Pomegranates, blueberries, cherries, and cranberries are in demand, portion control is hot, and if there is going to be growth in the ice cream category, some manufacturers are betting it will be organic-certified organic that is.

Also this month, Cheese Trends Spotlight

Pomegranates, blueberries, cherries, and cranberries are in demand, portion control is hot, and if there is going to be growth in the ice cream category, some manufacturers are betting it will be organic-certified organic that is.

“Consumers continue to look for healthier alternatives,” says Penny Baker, director of marketing at Smith Dairy Products, Orrville, Ohio. “Ice cream without the guilt ...without breaking the calorie bank for the entire day with one scoop.  That would lead to interest in the light ice cream category as well as frozen yogurt.”

Yes, even frozen yogurt! Companies like Smith Dairy, that have stuck with frozen yogurt, say their sales remain strong. Smith will introduce new flavors this year in its Ruggles brand frozen yogurt line, while California-based Dreyer’s Ice Cream has added frozen yogurt to the successful Slow Churned line, pointing out that it contains live and active cultures.

Recent figures indicate that ice cream sales have been shrinking a bit. But while overall sales are down, the better for you segment, or better light ice cream has seen sustained growth.  The latest take on better-for-you includes more of the so-called “churned” products, healthful, antioxidizing fruits, and portion control.

Offering low-glycemic options for diabetics is on everyone’s minds, and the idea of adding probiotics to frozen desserts is reaching for a toehold. All these things, along with good old fashioned flavor innovation are the keys to growth in the ice cream aisle in 2007.

Several companies have launched or are launching organic lines, one of them is offering more free trade ice cream flavors. They will all compete with established regional, and even national organic brands including a line from the largest organic yogurt company.    

Meanwhile the corporate offices have been fairly quiet of late. Canada’s CoolBrands International has sold some of its non-core assets, and even the venerable Eskimo Pie brand in its efforts to recover from financial woes.

NexCen Brands, Inc., a New York-based acquisition and brand management group announced last month that it will purchase MaggieMoo’s International, LLC and the assets of Marble Slab Creamery Inc., two players in the hand-mixed premium ice cream category. Later on we’ll take a look at Graeter’s, of Cincinnati, a fourth generation company that continues to think small when it comes to production, but big when it comes to flavor and quality. After nearly 140 years in business its model appears to be as relevant as any.

For the 52 weeks ended November 5, the overall ice cream and sherbet category saw a .05% drop in dollar sales and a .04% decline in units sold, according to Information Resources Inc. Dollar sales for novelties actually grew 1.7% during the same period, but unit sales slipped 0.6%.This is for food, drugstore, and mass merchandiser channels, not including Wal-Mart. 

These numbers, of course are not drastic, and are rather consistent with the historical pattern of ice cream as a mature, slow-growing category. Some of the most interesting numbers to look at involve the individual brands. Some of the most innovative brands offering convenience, a better nutritional profile or an indulgent flavor experience are seeing the most growth.

Healthful fruits to no sugar added

Several respondents to Dairy Foods’ informal survey of ice cream makers indicated that fruit ingredients offering a healthy halo are an ideal way to allow ice cream consumers to mix business (nutrition) with pleasure.

Wells’ Dairy, Le Mars, Iowa, even has a trademarked term for its use of ingredients like pomegranate and acai berries-Superfruits. Wells is using  the term (and the fruit) in its Lite 85 yogurt line, and in a line of Blue Bunny FrozFruit novelties.

“These fruits are naturally high in antioxidants,” says Adam Baumgartner, senior marketing mgr., for Blue Bunny.  “Both product lines offer exotic fruit flavor combinations unique to their respective categories.”

At Perry’s Ice Cream, Akron N.Y., Mike Brown, a senior product mgr., also noted the trend toward healthful fruits. 

“Some of the more unusual ingredients used this year will be pomegranate and some old flavors like blueberry will be more common,” Brown said. “Consumers like things with health connotations.”

One of Dairy Foods’ best new products in 2006 was a line of superpremium ice cream and novelties called Sheer Bliss featuring a pomegranate flavor. Another potential “superfruit” that’s no stranger to ice cream is the cherry.

The cherry industry has launched a new consumer education campaign to communicate the health benefits of cherries and unveiled The Cherry Nutrition Report, the first compendium of peer-reviewed cherry-related studies. The report reviews the array of research that links cherry consumption to a variety of possible health benefits from easing the pain of arthritis and gout to offering potential protection against heart disease and certain cancers.

