berry sponsor

In terms of ice cream and frozen novelty sales, matching a “Super Bowl champion”-level performance like those of the Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes in 2020 and 2023, which occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic for ice cream, when consumers sought a home indulgence, is difficult to replicate. 

Often after a championship run, an injury occurs, or players did not live up to prior results. However, the ice cream/frozen novelties category continues to move the ball in terms of dollar sales, although unit sales have unfortunately been stopped for no gain.

According to Chicago-based market research firm Circana, ice cream dollar sales increased a rich and smooth 7% year over year (YoY) to $7.2 billion for the year ending Aug. 13. However, unit sales melted by 4% to 1.6 billion.

Frozen novelties experienced similar results. Dollar sales jumped 8% to $7.5 billion for the 52-week period, while unit sales declined 4% to 1.7 billion.

SNICKERS Bryce Cream Bar
The “SNICKERS Bryce Cream Bar” features the same creamy peanut butter ice cream and chocolatey shell as the original SNICKERS Ice Cream bar, with a label inspired by Carolina Panthers' quarterback Bryce Young. Photo courtesy of Mars.

Jessica Stainsby, Buffalo, N.Y.-based Rich Products’ senior product manager, Ice Cream Cakes, says she has seen similar results when looking specifically at the ice cream cake category, citing Nielsen data (latest 52 weeks ending Sept. 9) showing dollar sales up 4.1% YoY and unit sales down 6.1%. Retail price points have increased due to reduced consumption frequency driven by inflation, she adds. 

Rich Products is seeing that occasion-specific items, such as birthday and graduation ice cream cakes, are faring better today, since these are primary, widespread celebrations. Smaller, more indulgent items have experienced stronger declines driven by inflation and price-conscious consumers, Stainsby notes.

“To incent sales against smaller-sized formats, Rich’s has leveraged the brand strength and trustworthiness of Carvel and other licensed cakes, like OREO and REESE’s, to drive purchase through promotions and awareness tactics,” she tells Dairy Foods. “A good example was our National Ice Cream Month social campaign, which encouraged fans to ‘Take the Cake’ by picking up an ice cream cake to elevate their everyday. We also tapped into consumer trends on TikTok, launching a viral Carvel #CakesFlipForACause promotion to raise money toward pediatric cancer.”

Inflation is certainly a cause for this discrepancy in dollar sales versus unit sales of ice cream, as it remains a factor in all other dairy categories. However, some good trends have occurred. One big positive for the ice cream and frozen novelties category is an anecdotal consumer desire to purchase premium products, which began during the pandemic. 

For instance, Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream is one company seeing excellent sales in premium ice cream products. “At Handel’s, we’ve been making ice cream fresh every day at every store, using only the finest ingredients, since 1945. Today, we are still utilizing our founder Alice Handel’s recipes that were developed over 78 years ago,” says Rich Matherne, CEO of the Canfield, Ohio-based company. “We have found that customers love our traditional, home-grown roots while offering premium and homemade ice cream. With more ice cream brands entering the market, I see a trend of customers willing to pay more for a better product.”

Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream and The Dairy Alliance
Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream and The Dairy Alliance, a nonprofit funded by dairy farm families of the Southeast, partnered to launch a “batch made in heaven” Horchata. Photo courtesy of Handel’s.

CJ Ellens, head of sales and marketing at Holland, Mich.’s, Hudsonville Ice Cream, also tells Dairy Foods it sees strength in premium products. “What we have seen is an underlying trend is really strong growth of premium ice cream and frozen desserts. We are seeing some softness in pints,” he mentioned recently. However, family size, such as 48-ounce scrounds, are doing well because the value is there. People are more cost conscious than they were during COVID, when they had more disposable income.”

Long term, Ellens adds he expects overall ice cream sales to be flat or decline by 1% or 2% annually. “How consumers engage with ice cream and the format they use to consume it will change over time,” he says. 

