For many ice cream processors, less is more, and that means fewer complex ingredients.

When it comes to ice cream, consumers know what they want, how they want it and even when they want it. They read nutrition labels, remain abreast of food safety issues and “speak” with their spending dollars. They even follow or connect with ice cream producers via social media outlets to stay on top of contests and new flavor introductions.

As complex as this may sound, the processor/consumer relationship is actually anything but. That’s because consumer trends point toward a more simplified outlook, allowing ice cream producers to scale back on unique ingredients and focus on just being unique.

“The emerging consumer trends in ice cream is simplicity - the least amount of ingredients listed in a label that are also common such as milk, cream, butter, sugar, etc.,” says Catherine Nobriga Kim, vice president of the frozen division for Roselani Ice Cream (doing business as Maui Soda & Ice Works, Ltd.), Wailuku, Hawaii. “The educated consumer is very much aware of the nutritional label and what value it adds to a product’s claim.”

The story under the lid

The value of ice cream blended into a litany of enticing flavor profiles are what keep this category in the limelight of shoppers’ minds and inside household freezers. However, for consumers, it’s about how ice cream makes them feel and what it represents that keeps them coming back for more.

Roselani Ice Cream, for example, produces Roselani Tropics, a niche line of flavors that represent the cultural diversity of the Hawaiian islands, Nobriga Kim says.

“We serve an experience that wants to be repeated,” she adds. “For example, our signature flavor, Haupia (pronounced how-PEE-yah), is the dessert served at Hawaiian luau (feast), which is not reserved for the tourist. A luau celebrates significant milestones in someone’s life (first birthday, high school graduation, wedding, retirement). Our followers have commented that this flavor reminds them of one of these occasions, and through it, they relive that time of their life.”

Roselani also distributes national brands under the Unilever label, and is currently reformulating certain lines to include less sugar and more better-for-you ingredients.

G.S. Gelato & Desserts, Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., speaks to its consumers by reinventing its portfolio to include innovative flavors while remaining true to its Italian heritage, says Kindra Svendsen, marketing coordinator.

“Outside of the health attributes, we are seeing a demand for unique flavors as well as single serving-size portions,” Svendsen says. “With these trends, consumers have become more ingredient-savvy and are taking more time and care in picking out products, and as a result, sales of traditional ice cream are decreasing.”

For Ben & Jerry’s, it’s not a surprise that its lineup of ice cream flavors relate to consumers. With flavor names such as Cherry Garcia, Mud Pie, Chubby Hubby and Chunky Monkey, the South Burlington, Vt., division of Unilever provides an avalanche of opportunities for shoppers to feel good when digging into a pint full of homemade ice cream.

That’s why it introduced a lineup of self-described funky flavors that are developed from simple staples, such as vanilla, chocolate and chocolate chips.

For example, the Boston Cream Pie consists of yellow cake pieces, fudge flakes and swirls of pastry cream, whereas Dulce Delish is made of rich caramel ice cream fused with dark caramel swirls. Then there’s Maple Blondie, Milk & Cookies, Mud Pie, Peanut Brittle, Pumpkin Cheesecake and Snickerdoodle Cookie.

In addition, Ben & Jerry’s is converting all of its flavors to be fair-trade certified by year-end 2013, says Liz Stewart, public relations.

“We believe it’s the right thing to do and it encompasses our company’s three-part mission statement. We’re hoping that other ice cream brands follow our lead,” she adds. “When consumers buy our ice cream, they’re not only getting delicious flavors, but they’re helping support our social mission and values-led sourcing initiatives, including fair trade, which gives farmers fair wages for goods to make healthcare more accessible, develop sustainable farms and contribute to their local communities. It’s the values behind the flavors that we’re looking for consumers to know about and support.”

Ben & Jerry’s also thanks its “fans” by hosting Free Cone Day, which will take place April 12 at scoop shops nationwide.

To keep its ice cream collection fresh, Turkey Hill Dairy developed two new premium flavors: Homemade Vanilla, which is an old-fashioned ice cream recipe made with extra vanilla and offers a classic homemade taste; and Double Dunker, mocha ice cream swirled with chewy cookie dough and crunchy chocolate cookie swirl.

The Conestoga, Pa., ice cream producer also launched Cool White Mint No Sugar Added ice cream to its no-sugar-added line of products, according to Colin Wright, trade relations coordinator. Cool White Mint is made of dark chocolate chips and chocolate fudge and delivers 100 calories per serving.

This year, Wright says, Turkey Hill also is releasing a limited-edition Strawberry Shortcake 26-ounce ice cream cake, available through June.

Furthermore, Turkey Hill remains actively involved with its professional sports sponsorships thanks to its Blitzburgh Crunch creation, which was developed in honor of the AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Blitzburgh Crunch consists of vanilla ice cream with chocolate cake inclusions and a crunchy chocolate cookie swirl.

