More than ever before ice cream is about variety and choices. Low fat, no sugar, organic, exotic, you name it and there is a frozen dessert that fits the bill. Plus, pelletized ice cream moves to the supermarket.  Ice cream has always been synonymous with choice, but in 2008, the choices go beyond butter pecan or pistachio to include multiple approaches to more healthful products and indulgence. By David Phillips

Ice Cream is always synonymous with variety and choice.  Back in the day, Howard Johnson’s had 28 flavors of ice cream, not yogurt. In 2008, there is more variety, more flavor, and more innovation in the ice cream aisle than ever before.

Churned, and other lighter products are more plentiful than ever. Frozen yogurt continues to mount a comeback. There are freezers full of no-sugar-added products, and organic options are coming from established regional players in Ohio and New York, not just from entrepreneurs near Madison or on the left coast.  New forms, new package sizes, portion control approaches and new flavor trends abound.  The cost of milk and cream is a serious issue right now, so what’s an ice cream maker to do? Some national marketers have chucked the standards of identity altogether for some new products-“have a little ice cream with your Oreos and Goo-Goo Clusters” they seem to be saying. Some ice cream makers responding to our survey say they are going from a 56 oz to a 48 oz container.

Others say “price/schmice! Ice cream is still cheap fun compared to taking a drive in the country.”

Speaking of going for a drive, the on-premise side of the business is doing well, and in fact, some innovations from the scoop shops and mall kiosks are finding their way into the supermarket. For instance we’ve written about pelletized ice cream before, and even documented some attempts to duplicate the Dippin’ Dots experience for take-home, but this year there is a battle of the beads brewing with two in-store products building significant markets while the growth of on premise business in cryogenically frozen ice cream continues (see related story page 58).

 Before we drive this any farther, let’s take a look at some quantifiable product introduction trends provided by the researchers at Mintel Custom Solutions. More stats and analysis can also be found in Dairy Market Trends (page 42).

Slimmer and trimmer

Ice cream is associated with fun and indulgence, but even it can’t escape the trends of sustainability and health & wellness that are so pervasive in today’s food industry. According to the Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), low/no/reduced fat was the second most popular claim in 2007 among U.S. frozen desserts. Only kosher claims were more prevalent than reduced fat positioning. Low/no/reduced fat claims have been bolstered by the popularity of “churned” formulations, which offer traditional taste and texture with significantly less fat and fewer calories. Edy’s/Dreyer’s introduced slow churned ice cream to Americans in 2004, but three years later, these products continue to be one of ice cream’s most notable trends. A number of churned products, including Breyers’ Double Churn Light Ice Cream Bars, were launched in 2007.

Ice creams with health & wellness positioning go beyond churned formulations, however. The 100 calorie pack trend, which first appeared in snacks, has already migrated to ice cream. Klondike’s Slim A Bear 100 Calorie Sandwiches and Blue Bunny’s 100 Calorie Ice Cream Bars were among the 2007 launches that relied on portion control to differentiate themselves from higher calorie competitors.

In other parts of the world, ice cream manufacturers have taken a different approach to product innovation. Probiotics, which are just beginning to appear in U.S. cheese, cottage cheese and milk products, have already moved into the ice cream category in Europe and Asia. These probiotic-rich ice creams marry indulgence with functionality, but as of yet, the concept has not been introduced in North America. By contrast, frozen yogurts offer many of the same benefits of probiotic ice creams and they are available in U.S. supermarkets. Bolstered by the popularity of frozen yogurt chains like Pinkberry and Red Mango, companies like Dean’s and Häagen-Dazs introduced new frozen yogurt products in 2007.

Just as health and wellness is driving ice cream innovation, sustainability concerns are also influencing new product development. In particular, organic ice creams have gained traction in grocery freezers. According to Mintel GNPD, U.S. organic ice cream launches nearly doubled from 2005 to 2007. While some of these products boast gourmet, premium positioning, others are more focused on “free from” claims. The Good Karma and Soy Dream brands, for instance, focus on dairy-free formulations. Other organic ice creams, including those from Ben & Jerry’s and Horizon Organic, offer a more traditional indulgence, albeit one with “green” credentials.

