The Right Balance

The Right Balance
by Julie Cook Ramirez
Facing a backlash from a newly health-focused consumer public, ice cream makers struggle to keep their products relevant.
Smack dab in the middle of the second record-breaking heat wave in just as many years, ice cream makers are scratching their heads. Long viewed as a summer family favorite, ice cream just can’t seem to get out of the stable these days, despite the intense heat.
While one might expect to see overheated consumers cooling off by indulging in a pint of their favorite flavor, category sales remain flatter than flat for the second year in a row.
According to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), dollar sales of ice cream in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, fell 0.9 percent during the 52-week period ending June 18, 2006, while unit sales rose 1.2 percent — for all intents and purposes, a wash.
Processors have a variety of theories when it comes to explaining that lackluster performance, everything from the weather — “Sometimes, it can just be too hot,” says Kristen Deshaies, brand manager, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Holdings Inc., South Burlington, Vt. — to the natural maturity of the category — “We consider ice cream to be a mature market, where there probably aren’t going to be huge increases, and hopefully not huge decreases, at any time,” says Katie Koppenhoefer, spokesperson for the International Dairy Foods Association’s International Ice Cream Association, in Washington, D.C.
 $ Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Unit Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Total Category$4,025.9-0.9%100.0%1,247.21.2%
Private Label807.9-5.220.1279.6-3.8
Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand451.02.311.2135.72.8
Blue Bell252.61.26.375.10.8
Ben & Jerry’s192.11.54.862.53.9
Dreyer’s/Edy’s Slow Churned164.
Wells’ Blue Bunny111.76.52.831.913.1
Turkey Hill105.86.22.637.57.2
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, for the 52-week period ending June 18, 2006.
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
Overall, however, everyone seems to agree that it’s the current focus on health that has most negatively impacted ice cream sales. From nightly news reports on obesity and growing incidents of type-2 diabetes, to reality TV shows like “Honey, We’re Killing the Kids” and the documentary film “Super Size Me,” consumers are becoming aware like never before of the long-term effects of the foods they put into their bodies. And increasingly, say processors, they are coming to view ice cream as one of those indulgences they can do without.
“It’s become clear that consumers are more interested in making healthier choices when it comes to nutrition and diet,” says Penny Baker, marketing manager, Smith Dairy Products, Orrville, Ohio. “They’ve been inundated with all kinds of articles about the obesity crisis, so they are making wiser selections and they’ve come to view regular premium ice cream, which is the bulk of the frozen desserts category, as one of those indulgent foods that can be sacrificed.”
Granted, no one is about to throw in the towel on ice cream. On the contrary, many in the industry view the shift to healthier eating as an opportunity for ice cream makers to flex their R&D muscle and come up with creative, healthier alternatives that still deliver on the promise of ice cream, without the guilt.
“You can’t make it something it isn’t, but maybe you can find the answer in making it a little healthier or a little easier to justify in a diet,” says Miriam Erickson Brown, president and chief executive officer, Anderson Erickson Dairy Co., Des Moines, Iowa.
That’s exactly what ice cream makers are attempting to do. Over the past several years, we’ve witnessed a number of processors rolling out reduced-fat or no-sugar-added offerings, all designed to give health-conscious consumers a reason to stick with ice cream.
America’s largest ice cream processor, Oakland, Calif.-based Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Holdings Inc., got out in front of the trend early, rolling out its Slow Churned Light Ice Cream. This year, the Nestlé-owned Dreyer’s added five new flavors to the line: Raspberry Chip Royale, Almond Praline, Cherry Chocolate Chip, Double Fudge Brownie and Peanut Butter Cup, along with two Limited Edition flavors, Nestlé Drumstick Sundae Cone and Orange & Cream.
While Dreyer’s utilizes a proprietary low-temperature freezing technology to produce light ice cream that tastes like premium ice cream, sister brand Häagen-Dazs uses a proprietary European low-temperature blending technology for producing its Häagen-Dazs Light line. This year, the company bolstered the line with the addition of several new flavors: Blueberry Cheesecake, Caramel Cone, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Cookie Dough, Cookies & Cream, Dutch Chocolate Chip and Vanilla Caramel Brownie.  
