Swinging Singles

Portion-controlled frozen novelties ore leading sales, while traditional ice cream sags.

Grocery retailers are seeing sales of frozen novelties outpacing other forms of ice cream and frozen desserts as consumers seek greater value, convenience and portion control, yet ice cream manufacturers still see demand for indulgent varieties.

Sales of frozen novelties rose 3.1 percent to just over $2.39 billion for the year ending April 16, at food stores with at least $2 million in sales, excluding supercenters, according to data from Schaumburg, Ill-based Nielsen. That nearly mirrors this segment's performance a year ago for the same period between 2009 and 2010.

Meanwhile, total ice cream sales dropped 2.1 percent to about $3.07 billion for the same period, according to Nielsen data. The bright spot was frozen yogurt, for which sales spiked 12.7 percent during this period. Of course, this reporting period — using the latest available data — includes the winter, when ice cream sales typically slow down. At presstime, retailers were in the thick of the summer selling season, when manufacturers crank out as much product as their customers can accept to restock their freezer cases.

Indeed, retailers confirm that shoppers are looking for more convenient formats. “There seems to be a shift from larger carton sizes to individual-size packages,” says Sam Lanier, consumer and community relations coordinator at Tyler, Texas-based Brookshire Grocery Co., a supermarket chain that manufactures its own ice cream products. “In time for summer, BGC Manufacturing has introduced a new line of three flavors of low-fat frozen yogurt in pint-sized cartons. Consumers can indulge in a frozen treat, stay within their budget and remain health-conscious.”

Brookshire's Goldenbrook Farms premium frozen yogurt comes in pints with four servings per container at 110 calories each, available in vanilla, strawberry and peach flavors.

Among other retailers, Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets has expanded the availability of Fruitfull frozen fruit bars from 185 south Florida locations to more than 1,000 supermarkets across five southern states.

Fruitfull, an all-natural product containing whole pieces of fruit in each bar, is available in Coconut Cream and Mango Cream flavors in more than 1,000 Publix locations, while Mamey-Sapote-Lucuma (an exotic fruit flavor popular among Hispanic consumers) will roll out to 500 select stores.

Perry's Ice Cream, a regional manufacturer based in the western New York town of Akron, also sees a trend in smaller formats. “Mini cups continue to show growth in the 3.6- to 5.8-ounce sizes,” says Michael Brown, Perry's senior product manager.

Meanwhile, what its maker is touting as the nation's first 85-calorie, all-natural chocolate-dipped ice cream bar was introduced last month. Arctic Zero — maker of 150-calorie pints of all-natural ice cream available in 40 states through Whole Foods, Kroger, Safeway and other retailers — has launched the low-cal stick.

The fat- and gluten-free product is made with a high-quality whey protein. “A number of school districts are looking at an uncoated version of our ice cream bars, which total only 30 calories each,” says Arctic Zero food technologist Greg Holtman. The company's chocolate-coated ice cream bars are available in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and orange cream varieties, and come in 4-pack boxes.

This summer, Unilever is introducing Popsicle Jolly Rancher Awesome Twosome ice pops, offered in Blue Raspberry/Cherry and Grape/Green Apple. At 45 calories, each fat-free pop (available in 20-packs) is made with 10 percent fruit juice and provides 10 percent of the daily value for vitamin C per serving.

Regional brands are making their mark, too. Perry's recently launched Sour Buddies, a 90-calorie stick bar that delivers vanilla ice cream coated with Sour Apple or Blue Raspberry sorbet.

And Brenham, Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries has followed up its Strawberry Fruit Bars of last year with Lime and Peach varieties, offered in six-pack boxes. Made with real fruit and juice, these fat-free bars have 50 percent to 100 percent of the daily recommended vitamin C, and up to 80 calories.

Craving Candy and Cookies

But indulgence hasn't been forgotten. Blue Bell offers 12-packs of Butter Crunch Bars, a chocolate-coated stick novelty based on the brand's half-gallon flavor made with pieces of Nestlé Butterfinger candy. “This new product is a part of a line we call 'favorite ice creams on a stick,”' explains Carl Breed, Blue Bell director of marketing, noting that the line extends to several of the brand's other packaged flavors.

Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Chocolate North America is banking on candy crossovers, in addition to new varieties of its venerable Dove Bar.

This year, Mars launched three new flavors of Dove ice cream pints: Chocolate Cherry Amaretto, Chocolate Peanut Butter and Chocolate Dulce De Leche; three new candy ice cream pints: Snickers Rocky Road, Milky Way and Twix Peanut Butter; and Dove Bar Peanut Butter Swirl Ice Cream.

“Mars is committed to a category management approach for customers where everyone wins — the customer by maximizing sales and the consumer when they can find their favorite product,” says Ellen Thompson, Mars Ice Cream marketing director.

More crossovers were expected this month from Unilever's Breyers brand, with Breyers Blasts 1.5-quart packaged ice cream in 12 varieties featuring cookie and candy brands such as Oreo, Chips Ahoy and Whoppers.

Also from Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Unilever are the new Klondike Mint Chocolate Chip stickless bar and What the Fudge Brownie ice cream sandwich, plus the popular Choco Taco in a multipack for the first time at grocery stores nationwide.

Longtime Cincinnati-based local favorite Graeter's Ice Cream is going nationwide through 2,500 Kroger-owned stores in 23 states. The superpremium brand, made in small batches with the “French Pot” process, offers a dense, creamy texture in 24 pint flavors.

Blue Bell's new packaged flavors this year include Chocolate Mud Pie, Homemade in the Shade (vanilla with a fudge swirl), Coconut Fudge and Dessert Trio (vanilla with chocolate chip cookie pieces, pecan brownies and chocolate-coated cake pieces) in half-gallons and pints.

”In slower economic times, consumers will eat at home more often, which means they will purchase more food at supermarkets,” Breed says. “Consumers will usually turn towards a brand or product they trust and that gives them comfort. We feel ice cream gives consumers these benefits.” PG

A Healthy Response

Burlington, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry's, a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever, is combining live experiential marketing with social media platforms in its Summer Scoop Truck Tour to five U.S. cities this year.

Ben & Jerry's is dishing out the brand's most popular flavors at retailers, high-traffic locations, scheduled community events and office invasions, as well as offering “social media on demand” sampling. “What makes this campaign so unique is that we're having a two-way dialogue with consumers,” says Jay Curley, Ben & Jerry's integrated marketing manager. “We're giving fans the opportunity to tell us where we should go.”

When the Scoop Truck stops at a location, the staff will check in on Foursquare, which directly posts to Ben & Jerry's Twitter account. The team will then plan its next social media on-demand sampling day based on the day's response and the delivery requests of its followers. Every day, the truck will send out tweet notifications letting followers know when the truck will be in their area.

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