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Controlled portions of better-for-you ice cream and frozen novelties may help firm up softening sales this summer. Anything that is low-calorie, low-fat, no-fat or sugar-free is a big thing, and every major manufacturer has introduced products that fit these descriptions, said Skip Shaw, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association,

Controlled portions of better-for-you ice cream and frozen novelties may help firm up softening sales this summer.

“Anything that is low-calorie, low-fat, no-fat or sugar-free is a big thing, and every major manufacturer has introduced products that fit these descriptions,” said Skip Shaw, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association, Harrisburg, Pa. “One hundred seems to be the magic number when it comes to calories, and just like snack packs of Chips Ahoy, there are now 100-calorie ice cream cups and novelties.”

Frozen bulk ice cream sales dipped 0.9% to nearly $3.9 billion during the 52 weeks ending March 25, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. But sales of other chilled treats are on the rise.

Sherbet/sorbet/ices, for example, were up 2% to $183.1 million, frozen yogurt/tofu increased 1.5% to $164.9 million and frozen novelties rose 2.6% to $2.2 billion during the same time period.

Retailers are planning weekly promotions for the summer season, and many are rolling out secondary displays to help generate impulse purchases.

Penn Traffic Co. stocks its secondary freezer cases with half-gallons of ice cream year round, but when the weather warms, other frozen treats are added, said Dave Elking, director of frozen and dairy for the Syracuse, N.Y.-based chain.

“Displays and promotional pricing, such as two half-gallons of ice cream for $6 and buy-one, get-one-free offers, drive sales,” he said. “We don't add cases or replace other frozen food products for novelties during the summer months. We increase the frequency of novelty endcap displays.”

The 106-store retailer plans to cross-merchandise ice cream toppings, cones, sprinkles and other related food items, as well as general merchandise products like ice cream scoops, during the summer months.

In an effort to boost ice cream sales, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., is placing display coffins adjacent to its registers.

“We use one or two secondary coffins year round in some of our Southern California stores for novelty items, and seasonally in other locations,” said Eric Stover, director of grocery merchandising and business processes for Wild Oats. “Half-gallon vanilla ice cream is a popular item during holiday seasons, and we often promote pints and novelties as good incremental sale items.”

Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., uses secondary displays in its frozen departments 52 weeks of the year and advertises a featured ice cream item each week in its circulars, said Alan Hartline, senior vice president of merchandising for the 88-store chain.

“Our criteria is to promote a featured ice cream for the week and to either tie in high-margin novelties or other dessert items that are on promotion at the same time,” said Hartline. “In several stores, our department layout allows us to merchandise toppings and cones adjacent to the ice cream aisle on the end-of-aisle fixtures. In most stores, we also cross-merchandise toppings on display racks that attach to the ice cream doors.”

Because promoted ice cream moves quickly, Spartan Stores merchandises ice cream in several sections throughout the store. In fact, extra displays are so vital, the retailer plans to incorporate additional frozen display spaces in locations scheduled for major remodels, Hartline said. Currently, half of the chain's stores have endcap cases that are temperature-calibrated to hold ice cream.

According to Ted Taft, managing director, Meridian Consulting, if retailers can't find room for small coffins, having permanent open-top freezers at the end of the frozen food aisle provides the ideal spot for sale items.

“These outpost displays are used for promotional events and to emphasize hot new products; the prime focus is for incremental display, including ice cream,” he said. “There is less use of small coffin displays in other areas of the retailer's stores because of the difficulty of hooking up electricity, and there is seldom enough space for them in other departments.”


Manufacturers are helping the ice cream category by developing such products as calorie-sensitive treats, said Shaw.

Kemps, St. Paul, Minn., for instance, has four varieties of 100-calorie novelties, including ice cream sandwiches, a mini version of Kemps' classic sundae cone with vanilla ice cream and chocolate topping, chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream nuggets and smaller chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches.

In March, Green Bay, Wis.-based Good Humor-Breyers introduced four 100-calorie products of its own: Breyers Double Churn ice cream cups in Cookies & Cream and Vanilla Fudge Swirl, Klondike Slim-a-Bear ice cream sandwiches, Klondike Slim-a-Bear chocolate-covered ice cream bars and Fudgsicle fudge bars.

