When consumers look to satisfy their cravings for ice cream this year they will find more great-tasting light and better-for-you choices than ever. They will also find convenience, with bite-sized frozen dessert forms that allow real on-the-go enjoyment.

When consumers look to satisfy their cravings for ice cream this year they will find more great-tasting light and better-for-you choices than ever. They will also find convenience, with bite-sized frozen dessert forms that allow real on-the-go enjoyment. Yes, there are other trends evident in 2006, such as individualism, and yes, indulgence still has its place, and the trend toward exotic and ethnic flavors continues to flourish. But looking at ice cream's big picture this year, one might be reminded of a 1960 Frank Sinatra recording. "Nice ‘n' easy does it," Old Blue Eyes crooned on an arrangement by Nelson Riddle. In 2006 it seems "Light ‘n' easy does it every time," at least for frozen dessert marketers.

The idea of a better light ice cream is not brand new, of course. For years ice cream makers have worked to make their light offerings taste better. In 2004 a slew of low-carb ice cream products emerged, using alternative sweeteners to reach the faddish disciples of the Adkins and South Beach diets. But that same year, Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, Oakland, Calif., ignored the trend while tackling the better-for-you problem from a different angle. Dreyer's applied a decades-old technology of ultra low temperature extrusion to come up with an ice cream that contains less fat and less calories while offering a mouthfeel and taste that's remarkably similar to premium. Dreyer's used the term Slow Churned, as it applied the technology to its entire Dreyer's Light and Edy's Light lines which were already market leaders. Add a few million dollars in advertising, and sales skyrocketed.

Two years later, the low-carb revolution has been put down, and sales of low-carb ice cream may soon be melting down to a few dribbles.

"Consumers are still very interested in light, no-sugar-added and reduced fat foods, but they are tired of typical ‘diet' foods," says Jason Glover, a marketing mgr. with Wells Dairy's Blue Bunny brand. "These consumers still want products that are premium and indulgent in quality and taste, just tailored for their diet need.

"Another trend we're seeing is convenience," Glover says. "People are starved for time and want products which are convenient."

Everyone's churning

A handful of Dreyer's competitors have launched products with names like Double Churned and Home Churned, an even wider range of introductions simply involve a similar type of product-light ice cream that doesn't taste light. Some of these are made with a similar freezing technology and some may take the route of new ingredient technologies that suppliers say can achieve the same results.

But certainly better light ice cream is not the only game in town this year. Blue Bell Creamery, Brenham, Texas, will introduce 10 new flavors in 2006.

"That's the most we've ever done in one year, that I can remember," says Carl Breed, Blue Bell's dir. of marketing. "Of these 10, most will be company-wide flavors, some will be market-specific flavors and others will be Southwest flavors."

Blue Bell's Southwest line is made up of Hispanic or Latin American-inspired flavors with broad appeal. Here's an example of what's coming from Brenham:

Hot Chocolate, is a creamy milk chocolate ice cream loaded with miniature marshmallows, dark chocolate shavings and a rich marshmallow sauce swirl. Chocolate Brownie Overload, is luscious, dark chocolate ice cream containing chocolate peanut butter brownies, flakes of dark chocolate, roasted almonds, chopped pecans and walnuts surrounded by a caramel sauce and a whipped topping swirl. Lemon Ice Box Pie offers sweet and tangy lemon ice cream blended with crunchy graham cracker crust pieces and a whipped topping swirl. The Mardi Gras-inspired King Cake is a tasty cinnamon cake-flavored ice cream containing pieces of cinnamon pastry and a colorful sweet vanilla icing swirl with festive candy sprinkles in shades of purple, green and gold.

Blue Bell is also reformulating, repackaging and relaunching its ice cream cone line to include a four pack of Vanilla Cones and a four pack of Great Divide Cones. The Great Divide cone is the latest extension in the popular half-vanilla/half-chocolate line.

"Both of these cone flavors will consist of better, denser ice cream with lower overrun," Breed says. "Also, we have reformulated our chocolate coating used in both cones for a richer chocolate taste."