To further simplify its branding initiatives, Hudsonville Creamery & Ice Cream Co. locally sources its raw materials, including milk, cream and fruits, among others. The Holland, Mich., company also offers a flavor profile that caters to both children and adults. Its newest frozen confection, for example, is Lake Affection, which consists of blue mint ice cream swirled with vanilla ice cream to signify lake-effect snow.

“Our flavor portfolio is very complete, so that decadent flavors for adult family members (Grand Traverse Bay Cherry Fudge) mesh well with kid flavors (Superscoop) vs. teen flavors (Cake Batter),” says Bruce Kratt, director of sales. “We offer flavors for every mood and every age.”

Baskin-Robbins, the owner of “31 Flavors” scoop shops and the Baskin-Robbins team of frozen yogurt, ice cream and ice cream cakes, is creating more occasions and reasons for people to shop the ice cream aisles, says Stan Frankenthaler, executive chef and vice president of culinary development for the Canton, Mass., division of Dunkin’ Brands Inc. That’s why it offers a line of Bright Choices, which includes fat-free, dairy-free, no-sugar-added and light treats.

It also hosts a “Flavor of the Month” program, which was designed to constantly introduce new flavors and capture current and emerging trends, Frankenthaler says.

“Every month, a new flavor is introduced to consumers for a limited time,” he adds. “To capitalize on the recent red velvet craze, we simultaneously launched a red velvet ice cream that contains a cream cheese ribbon as an in-store flavor along with a limited-time Red Velvet ice cream cake.

Updated packaging keeps it real

The ice cream category was impacted greatly by the poor economy, mainly because many of America’s traditional brands were either traded in for private label counterparts or were deemed a non-essential item and crossed off the grocery list completely.

Despite the challenges, several ice cream processors continue to churn out stellar products in refined packaging concepts.

For instance, Roselani Ice Cream produces its Roselani Tropics line in 56-ounce “apex” cartons, Nobriga Kim says.

“As a small company, we have put our efforts into efficiencies,” she adds. “In late 2010, we installed a rotary filler that has expanded our production volume from 12 cartons per minute to 18 cartons per minute. Prior to installation, our operation was manual fill. We take pride in what we serve our customers. Rather than diminish that quality with cheaper, lesser ingredients, we continue to review our operational methods to become more productive. With the installation of this piece, we are developing a single-serve component to our line.”

G.S. Gelato launched its new pint designs, which better promote brand identity and highlight the flavors and healthy attributes on the face of the package, Svendsen says.

“Next to our nutritional information, we have also placed symbols denoting that our product is hormone-free, vegan, cholesterol-free, trans-fat free, etc.,” Svendsen adds. “This helps our consumers in making a quick and efficient choice when choosing a super premium ice cream or our gelato.”

Additionally, Turkey Hill Dairy redesigned the packaging for its frozen yogurt line.

“The new package includes a ‘Benefits Band’ along the bottom that calls out the health benefits at a glance,” Wright says. “The cleaner look and colors of the package also help consumers have an easier time finding it on the shelf.”

Hudsonville Creamery enhanced its presentation by upgrading to a high-resolution graphic on its 56-ounce cartons, Kratt outlines.

“We are all about the consumer’s experience when marketing our brand,” he says. “We don’t take being invited into our consumer’s life experiences lightly, so we make sure that everything we do from recipes to flavor innovation to consistent quality exceeds consumer expectations.”

While the folks at Baskin-Robbins haven’t proposed too many packaging changes, they did recently return to hand-packing their quarts in the shops, thus “providing a deeper level of authenticity for our guests,” Frankenthaler says. “We offer hand-packed ice cream in three sizes: small (12 ounces), regular (18 ounces) and large (3 pounds).”

Likewise, Ben & Jerry’s tends to update its packaging designs on a yearly basis, Stewart says, whether it be a small tweak or changes in copy.

“Last year, we transitioned all our pint packaging to become Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, which makes our packaging much more environmentally sustainable by requiring suppliers to reduce the environmental impact of logging activities,” she adds. “It also calls for the maintenance of areas that need special protection (such as habitats of endangered animals or plants), and the enhancement of the social and economic well-being of forest workers and local communities.”

The future of ice cream

Consumers want it all when it comes to ice cream, says Bruce Ginsberg, president and CEO of MooBella, Inc., Taunton, Mass. That’s why the ice cream industry must find ways to bring their products to countries that don’t have a “cold chain” in place, he adds.

“Every day, we get inquiries from individuals and companies from around the globe. They are looking for ways to bring ice cream to places that historically have not had the systems necessary to handle frozen products,” Ginsberg adds. “Because it doesn’t rely on cold transport and storage, MooBella (with its shelf-stable ingredients) has the capacity to drive per capita consumption by bringing the ice cream experience around the world.”

The biggest challenge for ice cream producers, however, is staying on the cutting edge of trends.

“The ice cream category is highly competitive, so it is important to stay ‘top of mind’ in the minds of our consumers,” Svendsen says. “Ice cream has always, is always and will always be strong. Ice cream makes up a large percentage of the frozen dessert category. As long as manufacturers take consumer trends into consideration, we will remain competitive among other categories within frozen desserts.”