And who’s behind the effort to boost the cherry’s public image? None other than Jeff Manning, the creator of the milk moustache campaign who left the California Milk Processors Board a year ago, and is now the director of the Cherry Marketing Institute, a grower-funded organization based in Michigan.
Speaking of fruits, the new flavors of Ruggles frozen yogurt for 2007 include strawberry, black cherry vanilla, and blueberries & cream.

Dreyer’s says its Slow Churned Yogurt Blends are cultured frozen dairy desserts that offer an improved texture and flavor thanks to the company’s use of ultra low temperature freezing processes. The line includes seven flavors, all of which contains live and active cultures, and Dreyer’s notes on its website that the products are a good source of calcium. Frozen yogurt sales are growing again. See Dairy Market Trends on page 26.

The Slow Churned umbrella now also includes a line of no-sugar added products in 17 different flavors.
In addition to fruits, high quality chocolate will make an appearance in the ice cream freezers this year. Green Bay, Wis.-based Unilever North American is offering real Belgian chocolate in its Breyers Love Chocolate stick novelties.

Boston's big party

One of the nation’s largest annual ice cream parties celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl has been the nation’s largest all-you-can-eat ice cream festival since 1983.  On June 5, 6, and 7, Boston City Hall Plaza will turn into a mega ice cream parlor, once again offering more than 40 flavors of top brand ice creams. 

All proceeds benefit the Jimmy Fund, which supports cancer research and care at the world-renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  Since it began, the Scooper Bowl has raised $1.8 million. The goal is to raise $150,000 this year.

Rain or shine, the Scooper Bowl will serve roughly ten tons of ice cream from Baskin-Robbins, Ben & Jerry’s, Brigham’s, Cold Stone Creamery, Élan Frozen Yogurt, Edy’s Grand Ice Cream, Garelick Farms, Breyers, Häagen-Dazs, and HP Hood.

Organic competition

Boulder Ice Cream, a local all-natural ice cream maker in Boulder, Colo., recently  moved into a brand new, environmentally friendly facility with nearly triple the floor space and more than 10 times the capacity of its old digs. It needs more capacity, because it makes great ice cream, but it will also go organic this summer.

“It’s an opportune time to make that switch (to organic),” said Glennise Humphrey, Boulder Ice Cream’s v.p. of sales and marketing, in talking with a local newspaper.

The company’s new 5,200 sq ft plant, participates in a zero-waste program, has vehicles that run on biodiesel, and reuses and recycles its packaging. The plant is 100% wind-powered, is heated by its production equipment and it balances electrical demand by staggering equipment usage.

Lynda Utterback, executive director of the National Ice Cream Retailers Association, said she has noticed a couple of retailers starting to promote organic ice cream.

“It’s really just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

Going organic could make production 20% to 30% more expensive for Boulder Ice Cream, but the move is worth it, according to President and CEO Scott Roy, who says  it reflects not only the trends but also the company’s principles.

At the other end of the size spectrum, Unilever Ice Cream has gone green with the introduction of Breyers All Natural Organic Ice Cream. While introducing the new line, Unilever cited statistics from the Organic Trade Assn., indicating that sales of organic ice cream grew 55% between 1997 and 2004.

“We know people want natural and organic food options in more than just the produce section of the grocery store,” says Dan Hammer, v.p. of marketing for Unilever Ice Cream. The organic line includes Chocolate, Coffee, Vanilla Bean and Vanilla Fudge Swirl flavors.

Smith Dairy is preparing to introduce a line of Organic Ruggles ice cream this year. Although it does carry some organic milk in its portfolio, this will be Smith’s first major foray into organics.

“Consumers are becoming more aware of how the food they eat is raised and processed...and how it affects their bodies and the environment,” says Smith’s Baker.

“Four Ruggles Organic ice cream flavors (Vanilla Bean, Cookies & Cream, Blueberries & Cream, Mint Chocolate Chip) will be available in May with an additional four flavors waiting in the wings.  Organic ice cream provides opportunity for expanded distribution into dedicated organic and natural retail stores as well as additional shelf space in traditional grocery stores.”

Dean Foods says its Horizon Organic division will roll out ten flavors of ice cream this year. Horizon sells butter, cheese and yogurt, in addition to milk, but this will be its first venture into the ice cream aisle.

Breyers, Smith Dairy and Dean Foods are joining a field that includes the Julie’s Organic brand, from the Oregon Ice Cream Co., Eugene, Ore., and Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H. The Stonyfield brand includes nine flavors of low-fat and fat-free frozen yogurts and seven flavors of organic super premium ice cream.

Oregon  Ice Cream says the Julie’s products are made in small batches, from organic fresh cream, organically grown fresh fruits, and real sugar. The Julie’s line includes seven pint flavors, plus superpremium stick and sandwich novelties. They are sold in natural foods channels from coast to coast. 

