It's the middle of summer, so it may be hard to believe, but in the past year, consumers have not been screaming for ice cream. Everybody loves the stuff, and in recent years the overall ice cream category has enjoyed steady (if somewhat modest) growth of about 2-3% a year.
But look at the recent numbers:
- Quarterly sales of all types including novelties down 1.9% by dollar measure and 0.7% by units for 2003.
- Half of the top ten brands selling less by dollar or by unit through March 31, 2004 than for the prior year.
- Ice cream and sherbet without novelties down around 2% for three recent quarters.
Novelties on the other hand have been growing substantially for the last couple of years, as the products, the packaging, and the marketing have gotten better and better.
What's keeping the average ice cream fan away from packaged ice cream? Well, judging from the industry's recent response, it's his abdominal protrusion, or a fear of cultivating one. Dozens of low-carb products have been launched by small, medium, and large ice cream manufacturers this year, and some new approaches to lowfat ice cream and yogurt are also in the offering.
Whether it's the Atkins dieters counting carbs, or moms trying to keep the kids from growing out as fast as they grow up, is hard to say, but consumers are not spending much time in the ice cream aisle, and ice cream vendors are responding with products designed to bring those consumers back. Wells' Dairy, Ben & Jerry's, Dreyer's, CoolBrands, Breyer's, Blue Bell Creameries and Pierre's French Ice Cream are among the companies to introduce new better-for-you frozen treats in the past year.
Time will tell if these products help reverse the trend, but it's hard to believe that Americans will avoid ice cream to any large extent for very long.