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Innovation Sparks Ice Cream Gains

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Frozen novelties register a whopping 7.8% gain while ice cream jumps 2.5%.

Despite a slight decrease in unit sales and volume, ice cream dollars were up 2.5% during the 12 weeks ended Feb. 23 to more than $1.3 billion across channels, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI. While Halo Top’s free fall continues to drag the category down, industry observers trace the discrepancy between dollars and units to the launch of higher-priced offerings, most notably Rebel’s keto collection and more non-dairy flavors from Ben & Jerry’s. George Denman, vp of sales at Cincinnati-based Graeter’s (, says that “Private label pricing increased from $2.95 per unit to $3.11, so there’s less deep discounting going on there. And No. 2 brand Breyers raised average unit pricing from $4.01 to $4.14, also reflecting less deep discounting.”

While the ice cream category is on solid footing, “Clearly, frozen novelties were the big winner,” says Denman, citing the impact of new non-dairy and low-cal/less sugar offerings.

Portion control is a big part of the appeal. But there’s more to novelties’ recent success. “As food culture evolves, we see customers increasingly seek out unique and buzzworthy,” explains Leslie Miller, director of ice cream marketing in North America for Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Unilever (


“As people spend more time snapping photos of their food,” she continues, “dessert mash-ups have become increasingly popular.” Unilever has created two new hybrid novelties. Klondike Donuts have a hole in the middle and come in doughnut-inspired flavors (Boston Cream, Triple Chocolate and Frosted Strawberry) while Good Humor Pop Tarts feature a cinnamon ice cream core and brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tart crumbles.

Yasso introduces Chocolate- Dipped Greek Yogurt Bars with a crunchy quinoa coating.

Meanwhile, Richmond, Utah-based Casper’s Ice Cream (, is rolling out ice cream-cookie combos. The company’s new ChurnBaby Cookie Cups (Peanut Butta Luvva, Cool Mint Chocolate Chip, Choco Chip Cookie Dough and Choco Chip Vanilla Fudge) offer super-premium boutique-style ice cream with a whole cookie on top while its ChurnBaby Ice Cream Sandwiches (Caramel Cashew and Caramel Cookies N’ Cream) offer super-premium ice cream between buttery shortbread or double dark fudge cookies.

Another company jumping on the cookie bandwagon, Atlanta-based High Road Craft Brands (, recently introduced Wallops!: super-premium ice cream wrapped in hand-crafted, all-butter cookie dough, then enrobed in a crispy chocolate shell. Expected to hit Walmart stores this spring, the snack-size treats come in four flavors: Chocolate Chip Cookie with Sweet Ice Cream, Chocolate Cookie with Mint Ice Cream, Almond Cookie with Coconut Ice Cream, and Peanut Butter with Strawberry Ice Cream.

Other companies are putting cookies on the outside of their frozen novelties. For example, Arlington, Va.-based Nestlé USA is expanding its iconic Drumstick ( collection with crushed cookie-coated Sundae Cones and Bars, the latter of which represents the brand’s first foray into the bar segment. Both Crushed It! formats are available in Cookies ‘N’ Cream and Vanilla Fudge flavors.

For consumers that like that their coatings on the healthier side, Quincy, Mass.-based Yasso ( just launched Chocolate-Dipped Greek Yogurt Bars layered with crispy quinoa. Each contains 140 to 160 calories and delivers 4 grams of protein. Available flavors include Mint Chocolate Crunch, Peanut Butter Chocolate Crunch, Sea Salt Caramel Chocolate Crunch and Vanilla Chocolate Crunch.

Manufacturers have also been quick to introduce novelties dipped in Ruby cacao, a fourth chocolate varietal discovered in 2017. Unilever debuted Magnum Ruby Minis in January in select retailers. Shortly thereafter, Nestlé-owned Häagen-Dazs ( rolled out two limited-edition SKUs: Ruby Cacao Ice Cream Bars and Ruby Cacao Crackle Crispy Layer Trios, the latter of which blurs the line between novelties and pints.

The brand that popularized layered pints with its 2019 launch, Unilever-owned Talenti (, Minneapolis, continues to expand its Layers lineup, adding four new classic dessert-inspired flavors: Coffee Cookie Crumble, Banana Caramel Crunch, Lemon Berry Pie, and its first-ever dairy-free variety Coconut Chocolate Cookie. It also added a pair of dairy-free flavors to its flagship sorbetto collection: Strawberry Hibiscus and Dark Chocolate.


Talenti adds the first dairy-free variety to its Layers lineup.

As it becomes increasingly obvious that dairy-free ice cream and novelties are here to stay (sales grew 34% over the past two years to $336 million, according to the Plant-Based Food Association), both new and existing players are rolling out new items at a record pace. With 25% of its business now represented by dairy-free varieties, South Burlington, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry’s ( recently took its lineup “to the next level” with a first-of-their- kind group of sunflower butter-based flavors. An alternative to its existing almond-based offerings (which will soon include 4-ounce Mini Cups as well), the collection includes “Milk” & Cookies, Crème Brulee Cookie and Mint Chocolate Cookie varieties.

