As marketers vie for limited frozen shelf space, innovations are transforming frozen desserts' reputation from brain freeze to brain food.
Instead of rainbow sprinkles and whipped cream, today's good-for-you frozen treats are topped off with a healthy dose of omega-3s, antioxidants, probiotics and other nutrition boosters.
Take for instance Turkey Hill Dairy's Pom-Blueberry Chocolate Truffle Frozen Yogurt. The limited-edition dessert is fortified with omega-3s for heart and brain health, and live and active cultures to aid in digestion and support a healthy immune system. Then there are Be Active's Jala low-fat frozen yogurt bars in varieties like blueberry, lemon sweet tea and pomegranate swirl. Each is rich in antioxidants with active probiotics.
Frozen dessert makers are even adding greens. Jalapeno peppers are an ingredient in Ciao Bella's Chocolate Jalapeno Gelato while garden-fresh mint can be found in its Mint Leaf Chip Gelato.
Private labels are also boarding the bandwagon.
An increasingly popular dessert choice at Supervalu's banners is its Stone Ridge Creamery brand frozen yogurt with live and active cultures, spokesman Danny Olson told SN.
The savory and tangy Korean-style tart frozen yogurt is available in vanilla, peach, strawberry and pomegranate blueberry. Fat-free and made from real fruit, it demonstrates the retailer's commitment to the health of its shoppers, according to Olson.
“Adding live and active cultures have inherent health benefits, and lend to the tangy, sweet taste distinctive to tart frozen yogurts,” he said.
Good-for-you attributes are also growing more influential in the frozen food section at Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa — especially now that the 220-store chain has adopted the NuVal nutrition ranking system, Hy-Vee spokeswoman Ruth Comer told SN.
NuVal is a joint venture formed by Topco Associates and Griffin Hospital, Derby, Conn. The system rates foods on a scale from 1 to 100 based on nutritional value. NuVal is so simple to use that Hy-Vee has made it the foundation of a curriculum designed to teach first- and second-graders about healthy eating.
When it comes to selecting a frozen dessert, shoppers are considering NuVal scores to help narrow the field.
“A customer can look at Hy-Vee Lite Fudge Bars and see that they have a NuVal score of 100 — if you want a frozen treat that delivers maximum nutritional density, you're not going to find a better option,” Comer said. “Another excellent choice is Edy's Fat-Free, No Sugar Added Chocolate and Vanilla Swirl, which scores a 99 on the NuVal scale.”
Frozen fruit bars and sugar-free ice cream and frozen yogurt are also popular choices at Hy-Vee where shoppers gravitate toward single-serving sizes and mini-cones.
“We're definitely seeing growth in the category coming from better-for-you products,” Comer said.
The trend is also catching on at three-store Dorothy Lane Markets, Dayton, Ohio, where shoppers are taking advantage of DLM's Mango Fresco, Red Raspberry and Pistachio Sorbettos and a greater variety of portion-control frozen desserts.
“It keeps you from eating half a carton of ice cream,” said Kathy Neufarth, director of customer resources at DLM.
Unique flavors are also grabbing shoppers' attention as retailers fill their frozen food cases with varieties that can't be obtained anywhere else.
“It's a crowded, competitive aisle so it's essential to have something completely different,” said Lynn Dornblaser, director of CPG trend insights for Mintel, Chicago.
One way to ensure exclusivity is with a store-brand line. Unlike shelf-stable categories where an extra facing or two of private labels are sometimes thrown in due to available space, limited real estate makes freezer placement more of a challenge. As a result, retailers invest in developing frozen products that can pull their weight.
“They have to be turning a pretty high velocity to justify their presence,” noted Jim Hertel, managing director of Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill.
Supervalu has come up with a unique way to ensure its premium Stone Ridge Creamery brand does just that. When it came time to develop one-of-a-kind flavors, it challenged employees to imagine their dream ice cream. The winners were Twisted Pretzel with sea salt-infused caramel and dark chocolate-coated pretzel pieces in vanilla ice cream; Red Velvet Cake, which is red in color and infused with chocolate and cream cheese frosting; and Italian Kiss, a blend of chocolate ice cream, hazelnut and dark chocolate chunks.
Winners received a $500 gift card, free ice cream for a year, and had their caricature featured on their flavor's 32-ounce carton, which retails for $3.99.
The initiative's success has surpassed Supervalu's expectations.
“Supervalu associates' interest in and support for our new Stone Ridge Creamery brand helped us succeed our sales goal for the brand last year,” Olson said.
DLM has also hit a sweet spot with its Killer Brownie Gelato line. It features bits of trademarked brownies only available in its in-store bakeries.
The line is one of many helping private labels maintain their share-leader position in the ice cream category. Store brands have a 24.9% dollar share, which translates to about one-third of all units — above average relative to other grocery categories.
Much of the growth has been recent with share climbing almost 7 percentage points between 2004 and 2009, noted Susan Viamari, editor of SymphonyIRI's Times & Trends report.
“Seven share points is amazing,” she said.
Now that they've conquered the mainstream frozen dessert space, more retailers have begun their foray into premium and superpremium frozen desserts.
The category is a natural fit since it has a dairy component and supermarkets have as much as an 80% share in dairy segments like milk.
Major chains like Kroger and Safeway are so invested that they have their own dairy processing plants, said Hertel. So leveraging these resources for ice cream is a no-brainer.
“They see the opportunity to invest there from a marketing standpoint and a product standpoint,” he said.