The rise of organic ice creams has paved the way for the category’s newest sustainability trend-Fairtrade. The Fairtrade movement promises fair working conditions and prices for laborers in developing countries. Its origins are in categories like coffee and chocolate, but it has recently extended to European ice creams. Ben & Jerry’s has been a leader in Fairtrade ice cream, launching Fairtrade-certified products in the UK, Netherlands and France. Major UK retailers including Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer have also introduced Fairtrade frozen treats. Given this European Fairtrade activity by major players, it is likely that 2008 could be the year of Fairtrade ice cream in the U.S.

Mainstays in the mainstream

Perry’s Ice Cream of Akron N.Y. is one of the mid-sized, regional players that responded to our ice cream outlook survey this year. Perry’s, like many ice cream makers large and small, is making churned light ice cream a mainstay in its product portfolio.

Perry’s product lines include the Perfectly Churned Light Ice Creams. The company is currently developing three new flavors to add to the line-Blueberry Cheesecake, Rocky Road and Lemon Meringue. Each offers great taste with half the fat and fewer calories than regular ice cream.  “Over the past few years it has become essential to give our consumers the choice for healthier ways to indulge,” says Michael Brown, senior product mgr.

Perry’s is also one of a handful of mainstream ice cream makers going organic (others have included Smith Dairy, of Orrville, Ohio, and Breyers.) Perry’s will introduce premium organic vanilla and chocolate quarts this spring.

“Organic ice cream continues to be an important industry trend in 2008,” Brown says. “Increasingly, consumers want to know where their food is coming from and what it’s made out of.  Organic is no longer a niche market, it’s part of the mainstream due to the healthy perception people have of organic foods.” 

Perry’s, which has been in business since 1918, has nearly completed a  $5 million expansion that will allow it to bring more of its storage and distribution operations in house.  The company is building a 17,500 sq ft cold-storage facility at its Akron facility. Perry’s started the project in October 2007 and will finish this month.  

In 2007 Perry’s converted its 56 oz. brick package to a two-piece package with a re-sealable snap-tight lid and tamper evident safety seal.  Graphics on the packages were updated with a new Perry’s logo and an embossed treatment to the colored flavor bands. 

Smith Dairy is also expanding its light line due to consumer acceptance.

“We plan to expand the Ruggles Churned Light ice cream category from 8 to 14 flavors in 2008,” says Dir. of Marketing Penny Baker. “As long as the flavor, body and texture live up to consumer expectations we should see continued growth in this category.”

The additions to the line include standout flavors such as Denali Bear Claw, a dark chocolate light ice cream with choco-coated cashews swirled with luscious Denali caramel; Cookie Dough with M&M’s, vanilla light ice cream with chunks of cookie dough and loads of M&M’s candies; and Denali Original Moose Tracks, vanilla light ice cream with peanut butter cups swirled with Moose Tracks fudge.

Other highlights are Caramel Praline Pecan, Turtle Treasure, and the universal favorite Dark Chocolate.

In Cleveland, Pierre’s French Ice Cream Co. also sees plenty of growth opportunity in better-for-you products.

In Spring 2007, Pierre’s launched its all-natural, premium, pure fruit sherbet called ¡Hola Fruta!.  The company says the product shook up a sleepy category by offering all-natural, unique flavors blended from the finest fruit purees and luscious pieces of real fruit.

Pierre’s plans a line extension of Pure Fruit Sherbet Bars to begin roll out across the country later this Spring.  ¡Hola Fruta! Pure Fruit Sherbet Bars will be available in Pina Colada and Pomegranate Blueberry.  Both flavors feature 100 calories per bar, are naturally low in fat and cholesterol, and come in convenient 6 packs.

Pierre’s is doing well with its light ice cream products too. Smooth Churned Light Ice Cream featuring half the fat and 30% fewer calories than regular ice cream, and the line is being expanded from four flavors to twelve this spring.

From the beautiful Oregon coast, Tillamook County Creamery Association is known for its cheese, but it also has a substantial regional ice cream business, and has a well-developed rotational featured-flavor program. Recently Tillamook featured Oregon Black Cherry ice cream (see our New Product Review, page 38).

Tillamook Bubble Gum ice cream, which is tentatively scheduled to release in May, is pink bubble gum flavored ice cream with bubble gum flavored fudge pieces. Tentatively scheduled for October 2008 is Tillamook Tilla-Mint ice cream, featuring rich white peppermint ice cream with refreshing green mint candy.