Perry's Ice Cream, Akron, N.Y., rolled out a new line of light ice cream in the fall which it says tastes more like premium. Flavors include Chocolate, Raspberry Chip, Crème Brulee and Panda Paws. All contain half the fat of Perry's premium line, and half-cup servings provide 110-130 calories.

"If you can deliver all the taste with half the fat and fewer calories, consumers will buy it," says Michael Brown, sr. product mgr. at Perry's.

Blue Bunny is introducing a new line of Premium Light ice cream it says features the great taste of Blue Bunny ice cream with (you guessed it) half the fat and fewer calories.

"Consumers are switching to a moderation approach in dieting, and light ice cream is a perfect solution," says Adam Baumgartner, marketing mgr. for Blue Bunny's better-for-you lines. "However, they still want light ice cream to taste great and in fun flavors, so we're launching eight light ice cream flavors unique to the segment."

These include Bunny Tracks®, Premium Light Butter Pecan, Premium Light Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake, and Premium Light Peanut Butter Fudge.

When it comes to choices tailored to individual diet concerns, it is possible that nobody does it better than Good Humor-Breyer's, Green Bay, Wis. The Breyer's division offers several distinct lines of better-for-you products under the Smart Eating umbrella. These include Sugar Smart, Heart Smart, Cal Smart and Carb Smart. And when consumers visit the Pick a Product section of the GH-B website, they can specify one of eight different dietary preferences including Kosher and lactose free.

The All Natural Light line comes in packaging with a "half the fat" message and the "Double Churned Extra Creamy" logo on the label.

Meanwhile, Dreyer's will add some new flavors to the Dreyer's/Edy's Grand Light line this year. It already offers more than 25 including limited seasonals and eight that are no-sugar-added.

Meanwhile, Dreyer's will add some new flavors to the Dreyer's/Edy's Grand Light line this year. It already offers more than 25 including limited seasonals and eight that are no-sugar-added.

Dreyer's will also roll out two new low-fat ice cream cones in The Skinny Cow® line that the company says "may put competing ice cream snacks out to pasture." With just 150 calories and three grams of fat, the new Skinny Cow Vanilla Caramel and Chocolate Fudge cones are rich and rewarding, without excess fat and calories.

"The Skinny Cow brand philosophy is simple. We're all about ice cream snacks that have a decadent flavor and creamy mouthfeel, with none of the disappointing qualities of so many other reduced fat and low calorie ice cream products," says Vicki Isip, senior brand mgr. of The Skinny Cow at Dreyer's. "The brand has been a long-time, secret treat of health-conscious people who believe that loving ice cream is an important part of living life."

The new cones join an extensive line-up of The Skinny Cow freezer snacks, including 12 flavors of ice cream sandwiches and six bars in three healthy formulations - low fat, fat-free and no sugar added. The line is known for innovative frozen treats such as the Vanilla & Strawberry Sorbet Swirl Bar and the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwich.

That's so easy

In 2004 it almost got lost in the excitement over the new Grand Light, but at the same time Dreyer's unveiled its Slow Churned campaign, it also introduced Dibs, a bite-sized chocolate coated ice cream treat. One package format fits in a cup holder.

Seems like Dreyer's has the Midas touch lately, as BrandWeek reported recently that the introduction has been so successful, Nestlé (can we now call the combined company that again?) will spend $25 million starting this spring on an ad campaign with the tag line "The next little thing in ice cream."

BrandWeek says a Chicago firm developed the campaign which will focus on Dibs' portability, and no-mess attributes, and that it will coincide with the introduction of five new Dibs flavors.

Citing IRI data, the advertising and marketing publication said the Dibs line racked up $40 million in sales in its first six months to become the No. 13 novelty brand. By contrast, Breyer's Klondike posted $45 million in sales for the entire year ending Nov. 27.

New Flavors will include Caramel, Peanut Butter and Toffee Almond. The C-store and impulse line will get a new mint flavor this month.