Ben & Jerry’s, of Vermont, a division of Unilever, offers four flavors of organic ice cream (Vanilla, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Strawberry and Sweet Cream and Cookies) in select retail outlets. In addition Ben & Jerry’s recently expanded its Fair Trade Certified ice cream flavors, making it the largest ice cream and frozen food manufacturer to offer Fair Trade Certified ingredients. Ben & Jerry’s Fair Trade Certified line-up now includes: Vanilla, Chocolate, Coffee, Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, and Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz.

Ice cream of the stars

Cincinnati’s unique take on chili (Five Way Chili) has achieved some notoriety, but its ice cream-in particular, the produce of local legend Graeter’s Ice Cream Co.-has  become a favorite of foodies, national celebrities, and even Oprah Winfrey.

Graeter’s  claims that it makes its ice cream just like it did in 1870, using a labor-intensive French pot freezer process.

Fourth-generation president Richard Graeter says the hand mixing and scraping method produces an ice cream with virtually no overrun.

“It takes about 20 minutes to make a 2-gallon batch, and when it’s finished, it’s the consistency of peanut butter, and that’s how it’s served,” Graeter says.

The business started in a downtown Cincinnati market stall, then moved to a single storefront for the first part of the 20th century.

“We made the ice cream in the back, sold it up front, and lived upstairs,” Graeter said. Scoop shops were added in the area around the city and in 1984, franchise operations were set up in northern Kentucky and in Columbus, Ohio, but the ice cream and its manufacture remained the same.

“At one point there were four companies in the city that continued to make real ice cream but one by one they stopped doing it,” Graeter said. “My grandmother said ‘I don’t know any other way to do it.’”

When Cincinnati-based Kroger wanted Graeter’s Ice Cream in its stores, the company began to hand-pack pints. “A pint weighs about a pound,” Graeter says.

The company’s website says celebrity fans include David Letterman and Sarah Jessica Parker. It has been recommended by Vanity Fair, Fodors, Saveur and Money Magazine. Food chronicler David Rosengarten, rates Graeter’s as one of the best he’s ever tasted, and Ben Cohen raves about “gobs of grated chocolate chips” in Graeter’s ice cream.   

The irregular, soft, chewy chocolate chips are a bit of a hallmark of the company, and they are part of many flavors including the signature Black Raspberry Chip.

By the late 1990s Graeter’s was doing a decent mail order business, and that picked up earlier this decade with the addition of Internet sales. And then there was Oprah.

“By 2002 we were doing about 40 orders a day,” Graeter says. “Then Oprah said this was the best ice cream she had ever tasted. The next day we did 200. It continued to grow steadily and now we average over 100 a day.”

That increases during the holidays, when Graeter’s is often recommended as a great corporate gift.

“I shipped 10,000 boxes of ice cream between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year,” Graeter says.

Any large scale geographical expansion of the business is pretty much out of the question. In the two franchise areas, small facilities have been set up so that the ice cream supply remains fresh and local. Each uses the same method, producing the same tiny batches. Graeter says other franchise deals might be considered. He also said the company would like to develop a line of low-glycemic products.

Flavor fun

About 100 of the industries top ice cream makers were scheduled to gather in Arizona at the end of February for IDFA’s Ice Cream Technology Conference. On the program agenda at press time was a two part-discussion of the possibilities for nutritionally enhanced ice cream, and a presentation by Steve Young on a concept and formulation innovation for true sugar-free frozen desserts.

Dairy Foods’ Product Development Editor Donna Berry was scheduled to talk about frozen dessert innovations of today and tomorrow. Dairy Foods also sponsors the conference’s fun-filled flavor competition.

Speaking of flavors, there are now 18 in the New England Creamery line of ice cream from HP Hood. This includes seven light Churned flavors.

Churned products have become a staple of the ice cream business. Smith Dairy has entered the fray with Ruggles Churned Light Ice Cream. Eight flavors are now available, with more in the pipeline.
Dreyer’s, which invented the sub-category with its Slow Churned in 2004, has taken it in several directions with no-sugar-added products, the aforementioned frozen yogurt, and the original light ice cream flavors. Together there are a whopping 50-plus flavors in the three separate lines. Slow Churned is beginning to live up to its trademarked tag line “One day, all ice cream will be made this way.”

Dreyer’s, a division of Nestlé USA, was the beneficiary of CoolBrands’ problems in January when it purchased the Eskimo Pie and Chipwich brands, along with its Real Fruit trademark for about $19 million.
This year, Dreyer’s has become an off-air sponsor of the popular television competition program American Idol, and will introduce a co-branded line of products.

