But both categories see unit sales fall
During the 12 weeks ended May 15, ice cream/sherbet sales fell 0.2% versus the same period a year ago to $1.38 billion across channels, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). However, frozen novelties continued to gain ground, registering a 4.8% increase to $1.5 billion. But both categories saw unit sales tumble, thanks in part to lingering effects of the pandemic.
A year ago, consumers were beginning to get vaccinated but still stocking their freezers with frozen favorites that they could enjoy from the comfort of their couches, says Shannon Sherrard, vp of sales at Cincinnati-based Graeter’s Ice Cream. “But in 2022, people are getting out more, and thus eating less at home. Consumers are also cutting back due to inflation. They may be going without an indulgence to buy the basics or changing buying habits to lose ‘COVID weight.’”
Manufacturers aren’t immune to inflation either, she adds, noting that most brands have taken at least one price increase in the last year — and many have taken two. “The increased retail price is exceeding unit growth,” says Sherrard.
‘Consumers have high expectations for dairy-free, so it is increasingly important for brands to innovate when it comes to texture and flavor profiles.’
‘HEALTHY INDULGENCE’ HITS THE SWEET SPOT
“While there’s still demand for vegan/non-dairy treats, freezer doors are oversaturated,” leading to double-digit declines, she reports. In fact, many consumers looking to satisfy a craving are simply eating less of the real thing. “Indulgence is still winning,” says Sherrard. “But brands need to identify their true point of differentiation.” For many, “healthy indulgence” is the answer.
“We’re seeing a rise in permissible indulgence and frozen snacking as consumers look to better-for-you offerings that satisfy their desire to indulge while still being health conscious,” confirms Craig Shiesley, CEO of Quincy, Mass.-based Yasso. The company offers frozen Greek yogurt-based novelties, including newer items such as Poppables, Mochi and Sandwiches “that deliver a delicious and indulgent experience but with quality nutrition that provides permissibility.”
The most recent addition, Frozen Greek Yogurt Mochi, launched in April, offers consumers a healthy twist on more conventional ice-cream-filled mochi. Flavors include Strawberry, Mango, Chocolate and Vanilla.
Another player in the froyo space, Southlake, Texas-based Mixmi just rolled out frozen yogurt created specifically to support digestion and gut health. “Mixmi froyo is a healthier, great tasting, fun frozen treat that provides probiotics and fiber in a food easily eaten by the whole family,” says co-founder Kristin Harlander. Four packs are available in six flavors: Ultimate Chocolate, Orange Dream, Más Mango, Mint Chocolate, Totally Vanilla and Vanilla Cupcake.
Bellvue, Colo.-based noosa, better known for its whole milk yogurt, is also entering the frozen yogurt segment, debuting a line of noosa Frozen Yoghurt Gelato last month. Available flavors include Strawberries & Cream, Chocolate Fudge, Sea Salt Caramel and Honey Vanilla Bean.
As in the indulgent category, differentiation is also key to success in the non-dairy segment. “With so many players in the dairy-free space, we are seeing brands launch different plant-based bases and unique flavors to stand out,” reports Joelle Simmons, senior vp of sales and marketing at Alden’s Organic, Eugene, Ore. “Consumers have high expectations for dairy-free,” she adds, “so it is increasingly important for brands to innovate when it comes to texture and flavor profiles.”
In response, Alden’s introduced two new flavors that recently hit the shelves in select retailers nationwide. Dairy Free Tropical Twist is a dairy-free pineapple frozen dessert swirled with coconut sorbet and ribbons of organic mango while Dairy Free Sweet Southern Pecan is made with velvety, sweet frozen dessert brimming with pecans. Offered in 14-ounce containers, both are certified vegan and gluten free.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based Dream Pops has added Mint Chip and Banana Cream to its line of poppable, superfood-rich, plant-based Dream Bites. Like the rest of the company’s lineup, the new additions contain fewer than 5 grams of sugar, highlighting another increasingly important consumer demand.
For consumers who want real dairy but without the cow, The Urgent Company, Berkeley, Calif., is rolling out co-branded sustainable, animal-free ice cream sandwiches under its Brave Robot and newly acquired Coolhaus labels. “The new Brave Robot x Coolhaus Animal-Free Ice Cream Sandwiches are everything you want an ice cream sandwich to be: rich, creamy ice cream layered between freshly baked, decadent cookies,” says Paul Kollesoff, CEO and co-founder. Available in two flavors (Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Mint Chocolate Chip), the lactose-, hormone- and cruelty-free frozen treats hit Kroger stores nationwide last month. SRP is $7.99 for a three-pack.
FAR FROM PLAIN VANILLA
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Columbus, Ohio, is making its mark with several special limited-edition flavors, including Everything Bagel, Powdered Jelly Donut and Sunshine. Introduced earlier this year, Everything Bagel was originally offered as a topping in Jeni’s scoop shops, but it was so popular, the company decided to fold it into ice cream. Powdered Jelly Donut, a Whole Foods exclusive, debuted in April followed by the May release of Sunshine frozen yogurt, which was created in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.
