Not Just For Dessert Anymore


Long considered a sweet treat, pudding struggles to claim status as a healthy snack, too.
by Julie Cook

Top 10 Shelf-Stable Pudding/Gelatin Brands*
$ Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Dollar
Share
Unit Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Total Category
$267.0
8.3%
100.0%
181.5
5.1%
Hunt’s Snack Pack
74.8
-5.5
27.9
52.2
-6.2
Kraft Handi Snacks
61.8
2.3
23.1
48.3
1.3
Dole Fruit and Gel Bowls
37.2
3.7
13.9
16.3
3.2
Private Label
19.8
29.4
7.4
17.8
25.8
Del Monte
18.8
99.2
7.0
8.3
97.0
Hunt’s Snack Pack
Dessert Favorites
12.3
191.0
4.6
8.3
190.4
Kraft Handi Snacks Gels
10.7
53.4
4.0
9.0
54.4
Hunt’s Snack Pack
Juicy Gels
8.0
-22.6
3.0
6.7
-22.6
Hunt’s Snack Pack
Squeez ‘n Go
7.6
236.6
2.8
3.0
243.4
Hunt’s Snack Pack Swirl
5.6
-7.8
2.1
4.6
-9.6
* Total sales in supermarkets only for the 52-week period ending November 30, 2003. Source: Information Resources Inc. Top 10 Refrigerated Pudding/Mousse/Gelatin/Parfait Brands*

Top 10 Refrigerated Pudding/Mousse/Gelatin/Parfait Brands*
$ Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Dollar
Share
Unit Sales
(In Millions)
% Change
vs. Year Ago
Total Category
$594.5
4.1%
100.0%
273.1
3.8%
Jell-O
142.9
1.1
24.0
50.6
-2.3
Kozy Shack
80.3
2.7
13.5
32.9
1.6
Jell-O Gelatin Snacks
79.6
11.5
13.4
27.9
4.3
Jell-O Free
61.7
-5.9
10.4
21.4
-7.9
Swiss Miss
45.8
-7.4
7.7
17.3
-8.9
Private Label
37.1
11.1
6.2
17.0
14.7
Jell-O Crème Savers
26.6
121.0
4.5
9.0
116.0
Jell-O Extreme
20.8
-24.7
3.5
7.4
-28.4
Jell-O Smoothie
13.7
N/A
2.3
4.7
N/A
Hershey’s
13.1
93.0
2.2
4.5
89.8
* Total sales in supermarkets only for the 52-week period ending November 30, 2003. Source: Information Resources Inc.

