What do consumers want in a frozen dessert?

They want something decadent, yet good for them. They want something new, but that reminds them of the past. They want complex flavors, but simple ingredients.

At least that’s one way to sum up the trends that ice cream manufacturers are chasing and the paths down which they’re leading their retailer partners.

“Small-batch and craft ice creams are driving innovation in the category. In addition, as we see a return to full-fat products, there is a market for ultra-indulgent varieties,” says Julie Henderson, VP of communications for the Harrisburg, Pa.-based National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA).

More indulgent categories are definitely “getting more traction,” concurs Lisa Hutchinson, frozen product manager for Turkey Hill Dairy, in Lancaster County, Pa. “Yesterday’s ‘healthy alternatives,’ like light ice cream and frozen yogurt, are in a downward spiral, giving way to a new definition of healthy alternative, including the dairy alternative category and more natural and simple ice creams.”

Consumer demand for transparency continues to be a leading trend in frozen desserts, according to Steve Pratt, VP of category and shopper development at Oakland, Calif.-based Nestlé Dreyer’s Ice Cream. “A component of this trend is the move to simpler ingredients that consumers can recognize. Across superpremium and premium ice cream, and other frozen snacks, consumers want to understand the ingredients on the label,” Pratt says.

The folks at Unilever Ice Cream, in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., also see a demand for indulgent items, along with more portion-controlled and sugar-free offerings, prompting releases like snack cups and sugar-free Popsicles, notes Nick Soukas, Unilever’s director office cream.

Nostalgia continues to be a trend for 2016, Soukas observes. “Reminiscing about childhood and memorable moments are two reasons consumers enjoy ice cream. This year, we’ve reimagined classic favors and pairings that cultivate great memories, like birthday cake, s’mores, and chocolate and peanut butter, to surprise and delight our ice cream fans,” he says.

Kevin Riveroll, VP of sales and marketing at Boston-based Ciao Bella, notes that consumers “are looking for non-GMO Project Verified offerings and cleaner ingredients, especially as [they] are becoming more knowledgeable about ingredients, reading ingredient labels and the effect of such ingredients on one’s health over a period of time.”

Additionally, shoppers “are demanding quality ingredients with functional benefits and great taste,” asserts Drew Harrington, co-founder of Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt, in Quincy, Mass.

Aiming to Please

Ice cream and novelties are the second- and third-largest categories in the frozen food department, with $6.3 billion and $4.5 billion in sales, respectively, NFRA’s Henderson notes. “Retailers should be cognizant that Millennials index low in ice cream and novelties sales,” she cautions.

Of course, overall ice cream and novelty sales are highest from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and potentially peak with the National Ice Cream Month sales opportunity that grocers can leverage in July. And there are plenty of new products for retailers to showcase this season that play of the aforementioned trends.

The Healthy Choice brand, from Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods, offers new fudge and smoothie bars in strawberry, mango peach and raspberry flavors. “The bars are made with natural ingredients, nothing artificial and real fruit,” says Alan Brooks, associate brand manager. “They are also low in fat and contain no artificial sweeteners, artificial colors or preservatives. These bars are all 80 calories or less and contain five or seven real ingredients, most of which you have in your kitchen at home: skim milk, cane sugar, cream, natural cocoa and real fruit.”

Nestlé Dreyer’s has also been rolling out products with simplified ingredient lists, including the removal of artificial colors and flavors, high-fructose corn syrup and GMO ingredients. In all, the changes will encompass more than 100 products across the Dreyer’s, Häagen-Dazs, Outshine, Skinny Cow, Nestlé Ice Cream and Drumstick brands.

Unilever is launching 17 frozen treats in 2016 under five of its ice cream brands: Breyers, Good Humor, Klondike, Magnum Ice Cream and Popsicle. “Unilever is continuing to align with trends by expanding its varieties in Breyers Gelato Indulgences and Magnum Doubles, which now feature products like Breyers Gelato Indulgences Salted Caramel and Magnum Double Raspberry,” Soukas says.

Sanders, owned by Clinton Township, Mich.-based Morley Candy Makers Inc., has added six flavors to its “fountain-style” ice cream line introduced a year ago. “Our initial ice cream research and development was mostly focused on reintroducing original recipes and offering a feeling of nostalgia,” says Walter Pilon, director of sales for bakery and frozen goods. The new flavors are Mint Chocolate Chip, Loaded Peanut Butter Cookie, Blueberry Pie, Sea Salt Caramel, Caramel Latte and Lemon Twis-Tea.

Oregon’s Tillamook County Creamery Association has introduced a 14-favor line of superpremium farmstyle gelatos, extra-creamy ice creams and frozen custards. Flavors feature locally grown hazelnuts, ripe strawberries and marionberries from Oregon, and pistachio butter made with California pistachios. In certain varieties, layers of sauce and toppings deliver incredible visual appeal and a complexity of flavors and textures in each bite.

“The superpremium ice cream segment is booming, and Millennials in particular crave flavor diversity and dimension,” says Sibel Candemir, Tillamook ice cream category manager.

As part of its “Desserts with Benefits” propostion, Yasso recently launched three additional flavors — Cookies n’ Cream, Chocolate Chip and Cinnamon Bun — made with all-natural flavors, and containing 5 grams of protein and 100 calories per serving. “We work closely with our retail partners to identify purchasing trends that can lead to better allocation of top sellers on shelf and innovative product offerings that tap consumer trends,” Harrington says.

Working Together

NFRA’s Summer Favorites Ice Cream & Novelties promotion extends through June and July.

“The promotion provides retailers and manufacturers with a host of marketing tools and PR opportunities to promote ice cream and novelties and engage consumers in-store and online,” Henderson explains. NFRA members will compete for the New Ice Cream & Novelties Golden Penguin Awards, which recognize excellence in marketing and merchandising the category.

“We’re all fighting for shelf space,” says Ciao Bella’s Riveroll. “By leveraging relationships and using the power of the frozen treats category, we are able to make certain that our core consumers are seeing our product. Gelatos and sorbettos, along with smaller container sizes, continue to expand the category.”

Nestlé is focused on communicating its key ingredient changes to retailer partners, including non-GMO ingredients and a reduction in sugar. “We are also emphasizing the same great taste of our products,” Pratt says. “As the Millennial shopper remains critical, we are partnering with retailers to reach these shoppers through omnichannel tactics.”

Unilever advises retailers to make their ice cream aisle “a fun and easy place to shop during National Ice Cream Month, as well as year-round,” says Soukas, adding that the company “encourages retailers to ensure product assortment and category management is in line with shopper expectations.”

Harrington notes that Yasso is “ramping up marketing to drive buzz” leading into National Ice Cream Month. “As a smaller brand with limited funds, we… are doing some targeted marketing programs with a few partners to drive trial and brand awareness,” he says. “We also have a mobile marketing truck tour planned to visit markets on the East Coast, which will drive existing and new customers to our retail partners in each market.”

“Small-batch and craft ice creams are driving innovation in the category. In addition, there is a market for ultra-indulgent varieties.”
—Julie Henderson, National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association

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