The low-carb landslide has been pushing frozen novelties ever farther into better-for-you territory.
by James Dudlicek
Can you even get a full-fat ice cream sandwich anymore? How about an ice pop with sugar in it? A stick novelty without the words “net carbs” printed on the box?
You wouldn’t think so, looking at the dizzying array of reduced-carbohydrate, no-sugar-added and other so-called better-for-you frozen desserts that have invaded the market in the past year, both in packaged ice cream and novelties.
It’s getting harder to imagine a time when you could enjoy the occasional Drumstick or Fudgsicle without worrying about what nutritional horrors awaited you on the side panel. After all, these are indulgences, right?
Well, the industry has not wasted any time meeting the demand of dedicated low-carb dieters for something sweet and frosty. There have been dozens of such products introduced in the past year, as line extensions of existing processors and as products from new companies targeting this market.
Even Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, whose chief executive earlier this year downplayed the significance of low carb for ice cream in favor of his company’s new revolutionary slow-churning technology, appears to have relented. On its Web site, Dreyer’s lists a new Carb Benefit range of packaged flavors with 4 grams or less of net carbs.
But while development and sales of traditional-formula treats may have slowed down amid the chaos, they’re still very much alive and well, ready to be enjoyed by those who’d rather savor a bit less of the real thing than consume alternate recipes with greater frequency.
Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) reports a 4.9 percent increase in sales of frozen novelties from a year earlier for the 52-week period ending April 18, 2004. Total unit sales are up 2.3 percent for the same period, to more than 767 million novelties sold, according to IRI.
Among companies known for their better-for-you offerings, Silhouette — makers of Skinny Cow novelties — actually saw sales drop 2.3 percent, though the brand did overtake Nestlé’s Drumstick for the No. 3 spot, according to IRI. The largest reported growth among the top 10 best-selling novelty brands was No. 8 ranked Whole Fruit Bars, a line of mostly fat-free stick novelties made by Dreyer’s, with a 44.5 percent increase in sales. Sixth-ranked Weight Watchers Smart Ones, manufactured by CoolBrands International, rose 26 percent.
Farther down the list, ConAgra’s Healthy Choice frozen novelties ranked 15th but experienced a 242 percent growth in sales. Klondike Slim-A-Bear, made by Good Humor-Breyers, ranked 19th but saw a 357-percent jump in sales.
Meanwhile, Klondike’s regular line is ranked second but saw sales drop 2.3 percent. Among others not categorized as “better for you,” sales of Drumstick novelties dropped 6.1 percent; Häagen-Dazs fell 9 percent.
But all was not lost for traditional novelties amid the nation’s fitness frenzy. Sales of Popsicle novelties rose 7.1 percent, its cousin Fudgsicle up 4.2 percent and Blue Bell 7.6 percent.
As could be expected, low-carb varieties dominated new entries to the novelties scene.
“Our latest offerings are all in the low-carb arena,” says Tammy Shaw, executive vice president for Lakewood, N.J.-based Mister Cookie Face Inc. “We feel that we have a competitive advantage over our competition based upon quality and taste.”
Having introduced the first Atkins-branded ice cream in single-serve cups last year, Mister Cookie Face also makes the Keto line of low-carb packaged ice cream and novelties. Encompassing some 15 SKUs, the line includes such varieties as chocolate-coated bars Vanilla Moon, Chocolate Rain and Forever Raspberry; and sandwiches Chocolate Times Two, Dance with the Angels (vanilla), Go Nuts (peanut butter) and Kentucky Summer (mint).
With the marketplace flooded with low-carb frozen desserts, Shaw is among the many who believe this segment is here for the long haul.
“Low carb has made a major impact on our present and future offerings,” she says. “We feel this will be a segment that will mature in the same fashion that lowfat foods have. Low carb will become a lifestyle and not a diet.”
In fact, the low-carb phenomenon is building upon the growth of better-for-you offerings, which had been gaining strength even before Atkins became a household word. “Better for you is where our growth will be in the retail segment,” Shaw says. “We will continue to develop products that are better for you because we feel that this will continue with above average growth over the next seven to 10 years.”
Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream, a division of Unilever based in Green Bay, Wis., reports so-called “health claim” novelties drove category growth last year. The company lays claim to seven of the top 10 new nationally branded novelty SKUs introduced in 2003.
This year, Good Humor-Breyers is releasing many new novelties designed to fit a range of consumer lifestyles.
In fact, almost 30 percent of all products sold by Good Humor-Breyers now are in its better-for-you line, according to Joe Colligan, vice president of sales, as reported in The Wellness Beat, an online newsletter produced by food trends analyst Bob Messenger. Sales of this line have doubled during the first five months of 2004.