New York City-based Van Leeuwen Ice Cream has carved out a space with even more unique flavors, including sweet and savory options such as Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Pizza and Hot Honey. Last month, the company introduced five new pints, available for a 10-week rotation at 3,500 Walmarts throughout the country: Grey Poupon with Salted Pretzels, Campfire S’mores, Summer Peach Crisp, Honey Cornbread with Strawberry Jam, and Espresso Fior di Latte Chip.
“Refreshing our flavor selection at Walmart stores has allowed Van Leeuwen to create unique new flavors widely available to ice cream lovers in every corner of the country,” says Ben Van Leeuwen, co-founder and CEO. “Staying true to our artisanal processes, like using single-origin coffee arabica beans from Guatemala for our Espresso Fior di Latte Chip and highlighting the fresh and nostalgic flavors we all know so well, these pints offer something delicious for every member of your household whether they like their desserts savory or sweet.”
Graeter’s is also rolling out some new flavors, says Sherrard, citing demand for three or more elements per pint. “This year, Graeter’s is on the inclusion train,” she reports. “We have tapped into ‘new’ by using fan favorites in new formulas.” In addition to already available Boldly Bearcat (mascarpone ice cream with Oreos and Graeter’s signature chocolate chips) and Mint Cookies & Cream, the company is adding Midnight Snack: malted ice cream with brownies, salty sweet peanut butter cups and chocolate covered pretzels.
Brenham, Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries is also jumping on the inclusion train. In April, it released limited edition Chocolate Peanut Butter Overload, featuring milk chocolate ice cream loaded with chocolate-coated peanut butter cups and peanut butter cookie dough pieces. “The ice cream category [is] constantly evolving and ever changing — from special dietary features to new ingredients,” says marketing manager Sara Schramm. “What’s trendy today may not always be tomorrow. But indulgent ice cream continues to resonate with consumers.”
THE PIES HAVE IT
Sherrard says Graeter’s is seeing an increasing demand for cake- and pie-flavored ice cream, leading to this summer’s test of a new strawberry cheesecake variety. Meanwhile, Burlington Vt.-based Ben & Jerry’s is tapping into Americans’ love for pie with its newest limited batch release: Cherry Crumble.
“We were inspired by spring, fresh fruit and the memory of taking a fresh cherry crumble out of the oven,” says Colleen Rossell, Cherry Crumble’s creator. “With so many caramels, chocolates and peanut butter flavors available, this is a refreshing choice with the right amount of sweetness, fruit and rich indulgence.”
As much as frozen novelties are, well…novel, scoop-able ice cream remains a family favorite, prompting several manufacturers to roll out new offerings. Casper’s Ice Cream, Richmond, Utah, debuted six 30-ounce flavors under its Fat Boy label: Madagascar Vanilla, Chocolate Brownie Batter, Cookie Mint Chip, Churro Fried Ice Cream, Marshmallow Peanut Butter Overload and White Raspberry Truffle.
“We wanted to deliver real, great-tasting, high-quality ice cream to consumers at an enormous value,” says national sales manager Colter Gerrard. “That’s why these unique flavors have a high butter fat content and are packed with inclusions and flavor at an affordable price.”
Meanwhile, Boardwalk Frozen Treats, Lafayette, Calif., entered the segment with superpremium pints under the Godiva brand earlier this year. “It is an upscale, indulgent lineup — denser and richer texture [than other ice creams] — featuring genuine Godiva flavors,” says CEO David Owens. “The Godiva brand is strong, and chocolate is the No. 1 topping/inclusion for ice cream, so the consumer appeal is apparent.”
Another company tapping into the equity of a well-known franchise, New York-based Chloe’s, is building on its relationship with Marvel with new flavors of smaller, 1.5-ounce pops that hit the market in April.
“We’re thrilled to expand our Marvel-inspired SKUs with a tangy Lemon-Lime & Orange variety pack,” reports Chloe’s president and co-founder Chloe Epstein, who says the company added a female superhero, Ghost-Spidey. “We’ve also capitalized on our two most popular flavors, Strawberry and Mango, combining the two to offer a Strawberry-Mango Pop featuring Avengers characters The Falcon, Thor, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel.”
MERCHANDISING KEY TO GROWTH
Pops, cones, sandwiches … it doesn’t matter how great they taste if consumers aren’t buying. Supply chain interruptions and inflation might be impacting sales, but Katie Cline, vp of marketing at Phoenix-based Bubbies Ice Cream, says there are ways retailers can “nudge” sales.
She recommends adding additional placements, including endcaps, and cross-merchandising with other categories to promote total meals that include a dessert solution. For Bubbies, grab-and-go freezers placed near checkout are racking up impulse sales of individually wrapped mochi.
“It’s furthering that temptation and creating the perfect opportunity to enjoy a sweet treat on the go!” she explains. “Of course, summer is finally here as well, so that invites some growth as well.” In May, Bubbies launched three varieties of plant-based mochi made with an oat-milk base, including Red Ripe Strawberry, Rich Chocolate and Alphonso Mango.