Here’s to keeping things simple.

Sidebar: Need Flavor Ideas? Look To Bars, Delis and Ethnic Restaurants

Nowadays, a beer drinker doesn’t have to be in a pub to enjoy a Black and Tan. The classic beer cocktail, made with Guinness and a pale ale, is also an ice cream flavor produced by The Brewer’s Cow.

The Old Lyme, Conn.-based company uses Guinness or Sam Adams in its beer-infused ice cream. The company was “mobbed” by foodies when it exhibited at the 2010 New England Dessert Showcase in Boston, says Jason Conroy, who owns the company along with Steve Albert and Larry Blackwell. The event organizer named the product the most unique dessert.

Conroy says the first lick of ice cream is sweet, followed by a bitter malt flavor.

His variations of the beer-flavored ice cream include a Black and Tan recipe, which contains a fudge weave. Oatmeal Stout, made with a Sam Adams product, has oatmeal clusters. The Brewer’s Cow adds sweet chocolate inclusions to Sam Adams Double Bock to make Double Bock Chocolate.

“The real trick” to making beer-infused ice cream, Conroy says, “is how we treat the beer.” The Brewer’s Cow boils off the alcohol to make a syrup and adds brewer’s malt to help the flavor transfer, Conroy says. The ice cream is not simply a vanilla base with added beer, he says.

In February, The Brewer’s Cow was talking with Whole Foods, which approached the company after the Boston dessert show. The supermarket chain is interested in the product for its stores in Connecticut and Massachusetts. To service an account that size, The Brewer’s Cow will use a co-packer in Rhode Island, Conroy says.

Beer is not the only non-traditional ingredient finding its way into ice cream. Creative chefs are raiding the deli department and ethnic restaurants to create unusual flavors. Maple Bacon, Caramelized Honey & Bleu Cheese and Thai Chili Pineapple are on the menu at L.A. Creamery Artisan Ice Cream, a growing scoop shop based in Glendale, Calif. Executive chef Jessica Goryl buys many ingredients at local farmers’ markets. The milk is from Straus Family Creamery, an organic dairy in Marshall, Calif.

Mochi is a Japanese ice cream dessert that is wrapped in a skin made of rice flour, which allows it to be eaten as a finger food, says Joel Friedman, secretary/treasurer of Mikawaya USA, Los Angeles. The 100-year-old maker of Japanese pastries and desserts started making mochi in 1994. This fall, it will add Pumpkin Spice to go along with its other seven flavors (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, Kona coffee, mango, red bean and green tea). The new flavor was selected over peppermint and gingerbread by Mikawaya’s Facebook fans.

The ice cream is manufactured as a 42-gram ball and sold in packages of two and six. The product is available at all Trader Joe’s stores in the United States. The two-piece pack encourages sampling, Friendman says. He also hopes the two-piece SKU will make inroads at convenience stores with shoppers who are seeking a small bite.

While Mikawaya will try a pumpkin-flavored dessert this fall, Yarnell Ice Cream Co. is retiring its Pumpkin Pie ice cream SKU, but not because of slow sales. The Searcy, Ark.-based firm usually sells its limited-edition flavors for no more than two seasons. Replacing Pumpkin Pie is a cinnamon bun flavor named Sticky Bun. Flavors being reprised for a second season are Strawberry Shortcake (spring), Lemon Ice Box Pie (summer) and Santa’s Cookies and Milk (winter).

New flavors result from brainstorming sessions. Company president Christina Yarnell says the company asks employees, “What are the pies and desserts we grew up eating?” Then it recreates those flavors in an ice cream format. Lemon Ice Box Pie has graham cracker inclusions, lemon flavor and a creamy whipped topping.

Ethnic recipes also provide inspiration for new flavors. Conroy from The Brewer’s Cow also owns The Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe, a retail scoop shop in Connecticut. The owner of a local Moroccan restaurant asked Conroy to create an ice cream using oranges, cinnamon, dates and almonds (ingredients found in a popular North African salad).

College students propose flavors to be sold by the Berkey Creamery on the campus of Penn State University, University Park, Pa. Several years ago, the food science club revamped Peachy Paterno, named for the university’s football coach, Joe Paterno. The re-formulated recipe includes peach schnapps, nectarine puree and peach fruit pieces.

Creamery manager Tom Palchak says he brings out one to three new flavors every semester, which are developed by students in the university’s foodservice department, proposed by flavor houses, requested by the public or result from brainstorming. Recent flavors are Mint Nittany (mint flavor with Oreo cookies), Palmer Mousseum (chocolate ice cream, butter-roasted almonds and chocolate swirl) and Scholar’s Chip (chocolate chips, raspberry swirl and vanilla bean).

Sometimes flavors just don’t fly, however. Palchak owns up to being the creator of the least-popular ice cream: the now-discontinued Carrot Cake. That’s the way the inclusions crumble.

-Jim Carper, Chief Editor