Not about to be upstaged by the big boys, Cleveland-based Pierre’s French Ice Cream Co. unveiled its Smooth Churned Light Ice Cream last fall. Containing half the fat and 30 percent fewer calories than Pierre’s regular ice cream, Smooth Churned is available in Chocolate Silk, Mint Chocolate Chip, Vanilla and Black Cherry Vanilla varieties.
Meanwhile, in Green Bay, Wis., the No. 2 ice cream maker — the Unilever-owned Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream Co. — experienced such strong response to its Double Churned ice cream line, introduced in 2005 in both Light and No-Sugar-Added varieties, that the company recently expanded the line to include 98% Fat Free varieties.
Not all “healthier” ice creams have been so well received, however. Ben & Jerry’s (also owned by Unilever) had high hopes for its Body & Soul line of reduced-fat versions of four of its signature flavors, introduced last year. Unfortunately, the product failed to live up to expectations, as Ben & Jerry’s consumers just didn’t warm up to the idea of a reduced-fat Chocolate Fudge Brownie.
“It’s the type of product that people were looking for, but there seemed to be a communication challenge with it,” Deshaies says. “It just didn’t meet a specific standard of identity, like light ice cream does.”
Still, Ben & Jerry’s has not given up on the line, continuing to maintain two SKUs of the product — Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough — primarily on the west coast where, Deshaies says, “there’s a good consumer fit.”
This year, Ben & Jerry’s has turned its attention to sorbet, which Deshaies calls “another great better-for-you kind of direction in terms of lower fat content.” So far, the company has rolled out three varieties of sorbet: Strawberry Kiwi Swirl, Jamaican Me Crazy and Berried Treasure.
 $ Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Unit Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Total Category$2,195.6-2.8%100.0%758.4-2.0%
Private Label330.2-0.415.0140.9-0.2
Nestlé Drumstick132.711.
Dreyer’s/Edy’s Whole Fruit98.49.34.533.39.1
Silhouette Weight Watchers79.7-25.93.618.3-23.0
Smart Ones69.6-
Klondike Carb Smart51.712.42.413.911.9
Klondike Slim-A-Bear48.2-
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, for the 52-week period ending June 18, 2006.
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
Also embracing the trend toward healthier frozen desserts, J&J Snack Foods, Pennsauken, N.J., recently expanded its line of Minute Maid-branded frozen products with the addition of Minute Maid Soft Frozen Raspberry Lemonade and Minute Maid Soft Frozen Cherry Limeade.
While the renewed consumer focus on health may be making things somewhat difficult for the ice cream category, it just may be setting the stage for the long-anticipated return of frozen yogurt. After years of spiraling downward, a number of processors predict that frozen yogurt is poised for a comeback. In large part, Deshaies says, that’s due to the rise of the natural food channel.
“There’s a real alignment between the natural food mindset and frozen yogurt, which has a lot of natural connotations to it,” Deshaies says. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see that bounce back and begin growing in the near future.”
Like Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield Farm also remains dedicated to the frozen yogurt category. While few companies are investing much R&D in the category, the Londonderry, N.H.-based organic dairy bolstered its frozen yogurt offerings earlier this year with the addition of Raspberry White Chocolate Chunk.  Smith Dairy also remains bullish on frozen yogurt, recently rolling out two new flavors: Peaches ‘n Cream and Strawberry Cheesecake.
“I think people are going back and thinking, ‘Frozen yogurt … Yogurt!’” Baker says. “Just as they view yogurt as good for them, they are getting the mindset that frozen yogurt is going to be good for them, too.”
Indulge Thyself
Recognizing that full-fat ice cream still accounts for the lion’s share of category sales, processors have unleashed their annual onslaught of indulgent new premium and superpremium offerings. While the trend is usually to introduce a full-fat product first and then develop a reduced-fat version later, Good Humor-Breyers turned the tables on the ice cream category, rolling out a regular, full-fat version of its Double-Churned product.
