NEW LABELS ICING THE CAKE IN LOW-FAT FROZEN DESSERTS

The new labeling laws are proving to be quite a treat for the low-fat and nonfat segments of the frozen dessert category.Retailers and sources from the ice cream industry told SN sales of such products are increasing at an even-greater rate than they were before the Nutrition and Labeling Education Act took effect May 8.A further boost is expected in the wake of a Sept. 14 ruling by the Food and Drug

The new labeling laws are proving to be quite a treat for the low-fat and nonfat segments of the frozen dessert category.

Retailers and sources from the ice cream industry told SN sales of such products are increasing at an even-greater rate than they were before the Nutrition and Labeling Education Act took effect May 8.

A further boost is expected in the wake of a Sept. 14 ruling by the Food and Drug Administration, which eliminated the standard of identity for ice milk. Products formerly called ice milk may now be called reduced-fat, low-fat or fat-free ice cream, depending on their fat content. The effect of that ruling is not expected to be fully felt until manufacturers use their remaining ice milk packages.

Ben Benjamin, director of development and quality assurance for Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream, Green Bay, Wis., told SN that in the 12-week period covering July, August and September, his company's sales in the low-fat/ nonfat segment were up 10%, as were sales of frozen yogurt, compared with the same period a year earlier. The industry as a whole is performing similarly, he said.

Nationally, the low-fat/nonfat segment accounts for 14% of the category's sales; frozen yogurt, 17%, which Benjamin said means that "you've got two significant parts of the market up in real terms, by 10%."

Other segments of ice cream, Benjamin said, are "holding their own."

Pat Redmond, frozen food buyer for Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash., said he's noticed a jump in sales of low-fat and nonfat desserts in his stores in recent months.

"Our clientele is a little older than the average supermarket might have, so maybe that's a reason why we're seeing some pretty good sales. We've devoted quite a bit of space to it," Redmond said.

Bob Annand Jr., frozen food buyer for Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Wellesley Hills, Mass., said new items are most likely to benefit from the name changes within the category.

"On the items that used to be called dietary dairy dessert or something, the customers see it as still being the same item, even though it says light ice cream or fat-free ice cream," he said. On the other hand, Edy's Grand, a new entry to the Boston area, is an example of a new line that's selling well, Annand said.

Tom Balmer, vice president of the International Dairy Foods Association, Washington, said his group, which includes the International Ice Cream Association, is confident the labeling changes will continue to help the industry.

"Overall, we think the whole package of new nutritional labeling and the change from ice milk will help the entire frozen dessert category. It will enable us to communicate how much fat is in a serving of ice cream. Often times, the dairy industry finds consumers who have a feel for the fat level in products overestimate the amount of fat in products. So nutritional labeling may help bring a better balance into their understanding."

Good Humor-Breyers' Benjamin listed one more positive development since the term "ice milk" was done away with.

"What I've seen is an incremental increase in the quality of that category, just because of consumers expecting a little more. I think they've expected low-fat ice cream to be a little better than some of the old, cheap ice milks that were around," he said.