No Signs of Cooling Off

James Dudlicek Managing Editor
(847) 205-5660 ext. 4009
Even Ben & Jerry’s is jumping on board.
The word out of South Burlington is that the wizards of core-concocting and one-sweet-whirling are launching a line of low-carbohydrate ice cream, Carb Karma. And not only that, they’re going to follow up this year with a no-sugar-added line and some light flavors as well, plus a line of lowfat frozen yogurt.
Oh, what changes a year can bring. It was in our March 2003 category review of frozen novelties that the Ben & Jerry’s director of brand management told Dairy Field it was unlikely the ice cream gurus of Vermont would be contributing to the then-growing trend of better-for-you offerings. There was “a potential for customers to be confused” by a low-cal line extension, he said, and people weren’t drawn to Ben & Jerry’s for its nutritional aspects, anyway.
There’s no confusing what trend is dominating the food industry now. “When it comes to dessert, it’s no easy feat to watch what you eat and enjoy eating it, too,” Ben & Jerry’s declares on its Web site in describing its new lines. “That’s why we’re offering options we think’ll tickle your nutritional fancy as well as amaze your taste buds.”
Of course, Ben & Jerry’s is but one manufacturer contributing to the avalanche of low-carb products careening toward shoppers perusing the freezer case. Minneapolis-based Marigold Foods, which markets products under the Kemps label, has launched Carb Promise ice cream. This looks to be a good companion to the Carb Countdown dairy beverage made by HP Hood, which is in the process of acquiring Marigold (see cover story).
Meanwhile, other companies are jockeying for the best product name playing off the word “carb” — SouthWest Foods’ LeCarb, Good Humor-Breyers CarbSmart, Byrne Dairy’s CarbSense, Silhouette Skinny Carb — not to mention the Atkins Endulge products made by Mr. Cookie Face and CoolBrands International. Others with NSA lines, like Wells Blue Bunny and Velvet, are playing up the low-carb aspects of existing products.
It would seem foolish not to get in the game. It has been reported that nearly one-fifth of U.S. households include someone on a low-carb diet, while other data puts the number of Americans on or considering a low-carb diet somewhere between 10 million and 30 million.
Plus, dairy — particularly cheese — is on the low side in the carb department anyway. And with the research linking dairy calcium to weight management within a diet of moderation and exercise, how can the industry go wrong?
But not all corners of the industry are sold. Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream has chosen to concentrate on its new slow-churning technology, explained in DF’s New Products section last month. The new Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand Light contains half the fat of regular ice cream and claims to possess the taste and texture of a full-fat product. Having participated in an informal tasting of the new Grand Light with my colleagues here at Stagnito Communications, I can say that Dreyer’s would seem to have a winner — at least among those for whom fat is more of a concern than carbohydrates.
And they appear to exist in significant numbers, according to reports that about 80 percent of consumers have used lowfat foods in the past year, with 37 percent adhering to a lowfat diet.
Dreyer’s CEO Gary Rogers isn’t convinced that low carb is the way to go for frozen desserts. “I think it’s something all food manufacturers need to take seriously today,” Rogers told me at Dairy Forum in January. “But I think it’s less significant to ice cream. It’s consumed primarily as an indulgence. It’s difficult to make a true low-carb product that doesn’t have some taste trade-off. … I think it’s going to be a very small part of the ice cream business.”
Obviously, there are many who would disagree, and the number of new low-carb frozen dessert products would seem to suggest otherwise. But time will tell whether low carb will flame out like so many trends before it, or become a permanent part of the American eating lifestyle — at least, one that will remain profitable enough for dairy processors to keep up with for the long haul.