Bloomington, Minn.-based Edwards frozen desserts, a brand of Schwan’s Consumer Brands Inc., which is a subsidiary of The Schwan Food Co., (a $3 billion a year food processor) continues to see growth as it introduced three new frozen cream pie flavors this year that focused on nostalgia and indulgence. 

As consumers seek out easy, indulgent desserts, the refrigerated and frozen dessert category is growing, according to Christine Bellamo, director of global business development for dairy/frozen at Daymon Worldwide, Stamford, Conn., which specializes in the sales and marketing of private label consumer products.

That growth is evident for Edwards in the frozen pie category. In the 52 weeks ended July 14, 2013, Edwards’ dollar sales were up 8.8% to $124.7 million and units rose 10.5%, according to data from Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago. Unit sales for the total category rose 3.7%.

The new flavors, which were released in March — Salted Caramel, Mounds Coconut Crème and Banana Crème — were in answer to what consumers were asking for: trendy and familiar flavors. The new Mounds Coconut Crème was a twist on the favorite coconut cream pie, while the Salted Caramel answered the trend for sweet and salty.

“There are a number of different trends… but I would say nostalgic flavors are big. So things you remember from your youth, whether it’s candy bar flavors, or S’mores or banana split,” said Jon Wiersum, vice president of brand marketing at Schwan’s Consumer Brands. “Combinations of flavors are [also] big, so things like sweet and salty, or sweet and savory, and things like fruit and herbs.”  

John Crocco, global business development director of bakery at Daymon Worldwide, is also seeing the resurgence in nostalgic flavors. That includes flavors like coconut and pineapple, and twists on old favorites like creamsicle, pineapple upside down cake and spice flavors.

Edwards’ product line includes whole premium pies as well as single servings. In total, there are 13 premium pies and 11 single-serve SKUs. The flavors range from fruit flavors like Key Lime and Strawberry Crème, to candy favorites like Hershey’s Chocolate Crème and Reese’s Crème Pie.

Several of the pies are made with reduced-fat sweetened condensed milk and cream cheese. The company gets these ingredients from a dairy processor in Wisconsin. The company’s main pie manufacturing facility is in Atlanta. 

For the new Mounds and Salted Caramel pies, each contain 400 calories per serving (1/8 of a pie). The Banana Crème contains 370 calories per serving, and the old favorite Lemon Meringue Pie contains 350 calories per serving.

Flavor inspiration for creating new pies comes from a variety of sources.

“We get ideas from our consumers, we proactively look for ideas, we do a lot of direct consumer research whether its focus groups or surveys. We’ve done employee surveys ourselves to get at what their favorite flavors are,” said Wiersum. “We look at trends in other adjacent categories, whether it’s yogurt or ice cream. We also have a culinary team that spends a lot of time helping us with overall food trends, looking at the foodservice industry.”

The Edwards brand is distributed in retail grocery and club stores by Schwan’s Consumer Brands Inc. Schwan’s Food Service Inc., also a subsidiary of The Schwan Food Co., markets crème pies under the Edwards brand as well.  Schwan’s Food Service markets and distributes frozen-food products to public and private schools, colleges and universities, health-care facilities, military bases, convenience stores and national chain restaurants through more than 1,800 active distributors throughout the United States. 

Layer by layer indulgence

According to Wiersum, Edwards’ desserts have been among the fastest-growing dessert brands in the frozen section. Part of what’s been successful for the brand is its focus on easy indulgence and sticking with tradition, even down to its recognizable packaging.

“Our octagon packaging is unique in the category and has been an equity that we’ve stuck with for many many years,” said Wiersum. “We’ve tried to keep our packages up-to-date from a quality of photography and other elements standpoint. But for the most part our brand look has stayed pretty constant over the years.”

When it comes to the indulgence aspect, Edwards’ crust and pie layers are what stand out.

“People might be surprised to hear that our crusts are made from cookies that are freshly baked in-house and that we create flavors layer by layer,” Wiersum said. “There is time and effort put into each pie that consumers don’t always associate with a frozen dessert.”

For example, the Hersey’s Crème Pie is made up of six layers, the chocolate cookie crumb crust, a layer of vanilla bean crème filling, then a Hersey’s chocolate crème filling, topped with Hersey’s chocolate chips, a whipped crème topping and finished with chocolate drizzle.

An interesting detail the company learned through consumer testing is that every consumer has their own way of eating Edwards’ layers.

“We know our consumers really love the complexity of flavors and textures in an Edward’s pie,” he said. “Some of our consumers like to eat the pie layer by layer, and some of them like to take their fork and get a part of each layer in every forkful.”

Single serve drives the market

According to Wiersum, all pie categories are growing, but the single-serve segment is growing more quickly right now. Currently, Edwards offers 11 different flavors in its single-serve line, including Georgia Pecan, Banana Crème, Turtle Pie and Nestle Butterfinger Crème. The singles are available in two-packs for all 11 flavors and one-packs for Cookies and Crème, Hershey’s Crème and Key lime flavors. The company also makes a single-serve cheesecake in original flavor that’s available in a 2-pack.

According to data from Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Edwards’ singles saw dollar sales increase 8.3% and units rose 7.6% in the 52 weeks ended July 14, 2013. In the frozen cheesecake segment, Edwards’ dollar sales jumped 24.6% and unit sales went up 26.2%, in the same time period.

Daymon Worldwide’s Crocco is also seeing a rise in popularity for single-serve in pies and other desserts. “We’re seeing single-serve, half pies, 5-inch pies and hand-held pies,” he said.

“There’s been an explosion of growth in smaller single-serve varieties, whether that’s ice cream, single-serve desserts or pies,” said Wiersum. “And I think that’s both a function of smaller households but also consumers having a broader range of usage occasions that they want to enjoy a frozen dessert. There is a strong consumer base who still wants to indulge a little, but don’t have the desire or need for a whole pie.”

Edwards’ singles have been around since the 1970s, when the company first introduced a line of individually packaged pie slices, well ahead of the trends to come.

Southern heritage

Edwards was started by Thomas Edwards in 1950 as a small retail bakeshop in Atlanta. The Edwards family delivered a variety of baked goods to local restaurants, schools and hospitals. Due to the success of the dessert business, Edwards decided to focus solely on producing pies. During the 1960s, he introduced frozen baked pies that were sold to retail stores. The company grew from there on a kind of word-of-mouth basis, according to Wiersum. The success of its Lemon Meringue Pie led the company to expand to other crème pie varieties.

The Schwan Food Co. purchased The Edwards Baking Co. in September 2001. Since that time Edwards has partnered with other brands such as Hershey’s and Reese’s, to expand its flavor offerings and appeal.

The company distributes its pies nationally, but is particularly strong in the south and east regions, where the brand has its long-standing heritage. Edwards has been largely a regional player, but the company is focusing on growing to national distribution, and is looking to expand its business to the West Coast, according to Wiersum.

As the company grows, so does its audience reach. Keeping in tune with what consumers want is a focus for Edwards.  In February, the company hired Cannonball Agency to take over digital responsibilities for Edwards’ Facebook page. Since that time the page has been refreshed and rebranded. The look, feel and tone of the page were updated. The company currently has over 19,000 likes on Facebook.

Each month, a content calendar is produced that encourages consumer engagement by developing quirky and fun features that celebrate holidays, discuss new and classic products and give consumers a forum to talk about the brand. They also launched a “Friday Pie Day” this year that invites consumers to sign up to win Edwards singles each week throughout the year.

 So, while the company looks to the past for flavor ideas, it is using modern marketing tools like social media to grow future sales.