Speaking of television co-branding, Breyers has a deal with the children’s program Dora
the Explorer.

Ice cream flavors can come from unusual places-even historical weather events. Perry’s Ice Cream, is reintroducing a flavor commemorating a blizzard that hit the Buffalo, N.Y., area in 1977. Zero Visibility, includes a “mixed precipitation” of coconut rum ice cream and flurries of shredded coconut pieces, and Perry’s says the only shovel required for this whiteout is a really big spoon. Perry’s first launched Zero Visibility in 1997 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Blizzard of ‘77.

“Most Western New Yorkers remember where they were when the blizzard hit 30 years ago,” said Brian Perry, executive vice president and vice chairman.  “We created this memorable flavor for consumers to enjoy as they reminisce about the storm.”

The product was already in stores before several feet of snow blanketed the region last month.
Other foods and desserts often provide inspiration for ice cream flavors, and in that vane, United Dairy Farmers, of Cincinnati has responded to its youngest consumers who often ask for pizza or soda pop flavors. No anchovies, yet, but UDF just introduced Root Beer Float, Cherry Cola Float and Red Creme Soda Float, each combining a sherbet of the soft drink flavor with vanilla ice cream.

Sidebar: Blue Bell's Centennial

BRENHAM, Texas-Blue Bell Creameries is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2007. The centennial festivities will last throughout the year and Blue Bell says everyone is invited. Activities will include a traveling exhibit, a flavor-naming contest, special anniversary ice cream flavors and, a gigantic birthday party in July in Brenham, home of Blue Bell for the past 100 years.

In January, Blue Bell kicked off the year with a “rolling birthday party,” an 18-wheeler full of Blue Bell information and memorabilia. The traveling Blue Bell caravan also includes a mobile “country store” stocked with anniversary merchandise, and an inflatable Homemade Vanilla carton bounce house for kids to enjoy. The party stops in 66 cities across the company’s 16-state market area.

Until April 30, consumers have a chance to name their very own Blue Bell Ice Cream flavor. The “Taste of the Country” invites fans to create an original name for an ice cream flavor that represents the state in which they live.

On July 19-21, the public is invited to attend a huge birthday celebration, “A Day in the Country,” hosted by Blue Bell at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Brenham.

The party will feature interactive games and exhibits for fans of all ages.

Sidebar: Please, Control My Portion

One of the most difficult tasks consumers have in managing their weight is portion control. At one point for many of us, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s was a single portion, especially after we endured an emotional stress. Well, even Ben & Jerry are saying no, a pint is too much at one time, here’s a 3.5-oz cup to satisfy your craving. Imagine. . . a 3.5-oz cup . . . that’s less than a half cup. That’s not even one-fourth of a pint. 
Others are following suit. It appears as if Unilever Ice Cream Co., Green Bay, Wis., is offering its foodservice customers individual frozen desserts that look like they were made fresh in the kitchen by a chef. (See photos.) Described as decorated truffles, the portion control desserts come in dark chocolate and white chocolate varieties.

Wells’ Dairy Inc., Le Mars, Iowa, has its “personal” version of portion control. Branded Blue Bunny Personals and Blue Bunny Personals Light, these supposed single-serve containers are not really single servings. Each 8-oz Personal container is actually two servings. (However, get real. Most likely one person is licking the container clean.)

And, anyone who loves chocolate, really loves chocolate and does not know when to stop. This is why Unilever Ice Cream is helping consumers satisfy their chocolate craving without over indulging. New Love Chocolate 3-oz vanilla ice cream bars coated in Belgian chocolate are designed to help chocolate lovers stop.

Could the 100-calorie portion pack concept that originated under Northfield, Ill.-based-Kraft Foods Inc.’s Nabisco brand more than a year ago have application in frozen dairy desserts?

“Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs were designed to provide consumers with great-tasting, better-for-you products that help them stay on track with their sensible-eating habits,” says Laurie Guzzinati, spokesperson for the brand.

“Including the foods you love in a balanced eating plan can help you to stick with long-term healthy eating goals,” says Joy Bauer, registered dietitian and author of The 90/10 Weight-Loss Plan. “The idea is to snack sensibly and in moderation by controlling how much and how often you eat; pre-portioned, low-fat snacks can help make it a little easier!”

Guzzinati adds, “The 100 made mathematical sense. It’s a number consumers can readily add into their daily caloric intake calculation. It also worked for us because it got just enough product in the package to provide consumers with a satisfying snacking experience.”

Innovate and satisfy with frozen desserts . . . just help consumers stop and not over indulge.