Ice cream social

The summer months provide retailers with ample opportunity to promote and sell frozen treats.

Ice cream is perhaps the ultimate comfort food, generally beloved by adults and children of all ages. As the days grow longer and hotter, consumers often look to grocers’ ice cream freezer in anticipation of a moment or two of cool relaxation.

Never before have shoppers had such a wide array of ice cream choices. From frozen novelty items and frozen yogurts to traditional ice cream by the container, manufacturers continue to offer new and creative options. One of the more popular ice cream segments—trending with the times—is the “better-for-you” segment. This includes products that are, among other things, organic and free of sugar, lactose, gluten and fat.

“Consumers are more cautious about what they eat, that holds true for desserts too,” says Brian Silver, vice president, business development and strategic planning for Clemmy’s Ice Cream. “This has made the ‘better-for-you’ category a much bigger component to a retailer’s ice cream offering.”

All of Clemmy’s ice creams are all-natural and sugar-free; and with the continuous information regarding the risks associated with sugar, Silver says Clemmy’s has enjoyed great success. In January, the Rancho, Mirage, Calif.-based company expanded with a line of 70-calorie bars that contain 2 grams of fat available in four flavors: chocolate fudge, cherry vanilla, orange crème and strawberries and crème.

As the summer approaches industry observers suggest that now is a good time for retailers to stock up on frozen novelties and snack items such as these. They say that while ice cream sells well year-round, the novelties and snack segment traditionally spike in July and August.

Even as consumers look to eat healthier and save money, observers say the frozen novelties category has grow over the past few summers. They expect it to be no different this summer. There has been some shifting of eating habits, however.

“Consumers are still consuming ice cream and frozen novelties as a part of a healthy balanced lifestyle,” says Timothy LeBel, vice president of sales-grocery/value/military for Mars Chocolate North America. “Now they are reaching for variety and a portion-controlled offering that is fun and easy to eat.”

Mars, based in Hackettstown, N.J., satisfies that portion control need with its Mini’s line consisting of: Dovebars, Snickers Ice Cream, Milky Way Ice Cream and Twix Ice Cream.
Officials at Blue Bunny, a brand of Le Mars, Iowa-based Wells Dairy, are also seeing growth in sales of portion-control sizes of its traditional ice cream. Its Cadbury Ice Cream Bars by Blue Bunny are snack-sized bars that come in four flavors (Caramello, Chocolate Almond, Vanilla Chocolate and Double Chocolate) and are sold in 8-packs.

Blue Bunny is also making inroads on the better-for-you front. “Sugar-conscious consumers are an emerging segment,” says Scott Ortega, vice president marketing for Blue Bunny. “We continue to serve them with our Sweet Freedom line of products. Sweet Freedom features frozen novelty and packaged ice cream that contain no added sugar and have less calories, carbs and fat than regular ice cream.”

In 2012 Blue Bunny has increased the reach of the Sweet Freedom line with the addition of new packaged ice creams, bars, cones and fudge bars, say company officials.

Frozen yogurt gains
Also falling under the better-for-you umbrella is frozen yogurt. According to the Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group, for the 52 week period ended March 18, frozen yogurt dollar sales at food, drug and mass outlets (excluding Walmart) are up 8.2%, accounting for more than $219 million. Looking to capitalize on the category’s popularity, Smith Dairy Products, based in Orrville, Ohio, recently introduced four flavors in its Ruggles Premium Churned Frozen Yogurt brand: Sweet and Tart Strawberry Vanilla, Luscious Lemon Bar, Peanut Butter and Chocolate and Butter Pecan.

“Frozen Yogurt has regained popularity as a growing number of health conscious consumers look for fewer calories and lower fat options,” says Penny Baker, director of marketing for Ruggles. “We developed two new delicious fruit flavors and brought back two traditional flavors as well.”

Unilever is combining yogurt with a Popsicle pop, called Yosicle. There are four flavors in the line: Torpedo, a combination of purple berry, watermelon and vanilla), Layerz consisting of two flavors—cotton candy & vanilla and orange & vanilla; Duos, vanilla-flavored pops coated with watermelon and cotton candy flavored ice and Duos Purple Berry-Vanilla and Cherry Vanilla, vanilla-flavored pops coated with purple berry and cherry-flavored ice. According to Alfie Vivian, vice president of refreshment for Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Unilever, each variety of low-fat pops contains 10% nonfat yogurt.

“Consumers like to see new and exciting products in stores, so it is crucial for retailers to embrace and celebrate innovation,” says Vivian. “As the economy bounces back, consumers will seek out and try new products. Purchase drivers that were prominent before the recession, such as indulgence, vitality, premiumization and simplification, will regain importance, but it’s important to keep in mind that innovation is at the heart of all of these things.”

Not all consumers are looking for lower fat, sugar-free or portion-control options. There is still a segment of the population that wants to indulge when it comes to ice cream. For them, Blue Bell Creameries newest flavor, Red Velvet Cake, satisfies that need. According to Carl Breed, director of marketing for the Brenham, Texas-based company, “Every three months or so, we release new ice cream flavors which we can rotate in our lineup throughout the year.”

Kids scream for ice cream
Blue Bell also launched two products targeting children, 6 Pak Cotton Candy bars and 6 Pak Sour Pops—Green Apple. “In 2010 Blue Bell introduced Cotton Candy ice cream and it quickly became a hit,” says Breed. “Since sales were so successful, we decided to put the flavor on a fun-to-eat stick.”

Hood, based in Lynnfield, Mass., has introduced new flavors in its Hood Classic and New England Creamery ice cream lines as well as new Red Sox Novelties and Ice Cream Sandwich items.

There are two new flavors in the Hood Classic line, Peanut Butter Cup and Butter Pecan. The New England Creamery line pays homage to the company’s New England roots with locally inspired premium flavors such as Down East Double Fudge Browne, Mt. Washington Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup and Colonial Chocolate Almond. Starting in June a limited-edition Whoopie Pie is also available.

“Seasonal flavors are a great opportunity to capture the feeling of summer with a special flavor that consumers can look forward to,” says Elizabeth Underhill, senior marketing manager for Hood. “Consumers are always looking for new and different ice cream flavors and it is very important to bring new products to them.”

This summer, along with the new flavors, Hood is promoting its New England Creamy line with a “Tour of New England” contest. Underhill says that when consumers purchase select New England Creamery Ice Cream flavors they can win a weekend getaway to a New England Creamery-inspired destination.

Through September a Blue Bunny sampling tour featuring the Cadbury Ice Cream Bars will visit 600 retail store locations. The tour features customized Mini Coopers in order to generate excitement for the brand. “We also increased national advertising coverage on several product lines to help build consumer excitement and pull in support of in-store activities,” says Ortega.

Coinciding with Mars’ introduction of its Dovebar Mint Swirl Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate and Milky Way Chocolate Ice Cream bar, Mars Ice Cream is partnering with Mars Chocolate for the “Summer Movie Mania” event. LeBel says consumers will have a chance to win movie tickets when they buy specially marked packages of Mars Ice Cream and Mars Chocolate, including Snickers, M&M’s Twix, 3 Musketeers, Milky Way and Dove brands. The program is supported with coupons, displays, in-store signage, an FSI and print advertising.

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