Beyond ice cream

by Allison Sebolt
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Cold Stone Creamery’s most popular new product isn’t one of the company’s trademark ice cream blends. It is an ice cream cupcake.

Since Cold Stone, Kahala Corp., Scottsdale, Ariz., introduced the ice cream cupcake in February, the company has sold 1.75 million items nationwide, and the success has helped contribute to overall double-digit sales increases.

"We haven’t seen this type of reaction since the introduction of our cake batter ice cream several years ago," said Dan Beem, president. "While some people are giving up extravagant dinners and week-long getaways, they are still looking to spend quality time together in a relatively inexpensive way."

The cupcakes have a Belgian chocolate shell and are layered with cake, fudge, ice cream and frosting. Flavors include cake batter delux, sweet cream and double chocolate devotion.

When it comes to developing shakes, Ray Karam, tastemaster for Cold Stone, said the company always considers the mass appeal of potential ingredients. Shakes often involve taking confectionery or bakery items and mixing them into shakes, and Mr. Karam said the flavors for shakes are based on mass appeal of ingredients and sales for ice cream creations. The peanut butter and chocolate shake variety as well as the cake ‘n shake flavor are especially popular options.

The health and wellness trend is even factoring into products at Cold Stone as the ice cream chain is now offering better-for-you options with its NrGize Smoothies line, which includes smoothies that are lower in calories. The line has varieties such as banana, banana strawberry, raspberry banana, blueberry banana, pineapple coconut orange, mango strawberry, mango pineapple and blueberry pineapple. The smoothies even come with supplements intended to relieve stress as well as add energy, protein and antioxidants. Mr. Karam said he is looking into offering more supplements in the future, especially ones promoting satiety.

"People still want to treat themselves," Mr. Karam said. "(The NrGize Smoothies are) a lower-calorie, better-for-you treat. We are known for the high end indulgent ice cream, but if (consumers) want to offset that with something better-for-you every once in awhile, we’re there with them."

The NrGize smoothies were already offered in other outlets through Cold Stone’s parent company, Kahala Corp., before the ice cream chain introduced the line. Cold Stone picked up the line and began offering it this past year.

"The recent yogurt trend is kind of trailing off, so smoothies have come back with a vengeance," Mr. Karam said. "But people do not just want the old smoothie. They want a little bit something extra — they want a little more nutrition, they certainly want to get in their fruits."

Mr. Karam emphasized the importance of stevia-based sweeteners right now and said Cold Stone intends to use the natural sweeteners in the future. He also said Cold Stone is interested in superfruits and using the antioxidant-rich foods in their products. To this end, he said in the future Cold Stone will use acai, pomegranate and blueberries more.

"A lot of these exotic fruits — they come from Asia and South America — are unfamiliar to our palate," Mr. Karam said. "So what we like to do with them here in America is pair them up with something that is recognizable … just to get it more familiar to the American palate."

Baskin-Robbins, a division Dunkin Brands, Inc., Canton, Mass., also has a better-for-you line called BRight Choices. The line includes products such as premium churned light ice cream with 50% less fat and 20% fewer calories than regular Baskin-Robbins ice cream; premium churned reduced-fat, no-sugar-added ice cream with 25% less fat than the regular version; frozen yogurt; and fruit sorbet. The products range from 80 to 140 calories per 2.5-oz scoop.

In terms of future new product introductions, Mr. Karam said Cold Stone is currently testing an ice cream sandwich made with a proprietary cookie. He said the chain wants to offer such a product because the sandwich is the top novelty in the grocery store, and he expects the product will be launched soon. In addition, Cold Stone has introduced a line of ice and blended coffee drinks.

Value is also playing an important role in the current economy.

"Ice cream is still a household staple for many, especially those with children, but private label offerings and cheaper brands will likely benefit in a tighter economic environment," Mintel International, Chicago, said in an ice cream report. "While there will continue to be demand for upscale ice creams to satisfy the needs of those down trading from a meal out or those looking for an indulgent treat, the bulk of sales will likely be affected by pressure for cheaper options."

Mintel International estimated 2008 sales of ice cream, sherbet, frozen yogurt and frozen novelties at $12,587 million in 2008 and forecasts sales to be $12,904 in 2009.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Dairy Business News, April 2009, starting on Page 12. Click here to search that archive.

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