Memories are largely based on sensory experiences. As we think back to days gone by, we tend to focus on certain sounds, smells or tastes. The aroma of Dad’s cologne or Mom’s favorite flowers, the ring of the school bell or the taste of roasted marshmallows fresh from the backyard grill — these are all key components of memories of an earlier, perhaps happier time.
Since dairy products tend to play a fairly significant role in most American children’s diets, our memories often include recollections of cool, frothy glasses of milk; toasty grilled cheese sandwiches; ice cream cones piled high with rocky road; or rich, thick bowls of chocolate pudding, with or without the “skin.”
“Pudding has a very nostalgic appeal,” says Courtney Hodge, director of sales and marketing for Hinsdale, N.H.-based Echo Farm Inc. “Everybody that we talk to at sampling events says, ‘My grandmother used to make me pudding.’”
All nostalgic products experience a kind of ebb-and-flow phenomenon. Take movies, for example. For decades, classic flicks sat in warehouses, literally disintegrating in their canisters, until film schools, directors and production companies led the rallying cry for their preservation. Today, many of those films rack up handsome sales on DVD and video. Likewise, fashions of the 1970s, which had long been deemed hideous, became the ultimate in hip, as millennial teens embraced bell-bottoms, ringer T-shirts and other long-forgotten styles.
After several humdrum years, pudding, too, is finally enjoying the sweet taste of revival. Throughout U.S. food stores, sales of refrigerated pudding, mousse, gelatin and parfaits rose 4.1 percent in dollars and 3.8 percent in units during the 52-week period ending November 30, 2003, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI). Shelf-stable puddings and gelatins fared even better, rising 8.3 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively.
Increasing Introductions
In large part, processors credit a sorely needed injection of innovation for helping to revive the lagging pudding category. Over the past two years, new products have flooded store shelves and refrigerated cases, as manufacturers flexed their R&D muscles and came out swinging. Taking a cue from the yogurt industry, ConAgra Foods rolled out the undeniably Go-Gurt-inspired Hunt’s Snack Pack Squeez ‘n Go Portable Pudding, marketing the product to active teens and tweens. The Omaha, Neb.-based company also teamed up with Hershey, Pa.-based Hershey Foods Corp. to produce Hershey’s Portable Pudding tube packs, similarly sold in a flexible-stick style package.
Likewise, Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods continued its pudding push, rolling out X-Treme Jell-O® Pudding Snacks in variety packs of cotton candy- and bubble gum-flavored product. Kraft also added two seasonal flavors — Orange Crème and Strawberry Crème — to its Jell-O Instant Pudding & Pie Filling line and introduced Jell-O Crème Savers® Pudding Snacks. Borrowing flavors from the popular Crème Savers hard candies, the puddings are sold in three varieties — Strawberries & Crème, Orange & Crème, and Chocolate Caramel & Crème. Seeking to make an indulgent product even more indulgent, Kraft introduced Handi-Snacks Doubles. The two-layer pudding cups are available in chocolate and vanilla, as well as rocky road.
Kozy Shack Enterprises Inc. most recent offerings include its Signature Rice with three fruit variations (strawberry, peaches and apples), plus Cinnamon Raisin Rice and Dulce de Leche. The Hicksville, N.Y.-based manufacturer also redesigned its packaging and revised the names of its flavors, making it easier for consumers to find their favorite Kozy Shack puddings in the grocer’s refrigerated case.
Meanwhile, Farmingdale, N.Y.-based Carousel Foods of America Inc. introduced Missy’s All Natural Premium Puddings in rice, tapioca, chocolate, vanilla, banana and flan varieties. Low in sodium, fat and cholesterol, they are sold in several different package configurations: two 4.5-ounce twins; 16-ounce,
22-ounce and 32-ounce family servings; as well as a 64-ounce (two 32-ounce containers) club pack.
Despite all this activity, some members of the pudding community are not impressed. Jose Gutierrez, president of J.R. Foods Co. Inc., a Toronto-based manufacturer of private label European puddings, cautions that the performance of the pudding category is nothing to write home about. “The category has not done anything spectacular,” he says. “A pudding is a pudding. How much better can you make a pudding?”
Considering the growth in private label pudding sales, one might expect Gutierrez would be a bit more enthusiastic about the category. In both refrigerated and shelf-stable varieties, private label holds the No. 4 position. Sales of private label refrigerated puddings, mousses, gelatins and parfaits rose 11.1 percent in dollars and 14.7 percent in units, according to IRI, while sales of shelf-stable puddings and gelatins surged 29.4 percent and 25.8 percent, respectively.
According to Gutierrez, low-income consumers tend to be more brand loyal and that consumers with a higher income are far more likely to purchase private label products. “The higher your education and income, the more rapidly you will go for the better value,” he explains. “Why that is, I have no idea.”
Greg Steinhauser, president and founder of Carousel Foods, says that sales of his company’s private label puddings have exceeded the expectations of its private label customers. He believes the growth is a direct result of consumers being more value conscious and recognizing that they can get the same quality as a branded product from private label, but at a much lower price.
Aiming for Adults
While pudding has often been con­sidered a favorite childhood treat, a growing number of manufacturers are openly targeting the adult market, rolling out more mature flavors and even making a conscious effort to sell their products in adult-sized portions. Echo Farm, for example, targets adults with its line of all-natural premium puddings. Using milk from its on-site herd, the company produces a line of flavorful concoctions designed specifically with grown-ups in mind.
Each Echo Farm pudding flavor bears the name of one of its cows — Miracle’s Chocolate, Candle’s Coffee, Ticket’s Tapioca and Lolly’s Butterscotch, for example. What’s more, the farm is certified humane, indicating an independent auditor has ensured all operations are being run with the best interests of the herd in mind.
Whereas Kraft and ConAgra typically sell their single-serve puddings in 3.5- to 4-ounce cups, Echo Farm uses a 6-ounce cup. Hodge says that’s because the smaller cups act merely as a “teaser” for an adult, while an 8-ounce cup simply would be too much indulgence. What’s more, the 6-ounce size allows for more of a direct comparison with pudding’s cousin, yogurt. “There is very little difference between yogurt and pudding if you are comparing on a whole milk to whole milk basis,” says Hodge. “They have the same protein content, the same calories and the same calcium content. Really the only difference is that yogurt has the active cultures.”
That’s not to suggest that everyone is aware of those attributes and considers pudding to be on par with yogurt as far as healthfulness is concerned. On the contrary, pudding typically is viewed as an indulgent snack
or dessert, while yogurt is practically deemed a health food. Of course, it didn’t help that pudding was conspicuously absent from the list of dairy foods promoted in the National Milk Board’s new 3-A-Day program, which specifically promotes milk, yogurt and cheese as means of increasing one’s dairy intake.
Hodge was not pleased. “I wrote to them and said, ‘That’s great if you want to target these as healthy items, but you ought to be allocating some funds to promote these dessert items too,’” she says. “Their response was, ‘We’ll look into it,’ but that was a year-and-a-half ago and I still don’t see any work being done to promote puddings.”
Hodge admits it may help pudding’s image as a healthy food if manufacturers took steps to address some of the nation’s biggest health concerns with their products. At this point, she says, no one is producing a low-carbohydrate pudding, despite the growing popularity of the Atkins diet. At sampling events, Echo Farm representatives consistently field consumer comments about the high number of carbohydrates in pudding. According to Hodge, the company had considered the possibility of producing a private label pudding for Atkins, but nixed the idea because such an endeavor would require them to break their pledge to remain all natural.
A small number of pudding manufacturers have begun addressing the obesity/diabetes issue with the release of no-sugar-added products. Kozy Shack, for example, has two varieties of no-sugar-added pudding available in limited release, and Carousel Foods has plans to roll out no-sugar-added varieties of its puddings later this year.
When it comes to pudding’s future, Steinhauser is completely optimistic. Because the product has the ability to please everyone from 8 to 80, he believes more consumers will turn to pudding as a quality, wholesome dessert much as they have with yogurt over the past several years.
“Thirty years ago, you never heard about yogurt, but some very large companies got behind it and really did a great job marketing it and promoting the healthy aspect of it,” says Steinhauser. “It’s just a matter of time before it’s going to happen to the pudding category.”
Julie Cook is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.