This past May, Good Humor-Breyers announced the launch of the first zero net-carb ice cream and frozen novelties under the company’s CarbSmart banner. With 20 calories each, CarbSmart Creamsicle bars — sweetened with Splenda and other sweeteners — come in variety packs of orange and mixed berry varieties.
Fat-free fruit bars head up the rest of the company’s new better-for-you releases, along with a variety pack of vanilla and mint-flavored sandwiches from its Klondike Slim-A-Bear line. Popsicle Healthy Bunch will bring sugar-free versions of popular Popsicle, Creamsicle and Fudgsicle treats. Further, the Klondike CarbSmart line will expand with a low-carb ice cream sandwich.
Le Mars, Iowa-based Wells’ Dairy Inc. continues to expand the novelty offerings sold under its popular Blue Bunny brand name. While continuing to offer premium ice cream bars, sandwiches and ice pops, Wells has been building an extensive network of better-for-you line extensions.
The newest line, Carb Freedom, includes a selection of packaged frozen dairy dessert in various flavors and stick novelties in vanilla, fudge and almond varieties, along with fruit juice bars in grape, raspberry and strawberry varieties.
But one of Wells’ newest novelties makes its home in the Sweet Freedom line of no-sugar added bars, cones, pops and sandwiches.
At 100 calories per serving, the new Blue Bunny Sweet Freedom White Chocolate Almond Lites contain creamy light vanilla ice cream on the inside and white-chocolate confection and diced almonds on the outside.
Rounding out Blue Bunny’s better-for-you novelty offerings is the Health Smart line of fat-free, no-sugar-added stick novelties.
CoolBrands International Inc., Ronkonkoma, N.Y., maker of better-for-you novelties like Atkins Endulge low-carb bars and Weight Watchers Smart Ones reduced fat sandwiches and sundae cones, continues to make strides in the novelty arena.
This year, CoolBrands introduced new selections for one of America’s most well-known brands, Eskimo Pie. Part of the line of extruded stick novelties are No Sugar Added Cookies ‘n Cream Bars, with reduced-fat vanilla ice cream coated with chocolate cookie crunchies; No Sugar Added Vanilla Milk Chocolate Crisp Rice Bars; and No Sugar Added Vanilla Dark Chocolate Bars, featuring reduced-fat vanilla and dark chocolate ice creams.
Indulgence and Fun
But amid the quest for better health, those seeking indulgence won’t be forgotten. Häagen-Dazs, a name that has become synonymous with rich, indulgent varieties of ice cream, offers its new Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream Bar — cheesecake ice cream with a sweet strawberry swirl, dipped into a milk chocolate coating with pieces of crunchy graham crust.
Good Humor-Breyers has brought out its new Klondike Almond Bar with Hershey’s Coating, which offers the taste of a Hershey’s chocolate bar with almonds to vanilla ice cream. Another Klondike sandwich will come topped with Mini-Reese’s Pieces peanut butter candies.
CoolBrands rounds out its premium line of Eskimo Pie extruded bars with Strawberry Shortcake Bars, Chocolate Eclair Bars, Toasted Almond Bars and Vanilla Milk Chocolate Bars.
In the “fun” category, Wells has enhanced its line of kids’ treats through a licensing agreement with Disney. This has given rise to such novelties as Lilo & Stitch Bomb Pops, Mickey S’wiches and Tigger Crazy Cones.
Meanwhile, Good Humor-Breyers will add Jell-O Pudding Pops and Mini Snack Size Fruit Bars to its Popsicle line, along with cartoon tie-ins for kids on ice pops featuring Nickelodeon’s Fairly Odd Parents and Yu-Gi-Oh. Further, Good Humor-Breyers gives a nod to a growing Hispanic demographic with its new Popsicle Trio Tropical triple-flavored ice pops.
In fact, ice pops are expected to be a burgeoning area across the board. “I think you will see more emphasis on water ice items,” Shaw says. “The butterfat market continues to be unstable and manufactures can’t promote at impactful levels until the market stabilizes. You will probably see units in novelties increase and dollar sales decrease based upon this.”
So, as consumers look to frozen novelties for a fun, indulgent treat as they have for decades, the better-for-you land rush continues to kick up dust. Processors will have to wait and watch for the next big thing while continuing to meet the demand for current treats.
“I wish I had a crystal ball and could see what the future will be in novelties,” Shaw says. “As a manufacturer, all we can do is continue to monitor consumer trends and continue to be aggressive in new product development. Who knows what the next ‘pet rock’ will be?”$OMN_arttitle="Well Developed";?>