Conversely, frozen yogurt suffered a difficult year, as both dollar sales and unit sales declined. In this subcategory, dollar sales dipped to $329 million for the year ending Aug. 13, a 5% YoY drop. Unit sales tumbled by 5% to 71.5 million. South Burlington, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry’s, which named a new CEO, Dave Stever, this year, continues to be the sales leader in this subcategory, but dollar sales dropped by 4% to $78 million. Private label places second at $66 million, followed by Broomfield, Colo.-based So Delicious at $64 million in dollar sales, according to Circana.

Alcohol-infused ice cream

Last year in our ice cream/frozen novelties’ State of the Industry report, Dairy Foods discussed health benefits as a major trend. Perhaps, we spoke too soon.

Indulgence, collaborations and themed products were a major topic in 2023. One ice cream category that could see future growth are products infused with alcohol, also known as “hard ice cream.” As Dairy Foods highlighted in its Processor Profile and Inside the Plant feature last month, South Carolina’s PROOF Hard Ice Cream is one company making tremendous strides in this category. The company states it is disrupting two major product categories, creamy ice cream and spirits, which caters to two of “life’s greatest indulgences.” 

“Disruption is very rare in the food and beverage industry. Every once in a great while a new product comes along that recontours the consumer landscape, and PROOF Hard Ice Cream is a prime example,” states Dirk Brown, co-founder of PROOF Hard Ice Cream. “PROOF is the pioneer of the Hard Ice Cream category and everything we’re doing is setting the standard for what will be a billion-dollar-plus segment within the $175 billion gourmet food and beverage market.”

Entry to market is difficult for hard ice cream processors, due to rules set forth by each individual state’s Alcoholic and Beverage Commission. However, alcohol-related flavors could prove to be another source of growth. An excellent example is the non-alcoholic Sara Lee Baileys Ice Cream, which was released in late September. The velvety ice cream is enriched with   Baileys Irish Cream flavor combined with a decadent ripple. 

Non-alcoholic Sara Lee Baileys Original Ice Cream
Non-alcoholic Sara Lee Baileys Original Ice Cream features velvety ice cream enriched with Baileys Irish Cream flavor. Photo courtesy of Sara Lee.

“The combination of Baileys and ice cream is truly a gorgeous treat. We are so excited to build on our relationship with Sara Lee and see them launch this fantastic ice cream. They have done a great job in combining the deliciousness of Baileys with their velvety rich ice cream. Lovers of Baileys and of ice cream looking for an adult treat will absolutely love this,” said Bailey’s parent company, Diageo Senior Licensing Manager, Declan Hassett. 

Must-see ice cream

Nothing says indulgence more than sitting home and consuming ice cream, while watching a streaming TV service. Capitalizing on this opportunity, Netflix, in cooperation with Canton, Mass.-based Baskin-Robbins, announced new and expanded flavors of Scoops Ahoy ice cream available in the United States and Australia and coming soon to other parts of the world.

Offered are unique flavors inspired by “Stranger Things,” such as U.S.S. Butterscotch (a Scoops Ahoy classic), Triple Decker Extravaganza (an Eleven classic), Chocolate Pudding (a Hawkins Middle School staple), and Cinnamon Bun Bytes (paging Dustin). And three Upside Down flavors: Mint Flare, The Void, and Pineapple Upside Down.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream released a “Ted Lasso”-inspired ice cream
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream released a “Ted Lasso”-inspired ice cream: Ted Lasso Biscuits With the Boss, which alludes to a scene in the Apple TV + show. Photo courtesy of Jeni’s.

Apple TV+ was not left out in the cold either. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream released a “Ted Lasso”-inspired ice cream: Ted Lasso Biscuits With the Boss, which alludes to a scene in the show where the soccer coach, Ted Lasso, provides biscuits for his boss, Rebecca, who owns the team. 

“A conversation-worthy flavor that tastes like falling out of the lucky tree, hitting every branch on the way down, and ending up in a pool of cash and homemade, buttery shortbread cookies topped with the perfect sprinkle of flaky sea salt. It’s a pleasantly addicting salted butter sweet cream riddled with shortbread cookie crumbles,” Jeni's stated.

I scream for collaborations

A football team is only good when all 11 players on the field contribute. As hard as they may try, no one player can do it alone. Ice cream and frozen novelties were the same way this year. For many products, it took “teamwork to make the dream work.”