The bigger market

One of the biggest players in the national market is that lil’ ol’ company from Brenham, Texas, Blue Bell Creamery.

Recently Blue Bell began putting some of its most popular ice cream flavors on a stick. Homemade Vanilla, Buttered Pecan, Strawberries & Homemade Vanilla and Chocolate Covered Cherries Bars are now available as handy frozen snacks. The new bars allow Blue Bell’s fans to savor these top-selling flavors without a bowl or spoon.

“What makes these bars so great, in addition to the taste, is their convenience,” said Carl Breed, dir. of marketing for Blue Bell. “When you crave a bowl of Homemade Vanilla or Buttered Pecan Ice Cream, you can grab a bar and take it with you. These bars are perfect for a quick pick-me-up or when time is limited.”

The frozen bars are available in 12-paks, which feature a tempting photo of the bars. “You’ll notice the bars are shown coming out of a half gallon,” Breed said. “That is a great representation of the product. The bars were created to taste just like what you have in a Blue Bell half gallon.”

The four new frozen ice cream snack bars are now available in the freezer sections of retailers throughout the 17-state Blue Bell’s super-regional market.

In addition, Blue Bell is honoring 4-H for more than 100 years of successful youth development with the introduction of Centennial Cupcake Ice Cream. To sweeten the deal, the Little Creamery is donating a portion of the sales to promote 4-H educational programs. 

Centennial Cupcake Ice Cream is a delicious cake batter ice cream with pieces of yellow cake, a chocolate icing swirl and four-leaf clover sprinkles.

“4-H benefits so many young people with its youth development programs,” said Paul Kruse, Blue Bell CEO and president. “This is just a small token of our appreciation. 4-H has been around for over 100 years. Blue Bell just finished celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2007, so we understand how special it is to reach the century mark.”

They're nationwide

The top national ice cream companies have lots of new products in the pipeline too.

Dreyers is building on the success of innovative platforms like Dibs, Slow Churned and Loaded.

Dibs Bite Sized Ice Cream Snacks are now available in a Rolo variety, comprising caramel ice cream pieces with a caramel center and a chocolaty coating. Its just one many new products where Dreyer’s ice creams are co-branded with household name candy brands from parent company Nestle.

Dreyers also recently rolled out Slow Churned Girls Scouts Samoas Cookie Light Ice Cream as a limited edition product.

The Skinny Cow line is also making some new introductions with low fat frozen snack options including 50-calorie fudge pops.

Recently, Dreyer’s CEO Tim Kahn said the future for Dreyer’s and for the ice cream business will include building on successful platforms, but also paying attention to consumer trends in other food segments.

In Le Mars, Iowa, Wells’ Dairy always has something new to offer in its Blue Bunny brand.

Blue Bunny has introduced 100 Calorie Ice Cream Bar Range, a reformulated line formerly known as Health Smart bars. Now the products are low-fat, 20% bigger and have more flavor. The line comprises Vanilla Fudge and Fudge; and Orange and Raspberry varieties.

A recently released Blue Bunny Limited Edition flavor sports a name that sounded like a label claim-Better than Ever. It’s a chocolate ice cream, loaded with chunky toffee pieces, swirled with caramel and whipped cream flavored ribbons.

Unilever Ice Cream is in the process of leaving Green Bay, Wis. for New Jersey, but that hasn’t slowed the innovation. Under the Breyers brand, its recent introductions have included Fried Ice Cream, in the Breyers Indulgent line. The company now offers a Breyers Double Churn Fat Free line with four flavors, and 100 calorie cups of Cookies & Cream.

Breyers Hershey’s Kisses Ice Cream Poppers are kiss-shaped chocolates filled with Vanilla flavored ice cream. The product is also available in a Chocolate ice cream variety. Double Churn Light extra creamy Ice Cream Bars are available in Rocky Road and Creamy Vanilla varieties. The Rocky Road variety contains light chocolate ice cream with a marshmallow swirl, encased in a milk chocolate flavored coating with almonds. It is said to have half the fat and 30% less calories than regular ice cream bars.

Sister company Ben & Jerry’s recently introduced a new line of light products, called Lighten Up, and this being Ben & Jerry’s 30th birthday year, expect to see a birthday-related flavor soon.

