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With ice cream units and volume down, it may be time to shake up your shelf sets and try more new innovative offerings.

If you look at just the dollar figures, it seems like the ice cream/novelty categories are humming along just fine. But if you look at our chart, there are some trends you need to keep an eye on. Yes, ice cream during the past 52 weeks is up by 7.8% in dollars versus the year-ago period. And novelties are up 8.3%.

However, units are down 3.1% and 3.4%, respectively, in those categories, and volume is off by 2.4% and 3.6%. If you look down to recent prior years in our chart, you’ll see that this wasn’t always the case. So what gives?


Well, we’re seeing that novelties have been performing better than ice cream for the most part in recent years. I’m thinking that portion control may have a little to do with that as consumers seek out ways to control calories. Who among us can say they never sat down and ate a whole pint of ice cream at once, and didn’t feel guilty afterwards?

But the real problem here is that the gains in both categories have been fueled almost entirely by price increases. Yes, commodity prices have a lot to do with that. But as I walk stores across the country, I see a lack of innovation and daring.

This is not to throw a rock at the manufacturers. Some of them have really had the courage to innovate. What’s needed is for more retailers to have the courage to pioneer these new items on their shelves.

I know, I know. Pioneers are the ones who get arrows in the back. I don’t disagree. But they’re also the ones to get to the gold first. So how do we get consumers back into our stores to buy ice cream? By taking some chances (I know it’s hard) on some of these bright new items.

It’ll vary by your geography and local demographics, but give these questions some thought.

  • Do you really need that much vanilla? In that many brands and sizes? Try shaking the ice cream category up with flavors like key lime, lemon ice box, pumpkin and spice, crazy mango, and strawberry & cream.
  • Are you offering the right sizes for your shoppers today? Given the price points and ingredient costs, give this serious thought. My vote would be for more single-serve and variety packs and fewer pints.
  • Is it time to reduce the size of half-gallons? This would be a great time for retailers and manufacturers to come together and see what size runs the most cost-effectively on their lines while still offering a value to the customer. A smaller version of the half-gallon would also allow for more to be stocked on the shelf.
  • And while we’re talking about stocking and packaging, what happened to the days of the brick pack ice cream? Maybe it was not the most convenient pack, but the packaging was 25-30 cents cheaper. I’m not suggesting that we go back to this pack, but why not consider options? Ice cream in resealable bags? Might be crazy, but might not be.

I saw an interesting low-fat item on one of my store visits. It would remind you of Dippin’ Dots ice cream, with real fruit pieces and a complementary ice cream flavor. They were offered in four-packs of single serve cups. What I liked about them was they didn’t get crazy with flavors, they offered it in lemon, orange, strawberry and mixed berry — many of the same flavors you would find at a smoothie store.

With that being said, the next step could be to add some of the healthy add-ons just like you do at the smoothie store. A retailer and manufacturer could have a lot of fun with this.
Another suggestion — considering all the heat we’ve had — is bringing back in-store demos. Most retailers had to stop doing these during the pandemic, but there’s no reason not to go back to them now. Demos turn into sales, just ask Costco, or Baskin-Robbins who lets you sample almost all of them when you stop by. Just Sayin’.


Don’t let your ice cream sales melt!

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the consumption of ice cream (at retail and foodservice, but not including frozen yogurt, sherbet or non/ low fat ice cream) has been falling for years.

18 POUNDS TO 12?

Back in 1986, the average American ate 18 pounds of ice cream, the USDA says, but the most current USDA data (2021) shows that consumption fell by a third, to just 12 pounds per person.

There’s some fun history here. Matt Siegel, who wrote the book, The Secret History of Food, notes that ice cream consumption exploded during Prohibition, when alcohol became illegal and American breweries such as Yuengling and Anheuser-Busch started to make ice cream in their plants. And in World War II, ice cream was used to help boost the morale of our troops overseas. Our government even spent more than a million dollars on a floating ice cream barge that toured the Pacific delivering ice cream to our troops. That was in 1946 when US consumption was 22.7 pounds of ice cream per person, according to the USDA.

After the war the economy boomed, and with that came home freezers which allow every American to stash his or her own inventory of their favorite ice cream. But it didn’t take too many years for this American treat to meet the fate of other sugary and high-fat foods.

Thus, low-fat and non-fat ice cream was born. In fact, to the surprise of many it was a hit. From 1986 to 2021 consumption of these varieties rose from 6.1 pounds per person to 6.4 pounds in 2021, according to the USDA.

Bob Anderson

Bob Anderson

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