Despite a chilly economy, marketers have been scooping out sales of dairy and nondairy frozen desserts in some pretty innovative flavors. Who's ready for mac-and-cheese ice cream?

Despite a chilly economy, frozen dessert marketers have been scooping out sales the past few years thanks to innovative concepts from inclusion suppliers and product developers. Frozen desserts remain an affordable luxury, one most Americans are not willing to sacrifice.

According to the 6th edition of Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts in the U.S., a Packaged Facts report from, Rockland, Md., this category - foodservice and retail combined - experienced $24.6 billion in sales in 2009, up 1.5% from $24.3 billion in 2008, and up 13.7% from about $21.7 billion in 2005. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) during this five-year period was 3.3%, and the market is projected to achieve sales of $26.5 billion by 2014, reflecting a 1.5% CAGR from 2009.

But, as the reports points out, to further increase sales, manufacturers and foodservice operators must build on the trends that have emerged over the past two years. This includes a taste for tart frozen yogurt that features good-for-you probiotic bacteria, as well as the addition of other healthful ingredients such as prebiotic fibers, omega-3 fatty acids and an array of vitamins and minerals, most notably calcium, to all types of frozen desserts. Related to the development of these value-added products is the growth in the number of organic frozen desserts and the development of natural sources to replace artificial color, flavor and sweetening ingredients.

“The strongest ‘healthier’ trend in ice cream has been the removal of additives and preservatives, rather than the limiting of fat, sugar or calories,” says Ana Lourenco, a market analyst with Chicago-based Mintel. “There’s definitely an opportunity for more on-trend superfruit or antioxidant-rich formulations to help make ice cream appear better for you.”

And another trend certain to continue will be the introduction of frozen desserts with flavors targeted to the growing Hispanic population, as well as the potential for flavors that appeal to Asian consumers.

Mac and cheese ice cream

Visitors to the International Dairy Show in September sampled some “crazy creations,” according to Jay Brigham, marketing director with one of the exhibiting inclusion companies. “We wanted to show the dairy industry that anything is possible when it comes to creating new ice cream flavors.”

Extreme prototypes included Macaroni and Cheese, a cheese-flavored ice cream with real macaroni noodles. “It took awhile, but we finally found the perfect texture for the pasta. Just like the real side dish, this version is creamy and cheesy…just frozen instead of hot.

“We also developed a guacamole ice cream made with real avocadoes,” says Brigham. “We served it on a tortilla chip with sour cream, cheese and salsa.”

The newest flavor-packed creation from Blue Bell Creameries, Brenham, Texas, is Spiced Pumpkin Pecan ice cream. “This is a recipe we have been working on for some time,” says Carl Breed, director of marketing. “You have your basic pumpkin ice cream that is popular during the fall months, but we wanted to create a flavor that was much more than simply pumpkin. We tried several different combinations of added ingredients until we found one we could not stop sampling.”      

The sugar-coated pecans and cinnamon-honey-praline sauce are what set this pumpkin-based ice cream apart from all the rest. “The pecans and sauce are what really enhance the flavor of this ice cream,” Breed adds. “The spiced pumpkin ice cream is very similar to what a pumpkin pie tastes like, add in the sweetness from the pecans and sauce and you have something spectacular.”

To encourage purchase, limited quantities were produced. It debuted in stores in November and is only available while supplies last.

Encouraging trial

When marketing cools creations, it is important to raise consumer awareness. Otherwise these innovations will get lost behind the cookie dough and mint chocolate chip.

Daily coupon buying websites leverage the power of collective bargaining to provide incredible local deals that offer huge savings for consumers while also promising sales numbers and hopefully new long-term customers to participating merchants. As a result, these group deal sites have become quite popular this year. In the food business, they are a great way to encourage trial of a new concept, including off-the-wall ice cream flavors dished out at scoop shops.

The original, and by far the most successful collective buying vendor is Chicago-based, which has established itself in more than 250 markets around the world. Through, Herrell’s Ice Cream, Northampton, Mass., sold 443 certificates valued for $10 worth of product. customers purchased the certificate for $5, a 50% savings, and were able to make their purchase at the ice cream retailer’s flagship store where innovative ice cream flavors such as jalapeño, key lime cardamom and Twinkies can be found alongside the traditional chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.

LivingSocial, Washington, D.C., a similar daily deal vendor, sold 664 $6 certificates for $12 worth of product at Chicago Creamery, an ice cream shop in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. The half-price deal makes it easier to experiment with frozen concepts such as Avocado-Macapuno (avocado ice cream with sweetened coconut pieces), Donut ‘N Cream (ice cream stuffed with donut chunks), Halo-Halo Fiesta (vanilla ice cream with bananas, pineapple and coconut gels, red and white beans and Rice Krispies) and Paludeh (rose water and lime sherbet with pistachios and rice noodles).

Anything is possible when it comes to America’s favorite dessert: ice cream.   

Chilling Out with Protein

According to The Food Channel’s recently released Top 10 snack trends, consumers are eating more substantial snacks packed with protein as meal replacements, and eating them more often. However, the high-protein snack category needs some livening up - products that go beyond bars and beverages. Frozen novelty manufacturers are primed for the challenge, as dairy proteins contribute to a desirable texture in frozen desserts and at the same time provide the creamy, rich flavor consumers appreciate.

The Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, through funding by the U.S. Manufacturing & Ingredients Marketing program at the U.S. Dairy Export Council, Arlington, Va., developed a formula for a chocolate-flavored frozen protein dairy snack. (See table.) A serving contains 120 calories and 3 grams fat, while functioning as an excellent source of protein (12 grams) and calcium (265 milligrams).

The product contains three dairy ingredients: whole milk, milk protein concentrate (MPC) and whey protein isolate (WPI). The whole milk contributes rich dairy flavor and provides structure and texture stability. The MPC adds dairy protein and calcium, while also contributing to a desirable texture. The WPI provides the boost of easily digested and readily absorbed proteins that enable the “excellent source” claim. The final product is a cool and creamy high-quality protein snack.

For more information,