New Day Dawning

by Julie Cook Ramirez
Technology lets processors make light ice cream products that finally meet consumer expectations.
Ice cream is one of those venerable favorites that people turn to on hot summer days, at birthday parties and other celebrations, or whenever they feel the need to treat themselves to a little bit of indulgence.
And when it comes to ice cream, that word — indulgence — is key. When people look to ice cream, they want to indulge.
In recent years, manufacturers have ratcheted up the indulgence factor, developing increasingly decadent offerings, dubbed premium, superpremium, even ultra-premium. Perhaps that’s why light ice cream — by definition, ice cream products containing 50 percent less total fat than standard ice cream, which contains a minimum of 10 percent milkfat — has typically been met with little enthusiasm on the part of consumers.
Granted, some light ice creams — most notably Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand Light — have attracted a loyal following. As a whole, however, light ice cream has failed to live up to consumers’ indulgence expectations.  
“The reason those products failed is because of the taste and texture compromise,” says Gulbin Hoeberechts, senior marketing manager, Häagen-Dazs, Oakland, Calif. “People are looking for healthier alternatives, but they are not willing to compromise on the quality, on the indulgence.”
In a 2004 survey of more than 1,200 consumers by Phil Lempert (an industry analyst known as The Supermarket Guru), texture, consistency and taste emerged as the top three factors for dissatisfaction with light products. Still, consumers have longed for ice cream products that deliver on expectations, while allowing them to stick to their diets. Thus, they have remained open to the idea of light ice cream and always seemed willing to give new products a shot, in the eternal quest for a product that cuts out some of the fat, enabling them to slim their waistlines, while reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer.
“More and more, consumers are recognizing the need to eat better,” says Adam Baumgartner, marketing manager for frozen better-for-you, Wells’ Dairy Inc., Le Mars, Iowa. “There’s been a switch in the consumer base to say, ‘Even with ice cream, I know I need to eat a little better than I do today.’”
In recent years, light ice cream production has increased significantly. According to the International Ice Cream Association at the Washington, D.C.-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), 373.9 million gallons of lowfat and non-fat ice cream were produced in 2003. That’s up 3.8 percent from 2002’s 359.6 million gallons. If the new introductions currently being touted by ice cream manufacturers live up to their hype, those figures will likely be just the tip of the ice(cream)berg.
TOP 10 ICE CREAM BRANDS*
 

$ Sales(In Millions)

% Changevs. Year Ago

Unit Sales(In Millions)