Good Humor-Breyers unveiled Cyclone, a line of soft-frozen ice cream with various indulgences mixed in. All four flavors — Cookies ‘n Cream, Caramel Tracks, Choco Chip Cookie Dough and Chocolate Fudge Brownie — are available in supermarkets and convenience stores. For the latter channel, the company included a spoon under the lid and adjusted the size of the container to make it the perfect fit for car cup holders, according to Dan Hammer, vice president of marketing and development.
Häagen-Dazs teamed up with the Food Network to launch a national search for a new indulgent flavor, asking ice cream lovers to submit their ideas. A two-hour special program that aired in July followed the development process of the five finalists’ flavors and national sampling efforts to select the winner: Sticky Toffee Pudding. The favorite among consumer tasters and deemed the best fit for Häagen-Dazs’ brand profile, the limited-edition flavor —vanilla ice cream swirled with toffee sauce and morsels of brown sugar cake — will be available in stores through January.
Stonyfield Farm, meanwhile, partnered with Anaheim, Calif.-based Honest Tea to produce Vanilla Chai ice cream. Built on a creamy vanilla base, the product gets an added “zing” from rich spices like ginger, cinnamon and cardamom. The folks at Stonyfield Farm predict that consumers will “just go wild” over the new flavor.
Wild is always the name of the game for Ben & Jerry’s, and this year is certainly no exception. The company got the jump on the season, rolling out Black & Tan ice cream (named for the barroom mix of stout and lager beers) just in time for St. Patrick’s Day in March. Made with a European non-alcoholic stout extract, the stout ice cream is swirled with chocolate ice cream and topped with a foamy stout ice cream head. Consumers were initially somewhat leery of a beer-flavored ice cream, but Deshaies says it has proven extremely popular with high repeat rates.
“Once in a while, we like to put a flavor out there that really raises eyebrows and makes people say, ‘Are you kidding me?!’” she says. “It’s a delicious flavor and the kind of thing that you would expect Ben & Jerry’s to do if anyone’s going to do it.”
 $ Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Unit Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Total Category$160.9-7.2%100.0%48.3-7.2%
Private Label32.9-5.320.412.0-4.3
Ben & Jerry’s17.8-9.811.05.6-8.8
Turkey Hill14.
Organic Soy Delicious6.
Ben & Jerry’s 2Twisted5.0-
Kemps Live Healthy3.81,665.92.30.91,618.0
Blue Bell3.5-
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, for the 52-week period ending June 18, 2006.
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
Other new Ben & Jerry’s flavors include Turtle Soup, which Deshaies says “plays off the turtle candy concept.” It consists of vanilla ice cream with fudge- and caramel-covered cashews and a caramel swirl. Likewise, Apple Pie, brings another popular dessert flavor to ice cream in a limited-batch edition. The apple pie-flavored ice cream features apple and pie crust pieces mingled throughout.
Working in conjunction with the British comedy troupe Monty Python, the company rolled out Vermonty Python, a coffee liqueur ice cream with a chocolate cookie-crumb swirl and fudge cow-shaped inclusions. Another new flavor, Neapolitan Dynamite (named for the cult-hit film shot in Idaho’s dairy country), combines two other popular Ben & Jerry’s flavors, Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Fudge Brownie, in one container.
Like Ben & Jerry’s, Brenham, Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries relies heavily on rotating flavors to determine which ones will prove most popular with consumers. This year’s assortment includes Chocolate Brownie Overload, Banana Strawberry, Fudge Brownie Nut, Hot Fudge Brownie, Key Lime Pie, Peanut Butter Cup, White Chocolate Almond and Chocolate Covered Strawberries, as well as two market-specific rotating flavors: King Cake, based on the popular Mardi Gras dessert, and Delta Blues, which features sweetened blueberries, baked pie crust pieces and a blueberry sauce swirl.
