Focusing on adult items and year-round favorites like ice cream sandwiches are two ways retailers maintain frozen novelty sales in winter.
Though novelties often perform well in the winter at stores located in warmer climates, sales often drop in regions like the Midwest and Northeast.
Because of this, retailers in the latter areas need to pay more attention to the category. One of the ways Big V Supermarkets, Florida, N.Y., is doing so is by emphasizing adult novelties like Dove Bars or Frappucino Bars, said Mark Capicotto, director of frozen foods and dairy.
"Those items are growing in popularity. I believe the new frontier in novelties will be the adult indulgent products," he said.
Big V features these products in its ad every week, in circulars and newspapers. Endcap displays of novelties in the winter are few and far between, Capicotto said, since there's more activity in half-gallon sizes. Sales of novelties drop about 20% in the winter months, he noted.
Although premium products are gaining ground, ice cream sandwiches and fudge bars are still the most popular items. Price point drives the lower-end novelties.
Private-label novelties have the best sales at Big V, with ShopRite brand clearly outdistancing the rest, Capicotto said. Also popular at Big V are Mighty Bite Ice Cream Sandwiches.
For the 52 weeks ended Oct. 12, 1997, private-label frozen novelties at supermarkets had the No. 1 spot on the Top 10 novelties list, with $280.8 million in sales, an 11.3% increase over last year. Unit sales were up 6%. Overall category sales were $1.58 billion, up 1.2%. Unit sales, however, were down 2.7%.
Big V devotes between six and nine doors, which is about a third of the space given to ice cream, to novelties.
Capicotto explained that because ice cream needs to be placed in colder temperatures than other frozen foods, it is not possible to expand the space for novelties in older stores. Thus, Big V keeps a sharp eye on novelties in the summer and weeds out the relatively slow movers.
"In the winter there is less pressure on the category, and we don't have to carry a full assortment. So kiddie novelties like fruit bars and ice juice novelties go by the wayside," he said.
When the chain remodels or builds newer stores, it creates more flexibility in refrigeration.
Both novelties and ice cream increased about 10% over the previous year at Leeker's Family Foods, Wichita, Kan., according to Brian Barrett, frozens/dairy manager.
Barrett credited sales increases to the good job dairies have been doing with promotion, and to the innovative products and flavors novelty manufacturers keep coming up with.
"Every year winter sales increase from the previous year, to where there is not much of a dip [when compared to the summer months]," he said. "We do a lot of promotion in the winter and tie in with the holidays."
Leeker's promotes novelties every other week in the winter and uses portable freezer endcaps for store displays. Private-label Farm Fresh novelties do well, since they have good price points, he said. Advertising is done through circulars delivered to people's homes.
Leeker's devotes about 12 doors to ice cream, vs. five doors to novelties.
At Laurel's Grocery Co., a wholesaler in London, Ky., novelty sales have grown about 10% overall in the past year, Martha Huss, category manager for frozen foods, told SN.
Sales have been growing because of new accounts, she said, and because of an increasing number of stockkeeping units.
"There's probably about a 5% to 10% drop in sales in the winter," she noted. "We still promote during the winter months, but it's not the ideal time. We'll do ice cream and a novelty every week, other than the holiday weeks," she said. For Christmas and Thanksgiving weeks, the category manager focuses on half gallons.
In the summer months, Laurel has more than one novelty on sale every week. The most popular warm-weather items are ice pops and fudge bars, while ice cream sandwiches dominate in the winter.
Terry Falkenham, frozen food category manager for the Maritimes at Sobeys, Stellarton, Nova Scotia, noted "a huge difference" between summer and winter seasons for novelty sales.
About one-half of all sales occur in the 3.5-month warm-weather period from the end of May until the beginning of September.
"We have a different business here," Falkenham said. "We sell mostly lower-end novelties, not the adult, premium or indulgent items. Novelties are bought for kids, and it's a larger-pack business."
This year, the sales increase for novelties at Sobeys was double that of ice cream. Falkenham attributed the growth to a warm summer with hardly any rain, as well as the success of private-label items.
Sobeys added four items to its Signal private label in June: fudge pops, variety ice pops, ice cream sandwiches and Revello vanilla ice cream on a stick. It also offers Signal-brand ice pops.
"The quality and pricing [in private label] was there and it's a price market," he said. In the summer months, novelties are promoted frequently and used as features and lead items, but in the winter Sobeys doesn't promote as frequently.
Space has also been an issue for Falkenham, and most stores have about a one-third to two-third ratio of ice cream to novelties.
To accommodate new SKUs, Sobeys added extra shelves in the novelty section and does not pile up SKUs. Like Big V, new stores are built with more refrigeration.
Novelties have also "gotten better" in the last year at U-Save Supermarkets in Tampa, Fla., according to Bob Edenfield, category manager.
Edenfield also attributed growth to new products with unique flavors and packaging. He also speculated that people are eating less of higher-priced premium items and/or trading high-fat ice cream for fat-free novelties.
In Florida, sales stay about even throughout the year and even through the holidays, so stores continue to advertise. About 18% to 20% of business is generated by seasonal customers.
Edenfield promotes both ice cream and novelties in weekly ads throughout the year and puts in extra items in the month of July, which has the best sales.
Lower-priced novelties -- for example, the Budget brand of ice pops -- do very well, in a 24- or 36-count. Also popular are value-brand ice cream sandwiches.