Wells' Blue Bunny will also offer more convenience this year.

"This is a big area we continue to focus on, and we're trying to provide consumers with quick, easy and delicious solutions," says Wells' Glover. "An example would be our new Bite Sized miniature ice cream candy bars. These new treats are perfect for ‘on-the-go' people that just want to grab a quick bite." These individually-wrapped Mini Bars come in boxes of 15 and retail for $3.79 per carton. Bite Sized combine delicious Blue Bunny ice cream with candy pieces for two decadent treats:

Bite Sized Take 5™ features peanut butter ice cream topped with caramel, peanuts and caramel-coated pretzels covered in Hershey's® milk chocolate. Bite Sized Caramel Sundae features vanilla ice cream topped with caramel and peanuts and covered in smooth milk chocolate.

Wells says it is answering a desire for individualized products as well as convenience with its new Personals line. Personals are 8oz (1/2 pints) of Premium Blue Bunny Ice Cream. Wells' describes it as the perfect serving for one person.

"People want individual solutions for their needs," Glover says. "People are tired of the one size fits all mentality and are looking for products they feel are designed just for them. And we feel the Personals line answers that concern."

Indulge me

Indulgence is certainly not dead. Ben and Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs continue to be two of the best performing brands in the ice cream aisle. Breyer's continues to offer several lines of indulgent products including flavor concepts and co-branded candy bar flavors.

In 2005, Dreyer's applied its low temperature technology to its Haagen-Dazs line and introduced seven flavors of Haagen-Dazs Light ice cream. In May Haagen-Dazs will expand the line to include seven more heavenly flavors with 50% less fat than the original:

Caramel Cone, Dutch Chocolate Chip, Cookie Dough, Cookies & Cream, Vanilla Caramel Brownie, Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Blueberry Cheesecake.

Nestlé will also introduce Mayan Chocolate in the Haagen-Dazs line, an ice cream inspired by the ancient Mayan recipe for drinking chocolate that combines a smooth dark chocolate with a hint of sweet cinnamon.

All of the new ice cream flavors will be available nationwide by June, Nestlé says.

Additionally, the Haagen-Dazs line of ice cream bars is expanding this month. The new Mint Ice Cream Bar consists of silky smooth ice cream infused with fragrant peppermint oils dipped in a sophisticated dark chocolate coating.

In January Dairy Fresh Farms Inc., of Canada said it plans to introduce in the U.S. market this summer a decadent line of ice cream with no saturated fat. In Canada, the company is already marketing a similar milk product that replaces milk fat with canola oil.

Smith Dairy, Orrville, Ohio, keeps its lineup fresh through its annual program of releasing Ruggles Premium Ice Cream Limited Editions and seasonal Grandma Ruggles Premium Pie Flavors. In 2006, Smith Dairy will stock grocers' freezers with its new Black Raspberry Chip Ice Cream, in June through August, and its new Chocolate Truffle Ice Cream, a rich chocolate ice cream with white chocolate chips, chocolate truffles, and a chocolate swirl, in September through October.

Smith Dairy will keep its Ruggles frozen novelties lineup fresh, too, with the addition of seven new products, for a total of 16.

"Novelties are the shining star of the frozen dessert category," said Penny Baker, Smith Dairy marketing mgr. "In the last three years, especially, we've seen an upward trend in demand.

"Individually-wrapped novelties appeal to mothers who find it convenient to simply open the box and give each child the same portion," Baker continued. "People concerned about weight management also like them because of the portion control aspect."

By the end of March, grocers will begin stocking the Smith Dairy Ruggles line extension, including Round Top Sundae Cones, Neapolitan Sandwiches, Vanilla Party Slices, Strawberry

Wells Blue Bunny will roll out several new indulgent flavors with wonderfully witty nomenclature.

