Good Things in Small Packages
by Lynn Petrak
The novelty hasn’t worn off for those looking for treats that are rewarding, indulgent or better for them.
Maybe it’s because it reminds people of the thrill they felt when the ice cream truck came down their street. Perhaps it’s because it is a treat just for them. It could be the fun shape and size, or the fact that it is as convenient as it is enjoyable.
To be sure, the single-serving frozen dessert holds a special place in many Americans’ hearts — and freezers. From bars to cones to tiny coated pieces, novelties are available in a broad range of formats and flavors these days to appeal to a customer base that extends from toddlers to seniors. “It’s a treat for yourself — every time you have one, it is a reward. And if you think about it, no one ever complains about ice cream and novelties,” says Suzanne Ginestro, brand manager for the new Dibs™ line from Oakland, Calif.-based Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Holdings Inc.
Laura Hindulak, marketing director for Pierre’s French Ice Cream Co., Cleveland, agrees that the appeal of novelties is basic. “Novelty treats are fun and exciting, and are equally popular among consumers of any age,” she says. “They are a great avenue for providing delicious tasting, portion-controlled treats that are unique and satisfying.”
Consumers spend more than $2.2 billion a year on novelties, according to data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc, (IRI). The Washington, D.C.-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) reports that 62 percent of American households purchase novelties on a yearly basis.
That said, the latest market surveys indicate a slight melting of sales. Compared to last year’s figures, sales of frozen novelties for the last 12 months dipped 2.9 percent, with six of the top 10 brands posting declines.
Even with overall sales in the negative territory for the first time in years, the category isn’t in a total deep freeze, especially given the increasing diversity of product lines. The burgeoning youth market, for instance, is spurring all kinds of kid-friendly products. On opposite ends of the diet spectrum, the growth of better-for-you novelties and premium and superpremium novelties continues on parallel tracks (or, perhaps more appropriately, MooseTracks).
Top 10 Frozen Novelty
Brands*
  $ Sales (in Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago Unit Sales (in Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago
Total Category$2,202.0-2.9%756.8-3.2%
Private Label330.1-0.1140.7-0.3
Nestlé Drumstick132.511.939.820.3
Klondike126.1-2.242.3-4.5
Dreyer’s/Edy’s Whole Fruit95.56.432.14.4
Popsicle88.7-4.534.2-2.3
Weight Watchers Smart Ones86.3-23.421.2-24.2
Silhouette81.1-29.718.2-28.9
Häagen-Dazs57.918.319.322.8
Klondike Carb Smart56.770.215.167.9
Klondike Slim-a-Bear49.5-4.015.2-2.4
*Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart) for the52-week period ending May 15, 2005.
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
Manufacturers, too, note the sheer growth of frozen novelties at the retail level bodes well for the category even as it ramps up competition. “Our novelty business is definitely trending up, and growth is attributed to line extensions and increased distribution of national brand novelties,” reports Penny Baker, marketing manager for Smith Dairy Products Co., Orrville, Ohio, which markets a line of Ruggles™ novelties. “Look at the growth of the novelty section in the retail grocery store. Significant shelf space is dedicated to novelty products.”
Form and Function
On the topic of trends, one of the most notable evolutions in the category has been the development of new forms of novelties. Representing the true shape of things to come, so to speak, is the new Dibs line from Dreyer’s. Launched in May, Dibs are individual chocolate-coated pieces of ice cream sold in bright-red 60-count packages for retail and 26-count packages for convenience stores and concessions. “It basically breaks the mold of traditional ice cream,” Ginestro says. “It’s a great snack because everyone in the house will eat it and we have people grazing throughout the day as well as eating it at night for dessert.”
Ginestro says the line represents an extensive —and expensive— investment by Dreyer’s to carve out a new niche within the category. “Dibs is unlike anything we’ve ever done,” she says, noting that the first concept test was done five years ago. “In terms of innovation required and capital investment, we spent more on Dibs than we did on our SlowChurned™ [light ice cream] product.”
Now, several weeks after its quiet launch in store freezers, Dreyer’s has rolled out an extensive marketing campaign to support the Dibs series, including advertising, public relations and sampling programs. “There has never been a launch this big in support with this many marketing dollars,” Ginestro says.
According to Ginestro, the five Dibs varieties have already received positive buzz and repeat purchases. “Our initial research showed unbelievable test scores on purchase intent,” she says. “And the line was out over a month without any awareness marketing tools, and people started picking it up right away.”
Another example of the less-is-more approach to novelties is Nestlé Miniwiches, distributed by Dreyer’s. The recently launched miniature ice cream sandwiches, available in 12-count packs, feature cookies and cream ice cream wrapped in chocolate cookie layers.
Beyond size, novelties are breaking out of the traditional mold in other ways. In the past year, more dessert-inspired novelties have hit the freezer. Häagen-Dazs, the upscale brand distributed by Dreyer’s, recently developed a brownie bar, a chocolate brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and enrobed in Belgian milk chocolate and walnuts. The Blue Bunny line of novelties from LeMars, Iowa-based Wells’ Dairy now includes a series of super-indulgent Ultimate Rewards™ dessert cups, with ice cream layered with mousses, sauces and candy toppings. And South Burlington, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry’s has extended its popular Half Baked™ flavors from its hard-pack ice cream line, creating new Half Baked bars featuring chocolate and vanilla ice cream with fudge brownies and chocolate chip cookie dough.
Pierre’s also has responded to consumer interest in indulgent, dessert-style products. Last spring the company introduced Premium Sundae Cones, with vanilla ice cream in chocolate lined waffle cones with fudge topping and roasted peanuts, and Moose Tracks® Sundae Cones with vanilla ice cream, fudge and peanut butter cups. “There will always be the need for full-fat, indulgent treats for those consumers who just want to splurge,” Hindulak says.
Getting Better
Reflecting the American palate paradox, the other notable trend beyond indulgence has been the renewed focus on better-for-you novelties, from calcium-fortified ice cream desserts for kids to products with reduced sugar, fat and carbohydrates.
“You are seeing a plethora of frozen snacks going better-for- you,” Ginestro says, citing new Skinny Cow and other better-for-you products distributed by Dreyer’s parent Nestlé. “It’s all about portion control —you don’t have to worry about how much you are scooping.” Dibs, too, she says, are appreciated by diet-conscious customers, because of the products’ built-in portion control.
Several companies have recently beefed up their better-for-you novelty offerings. Pierre’s has its Slender® No Sugar Added Reduced Fat Ice Cream products, including sundae cones, bars and sandwiches. Green Bay, Wis.-based Good Humor-Breyers, which has long pursued the better-for-you corner of the market, continues to offer new products, including CarbSmart™ Almond Bars, CalSmart™ Cups, Klondike® Slim-a-Bear Krunch Bars, and No Sugar Added SugarSmart™ Ice Cream Bars. Meanwhile, Blue Bunny has combined interest in both better-for-you and dessert-style treats with its new Sweet Freedom® Vanilla Sundae Cones.
Smith Dairy has heeded customer clamor for novelties without the guilt. The company now offers a no-sugar-added fudge pop and a sugar-free ice pop. According to Baker, the advent of better-for-you products reflects an ongoing category shift toward diversification. “One used to think of novelties as being marketed to kids only,” she says. “But it seems that more items are being produced for an adult audience —sugar-free, low-carb, and no-sugar-added are geared more toward the health-conscious consumer.”
Ginestro says if broad-based appeal is the key to the continued growth, success is a given. “I think kids love ice cream snacks because they are fun, but for adults it takes them back to when they were a kid,” she says. “They have a feeling of nostalgia and fun.”
Lynn Petrak is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.