It’s Winter: Time to Cultivate the Ice-Cream Category

ice cream

Many convenience retailers might use the following snapshot to describe their packaged ice-cream category: A few leading brands dominate, thanks to the influence of their wholesaler-distributor. Unlike supermarkets, not many grass-roots, cutting-edge brands achieve placement, and pack sizes are mainly singles and pints with the occasional half-gallon. There’s marginal activity around price, promotion or display tactics to entice consumers.

There is innovation, however, in dispensed ice cream, where frozen custards, smoothies and f’real are leading the charge to contribute to dollar, unit and profit performance.

However, in recent months, there are a number of new premium options arriving to market—some spouting healthy, “free-from” ingredients while maintaining high flavor and taste attributes.

Chicago-based Mintel International’s April 2017 Ice Cream report notes that the “expansion of premium (ice cream and frozen novelty) offerings with natural, simpler formulations is a trend that’s unfolding and likely to shape the market going forward, with the integration of more natural ingredients and simpler formulations.”

Click through to view 10 brands that are appealing to consumers across values such as indulgence, health, fun and even social advocacy.

1. f’real

f'real milkshake

Josh Lund, owner of Shell-branded Beaudry Express in Elk River, Minn., says dispensed-ice-cream buying trends—led by his f’real dispenser sales—aren’t doing anything to shape his packaged-ice-cream category management decisions one way or another. Nor is the dispensed offer regarded as a threat to packaged ice cream in his 2,500-square-foot store located north of the Twin Cities. They are mutually exclusive entities, and he initiates no cross-promotions with packaged ice cream, while his popular f’real program sees sales on autopilot.

2. JonnyPop

johnny pops

Lund said he and his ice cream wholesaler generally learn about up-and-coming trends from other retail sectors, such as the club and grocery channels. Lund cites a “trickle down” effect where a single-stick serving of JonnyPop frozen novelty, for example, took off in club stores first, then found its way to grocery before landing in Beaudry Express on the recommendation of his supplier. On the whole, “we let our grocery supplier set the department and then reset it at least once a year. A wholesaler rep comes into the store weekly to talk up any new products for consideration,” says Lund.

3. Graeter’s

graeters chunky hippo

Cincinnati-based Graeter’s has been busy these days: First, it relaunched its Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Milk Stout in the extension of a partnership with Covington, Ky.-based Braxton Brewing Co. The flavor brings beer drinkers an adult-friendly beverage reminiscent of Graeter’s signature Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. It also reintroduced Chunky Chunky Hippo Ice Cream (made with a sweet toffee ice-cream base, salted roasted peanuts and milk-chocolate caramel truffles), in support of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and, more specifically, in a nod to Fiona the Hippo, a Cincinnati Zoo hippopotamus who survived the odds as a preemie and is now healthy and celebrated a birthday in January.

4. Halo Top

halo top ice cream

Susan Viamari, vice president of thought leadership for Chicago-based IRI, says when she eyes some of the ice-cream and frozen-novelty pacesetters on her radar, “Halo Top is certainly one to watch, while Weight Watchers is a smaller brand that’s showing solid momentum.” Halo Top (Eden Creamery LLC) pints average about 300 calories of purely sugar-free ice cream, a healthy alternative to full-calorie ice cream. It combines these low calories with a savvy social-media presence and flashy packaging. The result: sales soared more than 1,600% over the past year.

5. Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt

yasso frozen greek yogurt

Calling its brand distinction “one giant leap for pintkind,” Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt pints contain 400 to 600 calories and feature ingredients such as brownie chunks, caramel swirls and cookie dough. The brand started with fruit flavors at about 70 calories a bar and then gravitated to infuse more indulgence. Last year marked the “most exciting year yet in the Yasso dessert rebellion, with eight game-changing pints and four new novelties coming to freezers across the country,” according to the company website.

6. Outshine

outshine fruit bar

Viamari of IRI says that within the frozen-novelties segment, “Nestle’s Outshine simply was a standout, finding strength in attributes that cater to better-for-you and flavor experience demands.”

7. High Road Craft Ice Cream

high road craft ice cream

High Road Craft Ice Cream, which is built around a team of chefs, craftspeople, artists and professionals based in Marietta, Ga., reported 70% growth in 2017, with plans to add new sales channels, product lines and team members in 2018, according to Mintel. The company expanded to numerous grocery chains, became the manufacturer of record for two retailers’ private-label ice-cream programs and added a 50,000-square-foot expansion adjacent to its existing facility, according to Mintel.

8. Three Twins Ice Cream

three twins

Social advocacy is demonstrated with a manufacturer such as Three Twins Ice Cream, Sheboygan, Wis., which has grown into a leading brand of organic ice cream over the past decade. It donates 1% of its sales to environmental groups and also has its own program to buy acres for land conservation. Every package carries an Ice Cream for Acres logo (the Earth in an ice cream cone) and a statement of how much land Three Twins will buy because of the purchase. An individual sundae cone buys 2 square feet, a pint buys 6 square feet, and a quart buys 10 square feet. To date, Three Twins consumers have purchased 8,000 acres, according to Mintel.

9. Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream

van leeuwen artisan ice cream

One supplier promoting healthful, vegan options in indulgent, unusual flavors is Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. Its dairy and vegan ice creams are sold in Whole Foods stores, in flavors that include passion-fruit layer cake, peanut-butter marshmallow crunch, honeycomb and chocolate-chip cookie.

10. Arctic Zero

arctic zero

Billed as “fit frozen desserts,” Arctic Zero in January launched an ice-cream line with 280 to 360 calories per pint but containing no sugar alcohols, instead using cane sugar as a sweetener. The seven-flavor line achieves its low-calorie profile by using skim milk and cream as its base.