Perfectly Portioned

by Julie Cook Ramirez
Contributing Editor

Portion control and fun new varieties drive frozen novelty category growth.

The notion that virtually any product can fit into a healthy diet — as long as it’s eaten in moderation — seems to finally be getting through to the American consumer. As a result, the frozen novelties category has witnessed strong growth over the past couple of years, even as packaged ice cream sales have failed to live up to expectations. Across the industry, it’s the portion-controlled nature of frozen novelties that is receiving the most credit for helping the category rack up sales.
“Consumers are looking for products that take the guesswork out of calorie control,” says Rachel Kyllo, vice president of marketing for St. Paul, Minn.-based Kemps LLC. “Frozen novelties are perfect for on-the-go snacking without having to worry about overindulging.”
In addition to portion control and portability, ease of innovation also plays a key role, according to Carl Breed, director of marketing for Brenham, Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries. This is particularly important for a category in which consumers always seem to be on the look-out for something new. “It’s a very fun, innovative kind of category,” Breed says. “You can do so much with it from the standpoint of shapes and sizes and things of that sort.”
Fruit-flavored ice pops seem to be ruling the category these days, with overall ice pop sales up 9.5 percent in dollars and 6.8 percent in units across supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, during the 52-week period ending May 20, 2007, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI). By contrast, sales of other frozen novelties — sandwiches, cones and the like — were up 2.1 percent in dollars but fell 0.2 percent in units.
While the data seems to suggest a trend toward ice pops, that hasn’t been the case for Kemps, according to Kyllo, who cites “a lot of interest in the indulgent side of the novelty category.” For those consumers seeking the ultimate in indulgence, Green Bay, Wis.-based Unilever Ice Cream rolled out Triple Chocolate Brownie. Described as “a treat of epic proportions,” Triple Chocolate Brownie features a chocolate-flavored Giant King Cone filled with creamy white and dark chocolate ice cream with a milk chocolate sauce core and topped with chocolate sauce and brownie pieces.
Unilever also partnered with Hershey to produce Breyers Hershey Kisses Ice Cream Poppers. Shaped like a Hershey’s Kisses, they feature vanilla or chocolate ice cream coated with Hershey’s chocolate.
Recognizing the growing trend toward 100-calorie snacks, Unilever rolled out several new Good Humor-Breyers 100 Calorie frozen novelties, including Slim-a-Bear 100 Calorie ice cream sandwiches and bars, and Fudgsicle 100 Calorie fudge bars. According to Julio Del Cioppo, director of marketing, the products were developed in response to consumer comments about the importance of portion control.
TOP 10 INDIVIDUAL FROZEN NOVELTY BRANDS*
 $ Sales (In Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago Unit Sales (In Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago
Total Category$2,336.72.1%789.4-0.2%
Private Label328.7-0.8138.4-0.7
Weight Watchers141.228.732.529.1
Nestlé Drumstick137.51.439.3-2.1
Klondike126.7-7.642.4-11.6
Popsicle115.16.040.9-0.6
The Skinny Cow90.417.920.510.1
Dreyer’s/Edy’s Whole Fruit87.6-21.126.5-26.5
Dreyer’s/Edy’s Dibs86.925.626.324.5
Häagen-Dazs59.610.620.214.5
Klondike Slim-A-Bear55.210.616.95.4
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, for the 52-week period ending May 20, 2007.
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
“Consumers want to be able to enjoy their favorite foods while feeling confident they can stick to a specific eating plan,” Del Cioppo says. “These portion-controlled ice cream novelties provide them with just the right amount of our great-tasting ice cream, while helping them watch their weight.”
Responding to requests from parents frustrated with the sticky mess created by ice pops melting too fast, Unilever developed new Popsicle Slow Melt, which is designed to last longer than regular pops. “Moms, particularly those with smaller kids, have told us that regular ice pops melt too fast and are messy,” Del Cioppo says. “With this new innovation, we are excited to give kids more time to enjoy their treat with less mess.”