% Changevs. Year Ago

Total Category$4,010.22.3%1,222.7-0.6%
Private Label836.1-2.6289.7-8.6
Breyers530.2-1.7152.8-1.5
Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand426.311.4127.215.6
Blue Bell246.74.075.72.2
Häagen-Dazs212.714.363.815.9
Ben & Jerry’s181.3-2.357.7-3.7
Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand Light135.062.037.567.8
Wells’ Blue Bunny103.4-2.228.1-1.1
Turkey Hill94.09.532.910.8
Dreyer’s/Edy’s78.67.621.510.1
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, for the52-week period ending January 23, 2005.
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
“The category has really taken off because manufacturers have found better ways and better ingredients to make better products that consumers are trying and returning to because they’re that good,” Baumgartner says.
Technology Triumphs
A bevy of recent technological improvements have made it possible to produce light ice cream products that taste remarkably similar to their full-fat counterparts. Leading the charge has been Oakland, Calif.-based Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Holdings Inc., which claims to have invented light ice cream in 1987. The only light ice cream to place in the top 10 best-selling ice cream brands, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand Light racked up impressive gains last year.
Dreyer’s light ice cream sales in 2004 surged 68 percent, the company announced in a press release late last month, an achievement largely credited to the company’s new “slow churned” technology that promises to make light ice cream that tastes as good as full-fat premium and super-premium product.
The proprietary low-temperature freezing technology “kneads fat molecules at a colder temperature, stretching and distributing them widely, so the ice cream tastes like it contains more butterfat,” the company reports. What’s more, the process involves no fat substitutes or artificial sweeteners.
According to T. Gary Rogers, chairman and chief executive officer, Dreyer’s invested $100 million in bringing this new method of ice cream-making to the American consumer, and it seems to be paying off. In blind taste tests, nearly eight out of 10 consumers said they believed they were eating a full-fat premium or superpremium ice cream when given a sample of light ice cream manufactured with the new technology.
Backed by the largest marketing campaign in Dreyer’s history, the ice cream formerly known as Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand Light — now renamed Slow Churned Light Ice Cream — is available in a wide variety of flavors.
“The upside potential of the untapped light ice cream market is staggering,” Rogers says. “We project our 2005 growth will rival that of 2004, and we predict that Slow Churned Light Ice Cream sales will grow to rival our full-fat ice cream sales by 2007. That’s a revolution.”
So much so that Dreyer’s parent Nestlé is using similar technology to make the first-ever light version of its Häagen-Dazs brand, legendary for its decadence. The new version has half the fat of the original, but its flavor and texture remain true to the Häagen-Dazs legacy. “Over the years, consumers have told us that the one thing they would change about Häagen-Dazs is remove some of the fat,” Hoeberechts says.
Sold in 16-oz. pint cartons in grocery stores nationwide, Häagen-Dazs Light is available in seven flavors: Vanilla Bean, Dutch Chocolate, Coffee, Dulce de Leche, Mint Chip, S’Mores and Cherry Fudge Truffle. It’s also marketed as a superpremium ice cream, despite the fact that this terminology traditionally has been used to describe product containing the highest fat content.
Raising The Bar
Across the board, the better-for-you proposition has emerged in the forefront at Green Bay, Wis.-based Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream. The company has unveiled a line of “smart” ice cream and frozen novelty products, including an assortment of “low-free” products, sold as HeartSmart™. Ninety-eight percent fat-free, containing 1.5 fat grams per half-cup serving, Breyers® HeartSmart™ scooped ice cream is available in Vanilla, Vanilla/Chocolate/Strawberry, Cookies & Cream and Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Novelties include Fudge Bars and Orange & Raspberry Fruit & Cream Bars, which combine lowfat ice cream with fruit sherbet.
In response to research revealing that 66 percent of carb-conscious consumers are also seeking products that are lower in fat, the company introduced Breyers CarbSmart™ Light Vanilla Fudge Sundae and Breyers CarbSmart Light Chocolate Peanut Butter, two light ice creams containing 4 grams of net carbs per serving.
Good Humor-Breyers has also extended its commitment to reduced-fat products into the foodservice arena with Breyers Swirls, a new shelf-stable soft-serve mix that contains 25 percent less fat than regular ice cream. According to Dan Hammer, vice president of marketing and development, its lowfat profile makes it ideal for school or health care foodservice.
Cleveland-based Pierre’s French Ice Cream Co. met consumer demand for light products with the introduction of Slender® No Sugar Added Reduced Fat Ice Cream. The line features classic flavors like Vanilla and Chocolate as well as indulgent varieties like Moose Tracks®.
Since its debut in the fall of 2002, Slender® has proven to be such a success that Pierre’s recently introduced a line of Slender frozen novelties ­— Vanilla & Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches, Ice Cream Bars and Sundae Cones.
Wells’ Dairy, meanwhile, partnered with Weight Watchers International Inc. to produce and distribute a line of frozen novelties and ice cream under the Weight Watchers® brand. These new offerings join Wells’ own extensive better-for-you lines, including Health Smart fat-free ice cream and novelties and Sweet Freedom no-sugar added, reduced-fat novelties.
“Manufacturers have stepped up the game because consumers are demanding indulgent options that are in some way healthier for them,” Baumgartner says. “They are saying, ‘Give me as much as possible, while still letting it be better for me.’”
Julie Cook Ramirez is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.