Surrendering to impulses

On-premise impulse or destination purchases have always been an important part of the ice cream business, and that continues to be the case in 2008.

Witness San Gelato Cafe, a Florida-based Gelato maker and retailer that plans to launch a national franchise business this year. San Gelato recently signed a contract with another Florida company, Medina Enterprises to expand the company nationally. The goal is to have 300 stores opened by 2011.

The first San Gelato Café opened in Fort Walton Beach in August of 1996. “We brought the gelato concept to Florida from Italy ten years ago. Since then we have developed the San Gelato concept into a proven system and we are ecstatic to see our dream for our gelato cafés come to life across America,” said Simona Faroni, co-founder of San Gelato Café.

San Gelato’s flavors range from ACE sorbet (Vitamin A, C, E), Papaya and Passion fruit Sorbet, Guarana and Ginseng Sorbet, Green Tea Gelato.

“The flavor profile may be unusual, but they taste unbelievably good and they provide our customers with a fresh option,” said Faroni.

Marble slab mix-in shops have been the major growing trend in retail for several years, but with the growth of the Korean-style frozen yogurt  emporiums and the broadening market for gelato, is it possible that the mix-in shops have run their course?

Well, the leading chain Cold Stone Creamery does not seem ready to be led out to pasture.

In January, the Arizona-based company announced a partnership with Jelly Belly Jellybeans.  This summer Jelly Belly will release five exclusive flavors of Jelly Belly® jelly beans inspired by Cold Stone Creamery Signature Creation ice cream flavors. 

No word yet on whether the Jelly Bellies will be used in Stone Cold Creamery shops, but it’s a good bet.

Boutique ice cream makers, like Sonny’s of Minneapolis can be great sources for ideas about creative flavors. Sonny’s president Ron Siron says he’s all about local right now.

“We’re trying to buy our dairy and other things within a 100 mile radius of  our location,” Siron says. “We make exceptions for fruits and spices we can’t get here, but for instance we can get red currants and black currants locally. We just feel that being local is more sustainable, so that’s what we are trying to do. We have a cafe and we do food too. And we buy from the chicken  farmer and those are real farm families.”

Siron says the local message is a great way for Sonny’s to differentiate his company from national competitors.

“Haagen Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s have huge demand so it’s hard for them to go to Joe farmer,” he says.  “By going local and encouraging our customers to buy local, we keep ourselves in business.”

Siron also noted that Sonny’s moved into organic milk, and back out again when its local sources became tied up in contracts with a major national bottler.

As for flavors, Siron, who does custom restaurant orders infusing ice cream and sorbets with spirits and wine and herbs, recently came up with a sorbet made with Douglas Fir nettles.

“The nettle tips are only available in the spring,” he says. “It’s kind of  fun to make a sorbet out of a tree. It tastes real earthy and it’s real fragrant.”

Siron’s business was started by his father, but ice cream is also a great place for aspiring entrepreneurs. Such is the case with Ruby Jewel, Portland, Ore., which specializes in all-natural gourmet ice cream/cookie sandwiches.

Owner, Lisa Herlinger, won a contest a few years ago at Oregon State University’s Food innovation Center. The winner gets $10,000 in marketing support for a new venture. She came up with all natural handmade ice cream with flavors like honey lavender and fresh mint, sandwiched between two freshly baked cookies.

Sunshine Dairy now makes the ice cream, a local bakery does the cookie, and she has a kitchen/commissary that assembles the whole thing, packages and ships it.

Archibald Frozen Desserts, of Florida, is introducing a new product line of ready-to-serve All Natural Premium Soft ice cream.  In addition, the company has announced a partnership with Iowa-based dairy Naturally Iowa, Inc. to ensure the market’s first and only dairy-produced, all-natural soft ice cream will contain the purest flavors possible.Flavors will include Vanilla Supreme, Chocolate Supreme, Lemon Cream, Peanut Butter Cup and Cinnamon.

Among the recent business developments in the LaSalle Brands Corp. has entered into a Funding Agreement with Grammar Capital LLP. As per the agreement, Grammar Capital will assist the Company in raising approximately $50,000,000 through a combination of equity and debt financing. The funds will be used to complete planned acquisitions with various ice cream distribution companies.

