Ice cream is the most well-known frozen dairy dessert, but there are some products that fall outside of the ice cream category or into a subcategory depending on how you categorize it.

Ice cream is the most well-known frozen dairy dessert, but there are some products that fall outside of the ice cream category or into a subcategory depending on how you categorize it.

From the standpoint of U.S. industry standards of identity there are lots of products within the ice cream case that can’t be called ice cream. Some have their own separate product categories like frozen yogurt or sorbet, or ice cream novelties. Other newer products are marketed like ice cream, and basically are made with ice cream, but are so filled with inclusions that they fall out of the standards. Then there are things like ice cream cakes and other desserts that combine ice cream and baked treats.

Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm, tracks a small sub-segement of the overall ice cream segment that it calls Frozen Ice Cream and Ice Milk Desserts, that is made up primarily of these ice cream-bakery hybrids.

According to IRI’s FDMX measure of food, drugstores and mass merchandisers other than Wal-Mart, the category is showing some growth, even while much of the broader ice cream segment is flat or in slight decline.  In those FDMX channels the frozen dessert sub-segment totaled just $158 million in sales for the 52 weeks ended July 13, according to IRI, but that was an increase of  about $3.6% over the prior year. Units were up nearly 2% for the same period, with 12.5 million units sold.

Looking at quarterly sales, the frozen dessert category was growing even more briskly going back five or six quarters, but it is still holding its own, although unit sales were off by 2.95% in the most recent period.

Carvel is a very dominant brand in this category, with a whopping 64% of the market share, making it much larger than private label. Weight Watchers Smart Ones is moving at a good clip too.

In the broader arena, annual sales of the overall ice cream and sherbet category, as tracked by IRI (again this is for the FDMX measure) reached about $4.5 billion for the 52 weeks ended July 13, while about 1.3 billion units were sold during that same period.

That dollar sales figure is just a fraction of a percentage point below the same period last year, but the unit sales represents a 4.7% decline.

For a look at product development and introduction trends in this and related categories, we turn to the Mintel Research Group, Chicago.

Frozen desserts have always been about indulgence, Mintel says, but today’s sweet treats look well beyond traditional flavors to tempt consumers. In fact, many dairy-based offerings would be more at home in a supermarket bakery aisle or candy display than in the frozen food case. Dessert-inspired ice cream treats are gaining momentum, as evidenced by the proliferation of cake, cookie and candy “mix-in” ice creams. Since 2007, for instance, Dreyer’s has extended its Loaded brand with Butterfinger and Chocolate Chip Mint Brownie variants.

But dessert influences don’t just stop with carton ice cream. This summer Roba!Dolce launched frozen s’mores made with marshmallow-flavored gelato, chocolate chunks and graham cracker wafers. Another classic dessert, the cupcake, has been repurposed with the introduction of Philly Swirl’s Ice Cream Cupcakes. These nostalgic treats are half cake, half ice cream and are topped with swirled icing and chocolate sprinkles. Even the American classic, cheesecake, has been redesigned to fit with consumers’ need for convenience and portion control. This spring Sara Lee rolled out Bites in a Strawberry Cheesecake flavor. These frozen, ready-to-eat nuggets are designed to satisfy cheesecake cravings without the hassle or mess.

Weight Watchers Smart Ones Signature Sundaes Peanut Butter Cup Sundae comprises an indulgent combination of lowfat vanilla ice cream swirled over a crumbled chocolate cookie crust, topped with fudge sauce and mini peanut butter cups. It contains 170 calories, 5g of fat and three Weight Watchers points value per serving. The pack contains two 2.29-oz. individually wrapped sundaes, which can be thawed in the microwave.

Looking at data from Mintel regarding these kinds of products, we see that Kosher, lowfat and natural are important claims. Interesting to note that growth in the number of dairy-based products has slowed in the last 18 to 24 months. Perhaps the higher price for dairy inputs has had in impact here.

The Sherbet/Sorbet/Ices sub-category is more about the fruit, rather than the milk and cream. But there have been some challenges in that field as well.