More natural than thou

by Staff
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If you want to tap into consumers’ interest in natural foods but your product already is "all natural," what can you do? That was the challenge facing executives responsible the Haagen-Dazs ice cream line of Nestle S.A., Vevey, Switzer land. Ching-Yee Hu, Haagen-Dazs brand manager, said the brand and all its flavors, has been all natural since it was introduced nearly 50 years ago. "There is no federal standard for the term ‘natural,’ but the philosophy we’ve always followed has been to only use ingredients that you would find in a well-stocked kitchen," she said. While consumers have found appeal in natural foods for many years, Ms. Hu said interests have evolved when it comes to what they perceived as a natural product.

"We have a very savvy consumer," she said. "They care about quality. They are going beyond natural and thinking about goodness in specific terms. And we’ve seen a trend of people looking for simplicity."

This desire for simplicity crystallized for Ms. Hu at a focus group she watched in which a consumer was discussing not cream, but potato chips. He described an experience in which picked up a bag of low-fat potato chips containing 30 different gredients.

"He said, ‘I didn’t recognize 27 of the ingredients,’" Ms. "He went on to say he picked up another bag of chips that only three ingredients — potatoes, olive oil and sea salt. He made me think it was a delicious product and healthy.’" The encounter became an inspiration for Haagen-Dazs ice cream line containing only five ingredients. In addition ingredients of milk, cream, sugar and eggs, each variety contains a single additional ingredient — brown sugar, coffee, ginger, milk chocolate, mint, passion fruit or vanilla bean.

"Consumers are looking for ingredient labels to be as short and clean as possible," Ms. Hu said. "Internally, we asked some questions. What does that mean in ice cream? We’re natural already. What does it mean in ice cream to go as simple as possible but still have incredible flavor and texture? We were inspired by consumers who said they literally count ingredients, and the fewer the better."

In varieties, Ms. Hu said the company has dubbed the fifth ingredient beyond the cream, milk, eggs and sugar "the hero."

"It’s the ingredient whose flavor sings, from brown sugar to vanilla bean," she said. "If you are a ginger fan, Five really zings with ginger flavor."

The focus on this fifth flavor yielded another benefit to the Five line, Ms. Hu said.

"We found that if you use a little less cream and a little more milk, the flavors can come out stronger," she said. "Fat in cream can mute a flavor. So when we finished developing the recipes, we discovered they had 25% less fat. It wasn’t the purpose of the line. It’s just a win-win for someone like me who wants to eat ice cream every day."

Haagen-Dazs Five began distribution in February and has a suggested retail price of $4.39 per carton. Ms. Hu said she was hopeful the line would resonate with existing Haagen-Dazs consumers while attracting new ones.

"This is a product that is responsive to the trend of consumers thinking about food differently, focusing on simplicity," she said. "It could bring in new users or those who haven’t eaten Haagen-Dazs in a while. I believe existing consumers will be drawn because it is a different experience."

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