Baby, It’s Cold Outside

When it comes to ice cream, frigid outdoor temperatures can result in some chilly sales figures. Who really wants to dive into a double-dip ice cream cone while still wearing your gloves?

That’s why recent numbers from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. suggest it’s going to be a long winter.

According to IRI stats as of Oct. 4, ice cream sales are down $13.7 million from sales recorded this time last year, and the overall category only scooped up $4.2 million in profits, which is $20.8 million less than last quarter. On the other hand, IRI figures show a $14.3 million increase in unit sales from last quarter.

Meanwhile, overall sales indicate a $179.8 million growth in sales from the beginning of the year. But that’s not saying much considering the 2009 New Year rung in a $219.9 million dip in sales, which may occur again should sales mirror last year’s activity.

Simultaneously, some leading ice cream brands have maintained their Top 5 positioning for the past three consecutive quarters.

Private label brands, for instance, remain the leader of the ice cream pack, absorbing $1 million of the category’s sales (consistent with PL’s growth during the economic downturn), followed by Breyer’s brand ice cream, which fell 6.4% in dollar sales, IRI figures show.

Dreyer’s/Edy’s Slow Churned once again dug out the third spot, while Blue Bell and Häagen-Dazs retained their No. 4 and 5 positions, respectively.

Meanwhile, some brands not only mixed up the batches but also developed an assortment of varieties that entice consumers to enjoy eating ice cream with their bare hands.

For example, Ben & Jerry’s takes the sixth ranking thanks to its newly launched Maple Blondie variety and its Gingersnap option, which is available in limited batches.

Also in the Top 10 is Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand, which offers varieties evocative of the season such as Hot Cocoa, Pumpkin and Peppermint.

For its part, Wells’ Blue Bunny unleashed its Premium Ice Cream line, which includes an assortment of varieties, including Chocolate Champion, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Chocolate Chunk Cookie, Monster Cookie and Peanut Butter Cookie.

In addition, Athens, Tenn.-based Mayfield Dairy (a unit of Dean Foods) created a line of “creamier-than-creamy” ice cream options under the Mayfield Selects umbrella. This array of 11 varieties includes Moo-ionaire’s Java, coffee ice cream filled with chocolate, caramel and hazelnut truffles; and Candy Bar, which consists of caramel ice cream with a nougat ribbon laced with caramel and chocolate-coated peanuts, among others.

In honor of its 100th anniversary, Oregon’s Tillamook County Creamery Association created Sweet Centennial, which blends rich vanilla ice cream with a brownie-batter swirl and peanut butter-filled chocolate cows. Created by one of its fan club members, this and other sweet sensations helped Tillamook snag the 17th slot.

It may be cold outside, but ice cream manufacturers are still heating up their innovative offerings to deliver warmth in retail packaging.