2023 may go down as the “Year of the Collaboration.” One such example is Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream and The Dairy Alliance, a nonprofit funded by dairy farm families of the Southeast, partnering together to launch a “batch made in heaven,” Horchata.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, this new flavor is made with sweet cream, cinnamon, and creamy milk. Horchata ice cream can be enjoyed by the scoop, pint, quart, or as a shake.

“In Hispanic culture, food is a powerful magnet, pulling families together in a heartwarming environment. Horchata is a beloved traditional beverage in Hispanic culture, and its influence has gained popularity with unique variations across many Hispanic countries,” Handel’s Matherne tells Dairy Foods. “Our new Horchata Ice Cream with The Dairy Alliance offers customers an innovative and unique flavor that can be enjoyed by the scoop or as a milkshake.

“We are seeing more customers enjoy bold and exotic flavors with indulgent profiles,” he adds. “People love a lot of mix-ins and toppings for added textures. We also have seen customers gravitate toward authentic and nostalgic inspirations.” 

Van Leeuwen teamed with Hidden Valley Ranch to launch seven new spring flavors
Van Leeuwen teamed with Hidden Valley Ranch to launch seven new spring flavors sold exclusively at Walmart locations nationwide. Photo courtesy of Van Leeuwen.

Such an alliance could be a future trend. As the dairy industry continues to pursue new product innovation and new market opportunities, The Dairy Alliance is collaborating with foodservice and retail brand leaders offering their food and beverage knowledge coupled with dairy expertise to co-create new, exciting products that enable people to enjoy dairy in new ways, the nonprofit states.

“Centered on exploring new ideas like pairing a popular flavor that perfectly complements the creamy texture and taste of dairy ice cream that we love, The Dairy Alliance is excited to work with Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream to launch this new flavor,” said Geri Berdak, CEO of The Dairy Alliance.

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Van Leeuwen has an alliance of its own, earlier this year teaming with Hidden Valley Ranch to launch seven new spring flavors sold exclusively at Walmart locations nationwide. The full lineup of new ice cream flavors is Hidden Valley Ranch, Sweet Maple Cornbread, Blood Orange Chocolate Chip, Carrot Cake, Strawberry Shortcake, Honey Graham Cracker, and Limoncello Cake.

“We’re so excited to debut this new series of flavors and unveil what is possibly our most surprising ice cream yet: Hidden Valley Ranch,” said Ben Van Leeuwen, co-founder and CEO of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream. “We have done some creative collaborations and can’t wait for Walmart shoppers to try this new and exciting flavor along with our other spring specials.”

In 2023, Hudsonville Ice Cream continued its collaboration with Little Debbie Snacks, a brand of Collegedale, Tenn.-based McKee Foods Corp., to launch four limited-edition ice cream fall flavors inspired by Little Debbie’s beloved snack cake treats: Apple Fruit Pies, Chocolate Chip Creme Pies, Turtle Brownies and Pumpkin Delights.

“Fall is just around the corner, and Hudsonville and Little Debbie are thrilled to jump on the seasonal flavor craze with these four popular snack cakes-inspired ice creams,” Rob Heider, chief marketing officer of Hudsonville Ice Cream, said at the time of the announcement. “Hudsonville is proud of our thriving relationship with Little Debbie, and we’re thrilled to be featured in all Walmart locations across the nation. We strive to create accessible products at a good value that are made with real ice cream and quality ingredients.”

Continuing the collaboration trend, Blue Bell Creameries and Dr Pepper joined forces to create Dr Pepper Float ice cream. The new flavor is available in the 23 states where Blue Bell is available. Dr Pepper Float is creamy vanilla ice cream swirled together with a Dr Pepper flavored sherbet.

“Our Texas heritage is so important to us at Dr Pepper, and we are excited to team up with fellow Texas-born brand, Blue Bell, to create this new delicious treat,” shared John Alvarado, senior vice president of Dr Pepper brand marketing. “We can’t wait to provide our fans with another refreshing way to enjoy Dr Pepper.”