“Rotational flavors are a vital part of our whole ice cream success,” says Carl Breed, director of marketing. “Once consumers figure out our program and how it works, it really keeps them excited and coming back for more.”
Novelty Nation
While ice cream makers have to struggle to overcome consumers’ concerns over overindulging, frozen novelties are already well-positioned to withstand the rough waters of this latest health craze. As portion control becomes a paramount concern, an increasing number of consumers are turning to frozen novelties as they seek to indulge in a creamy treat without “blowing the calorie meter,” according to Matt Smith, vice president of marketing, CoolBrands International, Ronkonkoma, N.Y.  
“Frozen novelties have the edge over packaged ice cream because it’s portion-controlled,” Smith says. “When people are consuming ice cream, they pull out a pint, grab and spoon, and go to town. Before they know it, they’ve had 500 calories. That’s not an issue with frozen novelties.”
Frozen novelty makers have been busy ensuring that consumers never find themselves at a loss when seeking a cool, creamy treat. CoolBrands unveiled Godiva Ice Cream Bars, based on the best-selling pint flavors of Godiva super-premium ice cream. The White Chocolate Raspberry Bar features white chocolate ice cream with raspberry swirls enrobed in Godiva dark chocolate coating, while the Belgian Dark Chocolate Bar features Belgian dark chocolate ice cream enrobed in Godiva milk chocolate coating. The company also embarked on an upgrade of its classic Eskimo Pie bars, which has resulted in what Smith calls a creamier, richer, better-tasting, textured product.
CoolBrands also rolled out Yoplait Frozen Yogurt & Cereal Bars, intended to provide a nutritious, on-the-go frozen snack for any time of the day. All three varieties — Strawberry, Vanilla & Wildberry and Vanilla & Raspberry — provide up to 15 vitamins and minerals and as much calcium as an 8-ounce glass of milk.
 $ Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Unit Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Total Category $58.5-0.6%100.0%36.0-7.2%
Pop Ice 8.9-9.415.23.2-13.8
Fla Vor Ice 6.416.611.02.2-2.0
Private Label 6.0-15.510.32.2-24.5
Bolis 5.4-
Fla Vor Ice Spiderman 5.2-
Otter Pops
Kool Aid Kool Pops 2.7-
Wyler’s 1.829.83.00.930.1
Wells’ Blue Bunny Chill 0.9159.11.50.3189.9
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, for the 52-week period ending June 18, 2006.
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
Although not typically known for novelties, Ben & Jerry’s expanded its offerings this spring with the introduction of The Cone, said to be the first packaged super-premium ice cream cone. It is currently available in two signature Ben & Jerry’s flavors: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Cherry Garcia. Likewise, Blue Bell expanded on the success of its popular Great Divide (Homemade Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate in the same container) with the introduction of Great Divide Cones and The Great Divide Bar.
Portion-control reigns supreme in the form of Dibs bite-sized ice cream snacks from Dreyer’s. Introduced last year, the line proved so popular that it’s already been extended. New varieties include Peanut Butter; Caramel, Cookies ‘n Cream, Strawberry and Toffee Almond.
Hot on the heels of Dibs’ success, Good Humor-Breyers rolled out Ice Cream Poppers, a line of co-branded bite-size ice cream snacks featuring favorite cookie and candy flavors, such as Hershey’s, Oreo, Heath and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
A number of manufacturers are rolling out kid-centric goodies. Among them, Good Humor-Breyers added several new licensed and co-branded items to its Popsicle line, including Dora the Explorer, Fear Factor and Sugar-Free Lifesavers.
Once again, portion control remains top of mind for CoolBrands. Smith cites the difference between his company’s Incredibles Cone and higher-calorie offerings from competitors.
“Mom’s biggest concern is, ‘I buy this stuff and my child won’t finish it all,’” he explains. “This is a cone that a kid will actually finish and a mom can feel good about because it’s only 120 calories.”  

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