Also hot right now: oat milk-based offerings. Not only does it offer a rich, creamy texture and neutral taste, “Oat milk is an environmentally friendly choice, requiring less water than other non-dairy milks,” says Chloe Epstein, co-founder of the New York-based company that bears her name ( “[So it allowed us to] move into a more decadent space while still remaining true to our core values.” Billed as a category first, Chloe’s Oatmilk Pops come in Mint Chip, Salted Caramel and Raspberry Chip, all plant-based, gluten- free and Non-GMO Project verified.

Casper’s Ice Cream is also jumping into the dairy-free novelties space, rolling out coconut cream-based gluten-free ice cream sandwiches (Vanilla and Cool Mint Chocolate Chip) and what it believes are the segment’s first gluten-free ice cream cones (Vanilla Fudge Sundae and Caramel Chocolate Chip) under its Jolly Llama brand. “This underserved segment of the population is growing every year,” says vp of sales and marketing Keith Lawes. “Offering more inclusive options gives us the opportunity to serve consumers of all types.”

On the pint side of the dairy-free segment, meanwhile, Broomfield, Colo.-based So Delicious (, part of the Danone portfolio, expands its 1-year-old oatmilk lineup with four new flavors: Chocolate Salted Caramel, S’mores, Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie and Creamy Vanilla Bean. But there have been plenty of other new entries that utilize more conventional plant bases. For example, Boulder, Colo.- based DiNoci Dairy Free ( adds four flavors (Cherry Crisp, Cookies & Crema, Vanilla Bean and Espresso Chip) to its artisan almond milk based collection, while Vancouver-based Daiya ( enters the segment with a group of coconut cream-based flavors (Salted Caramel Chip, Triple Fudge Chunk, Classic Vanilla Crème and Cookie Dough Cluster). And in the organic category, Eugene, Ore.-based Alden’s ( debuts seven pints and two sammies formulated with a unique blend of brown rice, oat flour, coconut oil and pea protein that take on the flavor profile of the ingredients inside. Another category newcomer, Dallas-based Nubocha ( is the first sweetened with allulose, a rare, naturally occurring, low-glycemic sugar with no aftertaste. Available in five flavors (Italian Vanilla, Chocolate Arriba, Peanut Butter, Salted Caramel and Pistachio), the low-carb vegan treat contains only 330 calories per pint.


Casper’s Ice Cream rolls out the industry’s first dairy-based gluten-free novelties under its FatBoy brand.

Although plant-based alternatives are grabbing a lot of headlines, manufacturers are also introducing a variety of products for consumers that follow other popular lifestyles. In the on-trend keto segment, for example, Wells Enterprises-owned Halo Top (, Los Angeles, followed Rebel’s lead and debuted a line of keto-friendly pints with 5 to 10 grams of net carbs per serving in January. More recently, New York-based Enlightened ( expanded its low-carb lineup with Caramel Dark Chocolate Peanut Ice Cream Bars and Caramel Chocolate Double Dough Pints while Unilever added a pair of low-cal/low-carb bars (Caramel Swirl and Mint Fudge) to its Breyers Carb- Smart collection.

In the low-cal segment, meanwhile, Häagen-Dazs is rolling out a new light ice cream sub-brand called Heaven that boasts a third fewer calories, half the fat and 25% less sugar than its regular ice cream. Flavors include Peanut Butter Chip, Cold Brew Espresso Chip, Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel and Strawberry Waffle Cone. Not to be outdone, category newcomer Z0Cal (, Huntington Beach, Calif., is introducing first-to- market no-cal and ultra-low cal sorbet, ice cream and popsicles made with whole milk, real fruit and allulose.

In the gluten-free segment, meanwhile, Casper’s adds what it says are the nation’s first dairy-based gluten-free ice cream sandwiches and cones under its FatBoy label, giving customers who can’t tolerate gluten a real dairy option. And then there’s category newcomer Re: THINK (, Napa Valley, Calif., made with lactose-free A2/A2 dairy and sweetened with agave. Already keto- and diabetic-friendly and gluten-free, the company’s entire 12-flavor lineup will soon be enhanced with collagen as well, moving it into the functional food realm.


Despite the focus on new-fangled ice creams and ice cream alternatives, the traditional segment remains strong, says Graeter’s Denman. And while larger sizes continue to lose sales, “Super-premium pints are on fire” – a situation unlikely to change as consumers ordered to stay home stock up on comfort foods. The newest addition to Graeter’s craft pint lineup, Brown Butter Bourbon Pecan, taps into the popularity of spirits-flavored ice cream, says Denman.

But manufacturers are also seeing growing demand for nostalgic products that remind consumers of simpler times, says Unilever’s Miller. “So this year, we brought back the Good Humor WWE Superstars Cookie Sandwich and the Popsicle Double Pop.” (It also debuts new Popsicle Twisters.)

In a similar move, Nestlé is reportedly planning to debut both Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Lucky Charms ice cream later this year, in both 14- and 48-ounce sizes. And Wells Enterprises, Le Mars, Iowa, just launched seven different pints under The Cheesecake Factory brand, including flavors like Birthday Cake, Key Lime and Salted Caramel inspired by the chain’s most popular desserts.


Sales in supermarkets, drugstores, mass merchants, military commissaries and select club and dollar stores combined for the 12 weeks ended Feb. 23, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI ( Percent change is versus the same period a year ago.

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Innovation Sparks Ice Cream Gain

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Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the editor of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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