San Antonio-based H-E-B’s collaboration featured last year’s World Series champions with Creamy Creations Houston Astros Peanut Brittle ice cream. The flavor comprises peanut butter ice cream with peanut brittle pieces and a caramel swirl. This seasonal selection was exclusive to the Houston area and is available in both half-gallon and pint sizes, while supplies last. The carton’s label — a tribute to the home field advantage with an original illustration commissioned by H-E-B — features Orbit, views of Minute Maid Park, and more.

Rookie of the year?

We would be remiss not to mention a new ice cream product drawing plenty of hype. Although it is a rookie, it could be the next Tom Brady or Joe Montana, based on the popularity of articles written about the topic on the Dairy Foods website. And yes, it is a collaboration. 

Legendary hip-hop artist and visionary entrepreneur Snoop Dogg broke into the frozen dessert aisle with his new creation, Dr. Bombay Ice Cream. 

Together with Happi Co., Snoop Dogg launched Dr. Bombay Ice Cream. Dr. Bombay hit freezer shelves nationwide, starting with a rollout at 3,500 Walmart stores. The brand subsequently expanded exponentially, with plenty of more retailers now selling the product.

Dr. Bombay is a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT (non-fungible token) owned by Snoop Dogg that has now transitioned from the digital realm to the physical world, becoming a modern-day mascot. Snoop Dogg carefully selected each of the seven launch flavors: Bonus Track Brownie, Cocoa Cream Cookie Dream, Iced Out Orange Cream, Rollin' In the Dough, S'more Vibes, Syrupy Waffle Sundaze, and Tropical Sherbet Swizzle. An eighth flavor, Birthday Party, was recently launched.

“Ice cream is more than just a snack to me; it’s a way to chill, relax, and get happy. That’s exactly what I want Dr. Bombay Ice Cream to do. Bring a smile to your face and ease your mind. I’ve poured my heart and soul into perfecting these first seven flavors, and I can’t wait for my fans and the world to experience what I’ve created. Fans will also notice that my sidekick, Dr. Bombay is the name, face, and persona of this brand. That’s because he's like a son to me and you always want your kids to be more successful than you are. That’s my goal in building this lifestyle brand, starting with ice cream,” Snoop Dogg says.

Of course, this football-themed article would not be complete without a frozen novelty collaboration featuring an NFL player, who also could win Rookie of the Year. SNICKERS Ice Cream, a division of Mars, teamed up with Bryce Young, the first overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. The "SNICKERS Bryce Cream Bar" features the same creamy peanut butter ice cream, smooth caramel, and crunchy peanuts covered in a chocolatey shell as the original SNICKERS Ice Cream bar, with a label inspired by Young.

Dr. Bombay Ice Cream
Together with Happi Co., Snoop Dogg launched the popular Dr. Bombay Ice Cream. Photo courtesy of Happi Co.

“It's a dream come true to see a SNICKERS Ice Cream bar with my name on it,” Young said. “I am beyond excited to be part of the 2023 NFL Draft alongside SNICKERS Ice Cream and can’t wait to share our SNICKERS Bryce Cream Bars with fans.”

Before suffering an injury, Young’s Carolina Panthers suffered two tough losses to the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. However, he was able to connect with receivers Adam Thielen and Hayden Hurst for touchdowns during those games.

Future trends

Speaking of the gridiron, Rich Products’ Carvel seasonal cakes recently returned to shelves, led most recently by the football ice cream cake, which is now available nationally through early February for all game day celebrations. 

Stainsby anticipates three future key trends in the ice cream cake category: 

  • The celebration of everyday enjoyment and enhancing category permissibility across occasions. 
  • Flavor and format innovation that meets consumer desire for commonplace comfort and celebration needs. 
  • Exploring innovation to meet growing consumer demand for “better-for-you” solutions. 

“With innovation being foundational to Rich’s, we’re always looking for ways to deliver greater value to customers and consumers. We have a lot of exciting innovation on the horizon for 2024. To give you a sneak peek, we’ll be launching Funfetti ice cream cake, which will hit shelves in the coming months,” Stainsby says.

Hence, the ice cream category/frozen novelties category is not about to get many 70-20 victories, like the blowout the Miami Dolphins inflicted on the Denver Broncos earlier this year. But the category continues to grind out plenty of wins.