ANAHEIM, CALIF. — It was at Natural Products Expo West two years ago where Leslie Miller discovered an untapped opportunity in the ice cream market — gut health.
“I came looking for things I can do for ice cream to nod to health and wellness without necessarily being an overt healthy proposition,” said Ms. Miller, marketing director of ice cream at Unilever. “Probiotics for us has a very natural connection to dairy and something we started to see a lot of, and you see it in a lot of categories.”
That inspiration led to the launch of Culture Republick, which is described as the first premium light ice cream brand with probiotics. Joining a portfolio of frozen dessert brands that includes Breyers, Klondike, Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s, Culture Republick was developed by a small team at the Englewood Cliffs, N.J., company, behaving “as a start-up would,” Ms. Miller said.
“Despite popular belief, we did not have a lot of money because we’re Unilever, so we really used the power of our resources, calling friends who work in different industries… trying to get that organic feel of ‘If we were on our own, how would we do this?’” Ms. Miller told Food Business News during an interview at Natural Products Expo West, held March 5-9 in Anaheim. “Yes, we’re still Unilever, so we had the ability to use scientists and some really great production capabilities, but we really built from within and had some amazing weeklong creative strategy sessions where we ate a lot of stuff, we drank a lot of golden lattes, and we created the brand.”
Each pint contains 400 to 500 calories, 16 to 18 grams of protein and 11 to 12 grams of fiber, plus three billion live active cultures. Flavors include milk and honey, turmeric chai and cinnamon, cold brew and chocolate chip, pistachio and salted caramel, lemon and graham, chocolate and cherry, and matcha and fudge.
“Every flavor is two distinct ingredients that we thought pair well together,” Ms. Miller said. “The milk and honey — we wanted to have vanilla because, if I’m honest, vanilla sells. It’s the No. 1 flavor in the world. Chocolate sells. Mint chocolate chip sells. So, we were balancing out how to find that way to not have these mass flavors but also still sell? Because consumers are scared by a sesame olive oil goat cheese ice cream.”
The products debuted last October in a limited number of retail outlets. Packaging features designs created by emerging artists, and 10% of the brand’s profits support the arts in local communities.
“We’re not trying to be somebody we’re not,” Ms. Miller said. “Our label is really clean, naturally, because we don’t have a lot of ingredients. We have turmeric and chai and cinnamon; we have skim milk; we have cane sugar; we have probiotics; and that makes us naturally low calorie because there’s not a lot in it, but we’re probiotic first, mission first. The rest is just really good ice cream.”
Another innovation unveiled at Natural Products Expo West was Talenti Gelato Layers. Unilever acquired the Talenti brand of premium packaged gelato in 2014. Available in seven varieties, the new line combines layers of gelato, confectionery pieces and sauces.
“People are looking for simpler ingredients, but they still want a lot of it, so Layers, for us, is taking some of our more simple items and amping it up,” Ms. Miller said. “There is definitely something to be said for the experiential moment of Talenti Layers as an indulgent visual experience, it’s ‘Instagrammable’ … It’s a flavor journey eating it because you’re getting in at least every bite three or four different textures. When I think about what consumers are craving, textures and experiences are a hot trend in any industry.”
Varieties include vanilla fudge cookie, salted caramel truffle, chocolate cherry cheesecake, black raspberry vanilla parfait, peanut butter vanilla fudge, mint fudge cookie and dark chocolate cherry.
“We truly live the spirit of Talenti,” Ms. Miller said. “We talk to the founder on a monthly basis… his innovation and flavors are what built the brand, and what we’ve done is brought on really good culinary experts to bring to life his ideas.”
Talenti also added four organic gelato varieties — ginger matcha, oak-aged vanilla, chocolate mousse and brown butter caramel — a reduced-sugar gelato, lemon bar, which is sweetened with monk fruit juice.
“We really try to keep the brand fresh because we know consumers have different needs, whether it’s looking for low sugar, looking for organic, looking for indulgence — we have something for everyone,” Ms. Miller said. “Talenti is never going to try to do probiotics… Talenti is about sharing an indulgent moment… Not every trend works in every brand.”