Balancing health and wellness with indulgence in ice cream

by Allison Sebolt
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While there are many frozen dessert products available on the market, traditional ice cream still remains the most popular. Even so, many consumers are looking for a more healthful way to snack and indulge.

The popularity of ice cream is clear — according to Chicago-based Mintel International, 91% of adults and teenagers, and 98% of children, said they eat ice cream. Mintel predicted the market for ice cream and related treats, which include frozen novelties, sherbet/sorbet and frozen yogurt, will grow 15% in current prices between 2008 and 2012.

"Ice cream remains one of America’s favorite treats," said David Morris, senior analyst at Mintel. "Slow churned and super-premium innovations have brought exciting new variety to the taste and texture people know and love."

Mintel also said 89% of Americans have had a scoop of ice cream in the past year. In comparison, only 59% ate novelties such as ice cream sandwiches or bars and less than 40% ate sherbet or frozen yogurt.

In fact, Mintel said in 2007 ice cream accounted for almost 60% of total sales from ice cream, frozen novelties, sherbet and frozen yogurt combined. Frozen novelties represented 36% of sales while sherbet and frozen yogurt represented 5%.

While ice cream sales dominated the market last year, Mintel said sales were still 4% behind levels in 2002. The research firm said frozen novelties are taking away some of ice cream’s share of market as novelties grew 7% in sales from 2002 to 2007.

According to Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based research firm, total sales in the frozen novelties category were $1,205,658,000 for the year ended June 15 in supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandise outlets excluding Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Convenience spurs novelty growth

"Convenience and healthy eating trends drive more people to frozen novelties to satisfy cravings," Mr. Morris said. "These products are portable and portion-controlled. Plus, rapid new product development is giving consumers many new frozen novelty dessert choices."

Specifically, Krista Faron, senior analyst with Mintel Research Consulting, said convenience and portion control are dominating the rise of frozen novelties. In fact, she said portion control has become a popular trend in the ice cream market as a whole.

"These are foods that are probably best enjoyed in moderation, so by packaging them in a 100-calorie format, it still allows consumers the chance to enjoy them but doesn’t bring the guilt with it," Ms. Faron said.

Ms. Faron said smaller portions are accomplished by cutting back on size and through reformulation.

Ms. Faron said another factor increasing the popularly of frozen novelties is the amount of innovation present in the market.

"Consumers want products that are changing with their needs and that are on trend, and novelties might have done an even better job of doing that than traditional ice cream," she said.

Frozen yogurt a big hit

Ms. Faron noted the current trend in frozen yogurt seems to have originated in the food service channel with retailers such as Pinkberry and Red Mango.

"It really is rooted in the success of regular yogurt, which American consumers have really embraced," Ms. Faron said. "It has become such an explosive category in terms of sales over the last several years, and we are seeing the majority of households buy yogurt on a regular basis."

To this end, Cold Stone Creamery, Scottsdale, Ariz., recently launched the NrGize Lifestyle Yogurt line nationally. The products are fat-free and have 25 calories per oz.

"There is a definitive health trend in the United States," said Dan Beem, president of Cold Stone. "People are consciously looking at what they are eating on a daily basis. So what we try to do is pair up the healthful indulgence quality product that Cold Stone produces in a better-for-you format, and we were able to do that with our new NrGize Lifestyle Yogurt."

Mr. Beem said while Cold Stone’s primary focus is its core ice cream, he believes having a menu of healthful products will drive consumers who buy core ice cream products regularly to come back even more often to enjoy better-for-you products as well.

"When we saw frozen yogurt very popular several decades ago, it was trying to mimic ice cream but in a healthier way," Ms. Faron said. "We are seeing today’s frozen yogurts have taste that is more similar to real yogurt. I think consumers are more receptive to that now than they have been in the past because regular yogurt is such an important part of their everyday diet."

In addition, the Edy’s/Dreyer’s brands, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Holdings, Inc., Oakland, Calif., have a Slow Churned Yogurt Blends line and recently introduced two new flavors: peach and berry granola. The company promotes frozen yogurt as being lower in sugar and calories and having cultures to help promote a healthy digestive system.

Mintel said 89% of respondents who eat frozen yogurt believe it is healthier than ice cream. But only 39% of respondents actually prefer it to ice cream, suggesting many consumers are choosing yogurt for health reasons over enjoyment.

Other ways of promoting health

Sorbet is another popular product often viewed as a healthier alternative to ice cream.

Mintel said Haagen-Dazs, a Dreyer’s brand, is a leader in this category. Ms. Faron said from 2005 to 2007, Haagen-Dazs ice cream sales grew 9%, which is well above the category growth average. Even stronger was the premium ice cream brand’s sorbet sales, which grew 52% during that period. Ms. Faron said the appeal in sorbet is the fresh fruit ingredients and the absence of fat (generally) and lower calorie content.

According to I.R.I., total sales in the ice cream and sherbet category for the year ended June 15 was $2,034,586,000, with $85,428,860 in frozen yogurt and tofu sales and $93,200,180 in sherbet, sorbet, and ices sales.

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