s Kitchen desserts, such as gourmet cookies, cakes and pies. Numerous varieties are currently available, including Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie, Mint Brownie, Coffee Chocolate Pecan Cookie and Cookie Dough. Other Lee’s ice cream flavors include Strawberry, Banana Chocolate Chip, Butter Pecan, Cherry Vanilla, Caramel Truffle Swirl, Old Fashioned Chocolate Chip and Death by Chocolate.
“The frozen dessert category is extremely cluttered, and it’s getting harder and harder for brands to differentiate themselves, especially in light of the price wars at the shelf,” says Sandy Kelly, director of marketing, Shamrock Farms, Phoenix. “Consumers are looking for deals, but they are still looking for products that appeal to their indulgent side and yet, may still have the option for healthier fare at the same time. That’s where product innovation comes in.”
As part of its commitment to the nonpartisan voter registration organization Rock The Vote, Ben & Jerry’s rolled out a new flavor, Primary Berry Graham. The company has dubbed the flavor “America’s first democratically elected ice cream” because its name was chosen from among 70,000 suggestions from America Online users. Other new additions include three new Limited Batch flavors – Dublin Mudslide, Di’s Candy Drawer and Peanut Butter Cookie Dough – and a flavor that’s making the transition from Limited Batch to regular SKU, Oatmeal Cookie Chunk.
“We need to challenge ourselves to be more innovative and look at opportunities to create more options and healthier options for people within the category,” says Freese. “At the same time, we can’t neglect the joy and the indulgence, which is what the majority of people continue to come to ice cream for. We need to do both well.”
Ranked 25th among the 101 fastest-growing franchises by Entrepreneur magazine, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Cold Stone Creamery prides itself on selling ice cream that’s custom-made daily on a frozen granite stone. The company produces a variety of super-premium ice creams, blended with an assortment of mix-ins like fruits, candies, nuts and traditional toppings.
The company’s decadent creations have equally creative titles, including Cherry Cake Double Take, Mud Pie Mojo, Nights in White Chocolate, Cookie Doughn’t You Want Some and At the Cocoa Banana Cabana.
Company communications manager Kevin Donnellan also claims Cold Stone was the first company to introduce cake batter-flavored ice cream, a flavor that some in the industry have predicted to be “the next cookie dough.”
“It tastes like you’re licking the bowl,” he says. “It’s a unique and indulgent flavor with a very smooth and creamy consistency.”
For a growing number of ice cream manufacturers, the burgeoning Hispanic-American community presents both opportunities and challenges. Blue Bell recently introduced a full line of “Southwest Flavors,” including Naranja y Pina (Orange Pineapple); Fiesta de Frutas (Celebration of Fruits) and Dos Amigos, a Mexican vanilla ice cream with Mexican chocolate swirl. While possibilities for new Hispanic-oriented products are plentiful, the challenge lies in finding effective ways of reaching out to this increasingly important segment of the market.
“We’ve got to participate in their radio, in their papers, in the communities where they live and in the activities they enjoy,” says Quality Chekd’s Murphy. “We’ve got to go to them versus asking them to come to us and fit into our glass slipper.”
Naturally, with any new product rollout, even the largest R&D budget in the world won’t do any good if consumers aren’t ultimately made aware of the resulting products. Unfortunately, all too often, Murphy says, processors fail to recognize the value of sampling and other in-store opportunities.
“There’s a ton of ice cream out there, so the challenge is, how do you get them to try the new flavor?” she says. “You’ve got to promote it and get them to try it. Get in the store or go to a county fair and give them samples. Whatever it takes, do it.”
Copyright Stagnito Publishing Aug 2004
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved