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INFLATION DINGS ICE CREAM & NOVELTIES

New Halo Top Frozen Yogurt Bars combine real fruit and granola with Icelandic-style skyr.

Some consumers are trading down to private label or opting for family sizes, but few are giving up their favorite treats.

Dollar sales of ice cream/sherbet and frozen novelties jumped 8.6% and 7.1%, respectively, during the 12 weeks ended Jan. 29, reports Chicago-based market research firm Circana (circana.com), formerly IRI and The NPD Group. However, those gains came at the expense of unit sales, which fell 4.3% and 8.0%, though the higher-than-average decline in novelties units is due partly to the segment’s huge growth last year. What else is behind the losses?

“The short answer is inflation,” says Shannon Sherrard, vp of sales at Cincinnati-based Graeter’s Ice Cream Co. Fortunately, she continues, “While consumers may need to or choose to forgo some items in their basket, [many] still opt to purchase their favorite comfort foods, including ice cream… That is likely why there has been an uptick in family sizes and private label, as households seek ways to save money while still bringing their family happiness.”

On the flip side, says Sherrard, the better-for-you segment, including low-cal and low-carb pints, is struggling. “Better-for-you contributed 10% of pint category dollars last year, but at the same time, sales were declining 30%,” she reports. And although plant-based is a monster trend in other parts of the supermarket, “Based on sales-to-space ratio, there were not enough plant-based consumers for the number of new [plant-based ice cream] products being introduced last year.

“It feels like consumers just want…foods that comfort them. They’d rather eat less of their favorite things than cut them out altogether.”

Bubbies Ice Cream expands its mochi lineup with on-trend Ube and Mocha Chip flavors.

NEW FLAVORS DEBUT

To give consumers more of the good stuff they crave, manufacturers continue to roll out increasingly tempting new flavors. For example, Graeter’s is bringing its decadent Midnight Snack pints, which combine malted shake ice cream with brownies, peanut butter cups and chocolate covered pretzels, to a whole slew of new retailers this summer. Meanwhile, Straus Family Creamery, Petaluma, Calif., just added Lemon Cookie and Caramel Swirl flavors to its collection of organic pints. But the new “extra-indulgent” pints lineup from Akron, N.Y.-based Perry’s Ice Cream includes some flavors “chock full of stuff” that we’ve not seen elsewhere (think Fireball, Bad Breakup and Cheat Day, among others). The 13-SKU collection also includes a unique Northern Lights sherbet that features sour green apple, blue raspberry and grape flavors.

In the gelato segment, Bellvue, Colo.-based Noosa Yoghurt, part of the Sovos Brands portfolio, is expanding its frozen yogurt-based gelato lineup with three new flavors: Amaze-Mint Chocolately Chunk, Out of this Swirl Lemon Bar and Cookies & Oh-So-Creamy. Another player in the gelato space, Boulder, Colo.-based Gelato Boy, recently added Chocolate Fudge Swirl to its traditional lineup and Coffee Fudge Swirl to its vegan collection.

But perhaps the most interesting new ice cream comes from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Van Leeuwen, which has developed a reputation for wild and crazy flavors. If you thought last year’s Grey Poupon offering was weird, how about Hidden Valley Ranch? Available through the end of May, it’s one of seven limited-edition flavors developed by Van Leeuwen exclusively for Walmart. The others include Sweet Maple Cornbread, Blood Orange Chocolate Chip, Carrot Cake, Strawberry Shortcake, Honey Graham Cracker and Limoncello Cake.

Cool new flavors are also popping up in the mochi segment, where Phoenix-based Bubbies Ice Cream recently unveiled both Mocha Chip and Ube varieties. (Ube is a purple yam that’s showing up in all kinds of trendy foods and drinks lately.) Another new mochi flavor comes from My Mochi, Los Angeles, which is rolling out a Cereal & Milk variety this spring.

The latest batch of limited-edition pints from Van Leeuwen includes a Hidden Valley Ranch flavor.

Minneapolis-based JonnyPops isn’t introducing any new flavors, but it has a found a unique new way to combine them using patented technology. Awarded a NEXTY for Best New Sweet Snack at Expo West last month, the company’s certified organic striped pops deliver a different flavor in every color “so customers can mix and match their experience with every bite.” Available varieties include Rainbow Fruit Stacks, Star-Spangled Flag and Summer Sunrise.

Le Mars, Iowa-based Blue Bunny, part of the Wells Enterprises portfolio, is also delivering classic ice cream flavors in a fresh way with its new Soft Scoopables lineup. “There was a clear open space in the market to bring a new take on soft serve to the grocery aisle,” says Wells’ chief commercial officer Santhi Ramesh. “Our team developed…a distinct product proposition that’s deliciously soft and easy to scoop straight from the freezer.” Offered in 46-ounce tubs, the frozen dairy dessert comes in Vanilla, Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip and Cookies & Cream. A fifth flavor, Strawberry, is available only at Walmart.

The company also created a new Stuffed Puffs line — inspired by the popular stuffed marshmallows brand — that’s sold exclusively at Walmart. Available flavors include Birthday Cake, Cookies ‘n Crème and S’mores.

FINDING SWEET INSPIRATION

Other ice cream manufacturers are also collaborating with popular sweet treat brands. For example, Unilever Ice Cream, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., debuted seven Reese’s items earlier this year, including Chocolate Frozen Dairy Dessert, Peanut Butter Light Ice Cream, Mini Pieces Light Ice Cream, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Peanut Butter Frozen Dairy Dessert Bars, Peanut Butter & Chocolate Cones, and Frozen Peanut Butter Cups. Meanwhile, Newark, N.J.-based Mars moved closer to its goal of tripling its global ice cream business by 2024 with its recent addition of Dove Mini Sticks with Dark Chocolate & Almonds, Twix Cookie Dough ice cream pints and M&Ms Cookies & Cream Ice Cream Sandwiches.

The Cheesecake Factory at Home, Calabasas Hills, Calif., is also bringing its brand to the freezer aisle with Cheesecake Ice Cream Bars. Created in conjunction with Wells Enterprises, the premium, chocolate- cookie-coated bars come in both Strawberry Cheesecake and Original Cheesecake flavors.

Manufacturers are bringing new frozen novelties to market under their own brands as well. Van Leeuwen is “slowly rolling out” single-serve ice cream sandwiches in four flavors: “traditional” Double Chocolate Cheesecake and Honeycomb Caramel and vegan Double Chocolate Vanilla and Honeycomb Snickerdoodle.

New York-based Chloe’s is also jumping into the ice cream sandwich game, but its gluten- and dairy-free version offers another twist as well. “Everything else in gluten- and dairy-free features a full-size cookie. But our oatmilk-based ice cream sandwiches are mini-size,” making them a lot more versatile, says company co-founder and president Chloe Epstein. They’re available in both Chocolate and Vanilla.

Perry’s Ice Cream unveils a collection of super-indulgent pints “chock full of stuff.”

Blue Bunny is also tapping into the minis trend with its new Mini Bars, which build on the success of the brand’s Mini Swirl Cones, says Ramesh. Available flavors include Vanilla Caramel Crunch, Strawberry Shortcake and Chocolate Cookie Crumble.

Minis are also on the menu at Chicago-based Diana’s Bananas, which is extending its line into Banana Bites made from upcycled bananas coated in premium chocolate. “Bites speak to a whole different consumer than our original bananas on a stick,” say executive vp of sales Elisha Sevier. “They’re great for people on the go, pre- and post-workout snacking, in smoothies, etc. They’re just easy.” Available flavors include Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate.

BETTER-FOR-YOU NOVELTIES BOW

Although better-for-you pint sales are down, manufacturers continue to roll out healthy frozen novelties, which are often preferred by consumers counting calories and carbs since they offer portion control. Among the newest is Wells Enterprises’ Halo Top Frozen Yogurt Bars, which combine real fruit and granola with thick, creamy Icelandic-style skyr — an increasingly popular alternative to traditional yogurt. With only 110 calories and 4 grams of protein per pop (and less fat, sugar and carbs than conventional yogurt products), “Halo Top fans can feel good about reaching into the freezer for this indulgent, anytime snack,” says Ramesh. The product is available in Triple Berry and Strawberry flavors.

Alec’s Ice Cream offers the industry’s first regenerative-verified, organic-certified pints, including award-winning newcomer Peanut Butter Fudge Honeycomb.

Another healthy new addition comes from Dole Packaged Foods, Westlake Village, Calif., which is bringing a better-for-you version of a beloved frozen treat to supermarkets this month. Familiar to anyone who’s visited a Disney property in the past 40 years, Dole Whips for retail are made from real fruit sweetened with honey, not processed sugar like the kind sold at the amusement park, says senior vp and managing director Orzse Hodi. “Getting the same smooth, creamy texture was a challenge, but our team did it,” she adds. Available flavors include Pineapple, Mango and Strawberry, all gluten-free and non-GMO.

ICE CREAM WITH A CONSCIENCE

While the category is full of products that make consumers feel good, a growing number of purpose-driven brands also do good. For example, Dallas-based Howdy Homemade Ice Cream, which made the jump to retail last year (watch for an announcement about new flavors), provides jobs for dozens of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Meanwhile, Denver-based Sweet Action uses only wind power to churn its hand-made ice cream. And climate-conscious Alec’s Ice Cream, Petaluma, Calif., whose Peanut Butter Fudge Honeycomb pints just took home a NEXTY for Best New Dessert, offers the industry’s first and only regenerative-verified and organic-certified products, all made from A2 dairy.

But one of the newest better-for-the-planet ice creams to hit the supermarkets comes from San Diego-based Planet Based Foods, which already offers plant-based meat with sustainable hemp as its first ingredient. Now the company is offering organic, allergen-free ice cream made with hemp milk and other plant-based ingredients. Boasting a “sumptuous mouthfeel and creamy flavor,” the vegan ice cream comes in eight gluten- and soy-free flavors high in fiber and rich in Omega fatty acids: Butter Pecan, Mint Chip, Chocolate, Acai, Coconut Key Lime, Vanilla Bean, Matcha and Coffee Chip.

Novelties and handhelds are reportedly coming soon.

“We’re relentlessly driven to innovate with hemp as part of our larger vision to help build a more sustainable and resilient food system,” says Planet Based Foods co-founder and CEO Braelyn Davis. “With climate change, soil depletion and water shortages putting significant strain on our agricultural system, the time is now to prioritize hemp as a regenerative, carbon-negative ingredient.”

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the Editorial Director for Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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