Ice Cream Sales Recover in 2005

Despite a problematic 2004, ice cream sales - and innovation - come roaring back in 2005.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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Due to a confluence of market forces, it's been a tough two years for ice cream manufacturers. They were dealt a blow with higher ingredient prices on three fronts - milk (a glut led to less production), vanilla (several cyclones hit Madagascar in recent years, damaging the vanilla crop and driving up the price per gallon of vanilla syrup from $75 to $400-$800), and cocoa (prices rose about $1 a pound because of political unrest in the Ivory Coast, where roughly 40 percent of the world's cocoa is grown).

Defined by The Associated Press as "Licker Shock," producers (and thus consumers) saw some of the biggest price hikes (six to 20 percent) ever in 2004, the same year carbohydrate reduction and obesity were in the spotlight. But happy days may be here again for ice cream makers; ingredient prices are falling and demand for ice cream is growing.

Since it's a comfort food, ice cream consumption increases when the economy is bad. In fact, 90 percent of Americans love ice cream and spend $20 billion on it annually, according to the Washington-based International Dairy Foods Assn.

The U.S. produces 1.6 billion gallons of frozen desserts annually and exports about 40 million to other countries, especially Japan. We eat the rest. The USDA says in 2004 each person ate an average of 21.5 quarts of ice cream, which breaks down to 26 servings a year, according to NPD Group, a market research firm. Vanilla is still the No. 1 one flavor in the U.S., followed by chocolate, nut, caramel, neapolitan and strawberry. Altogether, they make up 68 percent of all ice cream consumed.

An American tradition

Americans eat more ice cream than any other nation does, but we can't claim its invention. Its early form can be traced back to 200 B.C. China, where a soft, milk and rice mixture was further solidified by packing it in snow. In the 4th century B.C., Roman emperor Nero allegedly sent slaves to mountaintops to bring back fresh snow, which was flavored and served as a treat. Wealthy Europeans enjoyed water ices in the late 1600s, until creative cooks in France added the richness of cream.

However, Americans perfected this now year-round treat. Like most Americans, ice cream was an immigrant. And, like most immigrants, it changed a lot after arriving. The colonists used the term "iced cream" (later shortened to ice cream). Thomas Jefferson, whose Monticello recipe is an all-time classic, and George Washington were great proponents, and our second First Lady, Dolly Madison, served ice cream as a dessert in the White House at the second inaugural ball in 1812.

Nancy Johnson invented the first hand-crank ice cream freezer in 1846, and Jacob Fussell started the first wholesale ice cream manufacturing operation in Baltimore. His dairy business had excess cream and he couldn't figure out what to do with it, so he made ice cream. Before long his ice cream business outsold the rest of the dairy. He went on to make a fortune during the Civil War, selling the first manufactured ice cream to Union soldiers. With the rise of factories in the 1800s, ice cream became a mass-produced treat, and by 1900, almost anyone could afford it.

So popular was ice cream that when sugar was rationed in the U.S. during World War I, the industry convinced the government that ice cream was an "essential food." Ice cream factories were allotted sugar rations and production continued. Ice cream has come to signify America. When immigrants entered the country for the first time, the commissioner of Ellis Island gave them a taste of something truly American by providing ice cream as part of their first meal.

Dibs Bite-Sized Ice Cream Snacks have dibs on dessert-lovers craving convenience.

Category leaders

Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Inc. (www.dreyers.com), Oakland, Calif., is America's leading producer of ice cream, making premium ice cream and frozen dairy desserts under its namesake brand for distribution in western states, and under the Edy's brand name elsewhere in the U.S. Internationally, the Dreyer's brand extends to select markets in the Far East and the Edy's brand extends to the Caribbean and South America. The company also makes and distributes Healthy Choice ice creams for Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra, and distributes Nestlé's Haagen-Dazs, Haagen-Dazs Light, Starbucks, Dibs, and other Nestlé ice cream products. Switzerland-based Nestlé owns about 68 percent of Dreyer's.

In the past two years, Dreyer's introduced three notable lines reflecting three major trends - wellness, convenience and pets - as part of the family. On the health front, it rolled out Dreyer's/Edy's Slow Churned Grand Light ice creams, containing 50 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories. Made with a proprietary manufacturing process that is similar to "kneading dough" to disperse the fat, the ice creams subsequently require less fat to achieve a creamy mouthfeel. The line has been so successful, Dreyer's came out with a similarly processed Haagen Dazs Light this year.

Convenience is addressed in Dibs bite size popable ice cream snacks. And Fido can be indulged by Frosty Paws Frozen Treats for Dogs, tail-wagging treats that mimic ice cream. Surveys show one of every five ice cream eaters shares his treat with his pet, but dogs have difficulty digesting dairy products. So Frosty Paws, fortified with protein, vitamins and minerals, is not true ice cream, but your dog won't know the difference.

Back in the 1790s, a New York cookbook included recipes for Parmesan, ginger and brown bread ice creams. Today's consumers can try rose, ketchup, pomegranate or potato chip ice cream. In New York City, black sesame ice cream is taking over boutique ice cream shops, and honey lavender and fromage (cheese) are showing up on restaurant menus. Going beyond dulce de leche, Palapa Azul (www.palapaazul.com) all natural Mexican-style ice cream varieties now available in the U.S. include Elote (Sweet Corn), Cajeta (Mexican Goat Milk, Caramel & Cookies), Flan and Mexican chocolate.
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