A demand for healthier ice cream options is also driving innovation.

“In the past couple of years, a lot of people have come out with a slow-churn, cold-churn or double-churn ice cream, so that's out there, but it's already old news,” said Tom Wright, vice president of marketing for Turkey Hill Dairy, Conestoga, Pa.

Ice cream that is slow, cold or double-churned undergoes a process called low-temperature extrusion, which significantly reduces the size of the fat globules and ice crystals in the ice cream, thus reducing fat and caloric content.

A healthier alternative to traditional ice cream, called Duetto, was launched by Turkey Hill in February. The dessert combines an unusual blend of soft-serve vanilla ice cream with the company's own fruit-flavored “Venice” ice in cherry, lemon, raspberry and mango flavors.

According to Wright, Duetto answers the demand for something healthier, since soft serve has fewer calories than regular ice cream and Italian flavored ice has zero calories. The product also meets the desire for a unique treat, he added.

Duetto is getting a lot of attention at 17-store Boyer's Food Markets, Orwigsburg, Pa. When the product was first introduced, the chain hosted in-store sampling events on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 4 to 7 p.m., Anthony Gigliotti, vice president of sales and marketing for the chain, told SN.

“It's the first time in a while that we've gotten something very different in half-gallons — something more than just another low-calorie item or another flavor added into basic ice cream,” said Gigliotti. “We have Duetto in permanent coffins with large feature signs in our frozen departments.”

Boyer's aggressively promotes ice cream, particularly in June, July and August. Each week, a new brand of half-gallon ice cream is sold two for $5, and at least five other ice cream products carry reduced prices as well, said Gigliotti. “We're trying to give our customers a lot of choices, and in doing so, trying to put profit back into the category,” he said.

Health and wellness aside, many consumers still want their full-flavor varieties, said Gigliotti.

“The healthier items do OK, but the shoppers in our market are more into full flavor,” he said. “When given the opportunity to pay a lower price, consumers want to trade up to premium ice cream, which isn't usually the healthy stuff.”

Miranda Abney, spokeswoman for the International Dairy Foods Association, expects several types of ice cream items to help drive sales in upcoming years.

Consumers seem to be looking for healthier alternatives, such as ice cream that contains “super fruits like pomegranates, blueberries or cherries,” she said. “Portion-controlled sizes could become a big thing, and higher-quality chocolates and more exotic flavors also seem to be on the rise.”

Retail Displays Vie for Golden Penguin Award

The National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA) is prepping for its annual Summer Favorites ice cream retailer display contest. The event will run from June 1 through July 31.

During the nine-week promotion, participants will build in-store displays — preferably three different displays — that feature brands including Dreyer's, Edy's, Nestlé, Fat Boy, Häagen-Dazs and Luigi's Italian Ice.

NFRA will provide static clings, balloons, tissue fans and ice cream cone danglers to participating retailers.

“All of the major brands are involved in this, and our expectation is that it will create excitement in the aisles and get customers thinking about ice cream and novelties,” said Skip Shaw, executive vice president and chief operating officer, NFRA. “This will also get manufacturers and retailers to work together to promote the category.”

Gold and Silver Penguins will be awarded to winners in six regions, including the Northeast, Southeast, East Central, West Central, Southwest and Pacific/Western. Judging will be done by college professors involved in food marketing.

Schnucks, Wal-Mart, Harris Teeter, Publix and Winn-Dixie were among last year's Gold Penguin winners.

Winning retailers will receive recognition at the NFRA annual Golden Penguin Awards banquet on Oct. 16 during the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Convention in San Antonio.

“This event receives great support from the manufacturers and retailers,” said Shaw. “Everybody seems to want to win a Golden Penguin.”

Consumers will also have the chance to win $100,000 through the Summer Favorites Online Instant Win Game that's tied to the promotion.

Along with the grand prize of $100,000, five $500 cash prizes will be awarded to consumers, and 100 winners will receive an assortment of free ice cream and novelty-item coupons presented in a cooler bag.
— K.G.