Berry Me Please is described as a berry lover's delight, with rich and fruity black raspberry ice cream infused with blackberry variegate and marionberry-filled dark chocolate bunnies. Caramel Pecan Passion is a creamy butter pecan ice cream swirled with caramel and loaded with glazed pecan pieces. Chocolate Truffle offers rich, chocolate truffle cake pieces and ribbons of thick, chocolate truffle sauce mixed into chocolate ice cream. Diet Another Day, (which won an award in the flavor contest at the 2005 IDFA Ice Cream Technology Conference) is cheesecake ice cream overloaded with rich cheesecake pieces, a decadent caramel revel and deliciously crunchy pecans.

This and other premium Blue Bunny lines will be repackaged this year in a new Elliptical 56-ounce plastic container, which Wells says is sturdier, more airtight and more scoop-friendly than other packages (see related packaging story p. 60).

This may be one of the rare packaging changes ice cream consumers see in 2006, although one Florida-based boutique ice cream maker is using a tin can (see Nov. 2005 Dairy Foods p. 43). Meanwhile, Blue Bell's is stubbornly sticking with a 64-oz. half gallon, and turning it into a label claim.

"All of our ice cream half gallon cartons contain a statement that says ‘still a half-gallon,'" Breed says. "We want consumers to know this and we want them to enjoy that extra two or four bowls of ice cream per carton."

As Breed mentioned, Blue Bell continues to explore new ethnic flavors. Late last year Dean Foods introduced a line of Tampico Ice Cream based on the popular Hispanic drink produced and marketed by many dairy companies.

Looking outside of the Hispanic influence, a small California company, Empire Trading Inc., is marketing a brand called Kool Freeze www.koolfreeze.com. These are manufactured interpretations of Kulfi, a traditional Indian ice cream dessert that features flavors like Chickoo, an eastern fruit flavor, and Malai, which is scalded milk, sweet cream and cardamom.

Side bar: Sales Steady as Deals Heat Up

As we look at those innovative ice cream product trends that are in the works for 2006, it's important to also look at these in the context of ice cream sales trends, while keeping score of mergers and partnerships.

Overall ice cream sales were not spectacular in 2005, but there were periods and pockets of measurable growth, according to data from Information Resources Inc. In three of the four quarterly periods there was some growth in unit sales, the most noticeable being the period ended Sept.25, wherein unit sales grew almost 4%.

Dollar sales were mostly down, but that may have been an anomaly, as price hikes were likely in effect during the same periods in 2004.

Looking at top 10 brands, there were mostly winners and some of them big winners, with double-digit growth in the 52 weeks leading up to Christmas.

Novelties did a bit of backtracking in 2004 judging from the IRI quarterly numbers. Again the third quarter stands out, here as an exception with novelty sales growing by nearly 4% by unit.

There have been some deals made in the last year. In January Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Holdings Inc. became an indirect subsidiary of Nestlé Holdings. The change took place after a stock purchase by certain holders of Dreyer's stock. Nestlé's U.S. operations merged with the Oakland, Calif.-based Dreyer's in 2003, but had been operating since under the Dreyer's name. The new deal will help the Swiss food giant Nestle SA overtake rival Unilever as the top ice cream maker in the world.

Remember Lee's Ice Cream, the pint-sized outfit from Owings Mills, Md., which two years ago said it was ready to stake a claim in the national Superpremium market ? Well, while Lee's has not saturated the market, it recently joined with a D.C.-area retail food operator to open more ice cream shops in the Baltimore-Washington area. The owners also own a company that provides some of the baked inclusions for the ice cream and they hope to eventually expand up the East Coast with scoop shops offering their old-fashioned indulgent products.

In the destination scoop shop arena, Applegate Farm, a 150-year-old New Jersey institution is adding new franchises and expanding product offerings in its retail and mail order business in 2006.

Meanwhile, in the UK last month, Fredericks Dairies, the UK's No. 2 branded ice cream manufacturer, launched the Cadbury Crunchies Blast ice cream stick under its Cadbury brand license. The ice cream is based on a $59 million Crunchie brand, and will benefit from public awareness of the Blast chocolate bar.