Finally, ice cream can be part of a good cause.  Boston’s City Hall Plaza is the place, and June 10-12 are the dates for the 26th annual Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl. Boston turns into a mega ice cream parlor serving up more than 40 flavors of top brand ice creams for three consecutive days. The all-you-can-eat ice cream festival supports Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a leading cancer research and care center for adults and children, and a National Cancer Institute designated comprehensive cancer center. Since its inception in 1983 the Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl has raised more than $2 million for cancer research and care. The goal this year is to raise $150,000. n

Portions of this article contributed by Krista Faron, Senior Analyst, Mintel Custom Solutions.

Pelted With Pellets

Pelletized ice cream coming from all angles as processors warm up to new cold chain options.
by David Phillips Chief Editor


ryogenically frozen ice cream isn’t brand new. In fact, the company that launched this distinct sub-category is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. But Dippin’ Dots, Paducah, Ky., which launched in 1988, is now one of four companies that have a foothold in the market.

Two companies, Dippin’ Dots, and Mini Melts, Norwich, Conn., have for years been selling pelletized ice cream at high-volume on-premise outlets in North America, and (for Mini-Melts) around the world.

But more recently, the MolliCoolz Co., Stockton, Calif., and HP Hood, Lynnfield, Mass., have rolled out pelletized or beaded ice cream in the supermarket channel.

Dippin’ Dots explains on its website that the process for making such products involves supercold, superfast freezing, utilizing liquid nitrogen with a fairly standard ice cream mix, and no overrun. The result is a fairly free-flowing product made up of beads quite a bit smaller than peppercorns. Until now it has had to be stored and served at very low temperatures, but the frozen mixture melts shortly after meeting the tongue, releasing a rich, creamy burst of ice cream flavor. It has sometimes been described as the caviar of ice cream.

The need to keep pelletized ice cream at  –20 degrees F, meant that it was usually relegated to amusement parks, baseball stadiums and mall kiosks.

Last year MolliCoolz broke down the barrier between pelletized ice cream and the grocery store with some help from an ingredient supplier. MolliCoolz was rolled out in early 2006 but initially it was distributed only by home-delivery specialist The Schwan Food Co., Marshall, Minn. Last year the MolliCoolz was introduced to supermarkets nationwide.

Finally, earlier this year, Hood and its Kemps ice cream unit introduced Ittibitz, another iteration of pelletized ice cream that’s ready for the traditional ice cream supply chain.

MolliCoolz overcame the sticking point (the beads would tend to clump at normal ice cream freezer temperatures) in part through a stabilizer system from Cargill. 

“The merging of Cargill’s formulation and ingredients with MolliCoolz manufacturing technology came together perfectly to execute what retailers and consumers want-ice  cream beads that are shelf stable in the freezer,” said Bryan Freeman, pres. of MolliCoolz. “The success we’ve had is a great example of what can happen when a small, entrepreneurial company like MolliCoolz partners with the scientific and marketing experts at Cargill.”

Cargill had been developing manufacturing methods around cryogenics for some time, said John Sweeney, beverage applications team leader at Cargill.

“When we met with MolliCoolz, it was immediately clear that a partnership made sense,” Sweeney says.

MolliCoolz comes in more than eight flavors including Sour Cherry Blue Raz, Cookies and Cream, Vanilla Orange and co-branded flavors like Butterfinger and Vanilla.

Hood has introduced Ittibitz in New England Supermarkets. The line offers more than ten flavors including Banana Split, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Caramel & Fudge Cup, Strawberry Cheesecake, and a special edition, Champions Chocolate which features tiny chocolate pieces in the shape of a Boston Red Sox logo.

“After taste-testing Champions Chocolate IttiBitz, we know kids, families and even Red Sox players are going to love our new celebratory treat that melts on your tongue,” says Lynne Bohan, spokesperson for HP Hood. “Besides the taste appeal and the fun, tiny round ball shapes, IttiBitz cups are easy to serve without any mess.”

While Dippin’ Dots continues to sell exclusively for on-premise consumption, it has in recent years added pre-packaged products in pouches, which makes for easier dispensing in high traffic venues like ball parks.

All the pelletized products use some artificial ingredients, and the new supermarket products  employ alternative sweeteners.

MolliCoolz has a partnership agreement with Cargill, and much of the technology is protected by patents, so whether or not pelletized ice cream will proliferate further in coming years remains to be seen.