Fat free, low in calories and a good source of vitamin C, Popsicle Slow Melts are available in 20-packs of Cherry, Strawberry/Kiwi and Lemonade varieties. Building on the successful addition of real fruit juice and vitamin C to its Popsicle brand ice pops in 2006, Unilever also recently added natural colors and flavors to its line-up. Del Cioppo says this addition makes Popsicle a product parents can feel good about giving to their kids.
Brand Partners
Unilever has also jumped on the NASCAR bandwagon, rolling out the Klondike NASCAR Bar, a 5-ounce chocolate cookie layered with caramel ice cream and topped with caramel, then covered in peanuts and milk chocolate. Klondike also serves as an official sponsor of the NASCAR Busch Racing Series.  
Partnerships are also a key part of the novelties business for Kemps, which recently began rolling out a line of juice bars made with organic fruit from Washington-based Cascadian Farm. The company continues to build upon its relationship with Caribou Coffee, rolling out Caribou Coffee Ice Cream Nuggets, a line of frozen novelties based on popular Caribou Coffee Ice Cream flavors: Caribou Blend, Turtle Mocha, Java Chunk and Caramel High Rise.
“The Caribou Nuggets deliver a wonderful coffee-flavored ice cream in a very convenient product, which delivers on a couple of hot buttons for consumers: portion control and great indulgence,” Kyllo says.
Not to be left out of the 100-calorie craze, Kemps introduced an assortment of premium 100 calorie mini ice cream bars and sandwiches this spring. Varieties include cones, vanilla nuggets and vanilla and chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches.
Le Mars, Iowa-based Wells’ Dairy Inc. recently expanded its line of better-for-you Premium Light products, including the Cookies & Cream Bar, Triple Chocolate Sandwich and a sundae cone variety pack that offers light vanilla, caramel swirl and fudge swirl varieties, all dipped in chocolate coating and rolled in a crunchy topping of peanuts and cone bits. Wells also expanded its Sweet Freedom line with the introduction of low-fat vanilla and mint ice cream sandwiches. Borrowing from hot trends in juices, the company also rolled out two new bars: FrozFruit Superfruit Pomegranate Cherry and Raspberry Acai.
“Those types of products and innovations are generating a lot of excitement,” says Adam Baumgartner, senior marketing manager for retail brand development. “Being able to tie into trends that are driving other categories and pull them into the frozen category has certainly been paying off.”
Targeting the nation’s chocoholics, Blue Bell rolled out two new decadent frozen treats: Cookies ‘n Cream Bars and Chocolate Overload Bars. According to Breed, it’s those kinds of products that consumers typically think about when Blue Bell comes to mind. “We definitely have the health claim stuff, but when you ask any consumer, they think of us as a quality decadent type of company,” he says.
Bark and Bite
Seeking to ensure that none of the family gets left out of the snacking occasion, Unilever Ice Cream has embarked on a partnership with popular pet food company Pedigree to create Pedigree Ice Cream Sandwich Treats for Dogs. Said to be the first real ice cream sandwich formulated especially for dogs, the dairy-based product boasts a creamy ice cream-like texture but are 99 percent lactose-free. That is an important distinction because like some humans, some dogs are lactose-intolerant.
“Dogs are staple members of 40 million households, but for dietary reasons, they are often left begging for the kind of foods their owners enjoy,” says Dan Hammer, vice president of marketing. “With the Pedigree Ice Cream Sandwiches for Dogs, dog owners can feel good about giving their pets a treat that not only tastes delicious, but also is low in fat, has no sugar added and contains protein, vitamins and minerals.”
Competing with the likes of Associated Ice Cream’s Frosty Paws and CoolBrands’ Dogsters, Pedigree Ice Cream Sandwich Treats for Dogs are being positioned as a “fetch-friendly” treat and the ideal reward for training, good behavior or just as a refreshing snack.  
Julie Cook Ramirez is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.