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.

The low-carb craze ain't what it used to be, but it's not altogether gone, either, as sales of Breyers' CarbSmart will attest.

Since wellness is the hottest new category, expect to see more fortified (calcium, vitamins, minerals, fiber and probiotic cultures) ice creams along with less fat, less sugar and fewer calories. Contrast that with more indulgent and comforting flavors and you have the recipe for success.

Carb watchers (and there still are many) have numerous options. No. 2 company Good Humor-Breyers (www.icecreamusa.com), Green Bay, Wis., a Unilever unit, has an entire Breyers CarbSmart low-carb line. It recently added Light Vanilla Fudge Sundae and Light Chocolate Peanut Butter with half the fat, 40 percent fewer calories and 4g net carbs per serving. The other half of Unilever's North American ice cream operations, Ben & Jerry's (www.benjerry.com), Burlington, Vt., also is digging into the wellness category with a line named Body and Soul with 25 percent less fat, sugar and calories in four of Ben & Jerry's most popular flavors: Cherry Garcia, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Half Baked.

But don't discount the indulgence category. Premium and superpremium quality ice creams (with over 40 percent of the total dollar sales) continue to outsell regular ice cream as well as light, reduced-fat, low-fat and non-fat products, reports Supermarket Guru. Indulgent consumers have an interesting new option with Minneapolis-based Kemps Foods' (www.kemps.com) line of Pillsbury Doughboy Ice Creams. They come in a variety of baking-inspired flavors: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Brownies ‘n Cream, Cake & Ice Cream, Turtle Fudge Brownie, Peanut Butter Fudge Chunk, Lovin' Caramel Swirl and Homemade Vanilla.

Meanwhile, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., have developed a new type of flash-frozen dessert that combines the chill of ice cream with the explosive fizz of soda pop.

Science of ice cream

For its manufacturers, the science of ice cream matters a lot, reports Science News. To satisfy the population's unceasing demand for the sweet stuff, companies are constantly on the lookout for ways to make better-tasting ice cream that lasts longer, costs less and is more nutritious than current varieties.

Besides cream, ice cream has just a few essential ingredients: mainly sugar, milk solids, ice crystals, air and flavorings. Sugar makes the dessert sweet, but it also serves another important purpose. In the freezer, plain cream turns into a solid that's hard as a rock. Sugar lowers the mixture's freezing temperature, making it much softer.

The highest quality ice cream varieties have the fewest ingredients, tend to have the least air (15 percent to 20 percent), which makes them denser, and the most butterfat (14 percent). Regular ice cream is 60-62 percent water and 10 percent butterfat. Air is pumped into ice cream near the end of the manufacturing process, after the basic ingredients have been mixed together and cooled down but before fillings, chunks and other flavorings go in.

As the concoction freezes in a huge container, large blades spin the creamy goo around and scrape ice crystals off the sides of the container. For high-end brands with lots of butterfat, the process is enough to prevent iciness. Some companies churn their ice cream slowly and for a long time, a process that helps fat globules stick together and produces a creamy texture.

Economy brands that skimp on richness and are churned more quickly, however, have to add extra ingredients. Emulsifiers, for example, keep fat suspended throughout the final product, and stabilizers control the growth of ice crystals.

In the battle against ice crystals, one recent avenue of research has focused on molecules called antifreeze proteins. Found in certain types of fish and plants that live in extremely cold environments, these proteins prevent ice crystals from forming, which keeps the organisms from freezing to death. Speculation is they could do the same for ice cream in the future.

In the meantime, many companies are trying hard to make ice cream that is both yummy and healthy. In its traditional form, ice cream is loaded with calories and fat, which carries the flavor and produces the smooth texture. All that fat, however, is a problem when it comes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other weight-related illnesses. It's difficult to create a low-fat version of ice cream that tastes as good as the real thing. Once you start taking out fats, water content can shoot up to 70-78 percent.



Indulgence in Europe

According to the latest research from Euromonitor International, private label manufacturers are increasingly focusing on single, traditional flavored ice creams, so Western Europe manufacturers are opting to increase differentiation for premium products by introducing new lines featuring unusual combinations of flavors. Known as the "premiumization of flavor," these artisanal ice creams are aimed at a more demanding consumer, willing to pay a higher price for more sophisticated products.

Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, lemon, traditional "turrón" and coffee are the most popular artisanal ice cream flavors in Spain, and cookie-flavored ice cream is gaining in popularity. In France, consumers prefer chocolate, vanilla and fruits of the forest. Vanilla remains the most popular ice cream flavor in the UK, followed by chocolate and its variants (such as double chocolate chip), which accounted for a 26 percent share of volume sales in 2004. In Italy, the most popular artisanal flavors are nuts, chocolate, coffee, lemon, strawberry and stracciatella. Belgians favor vanilla, chocolate, mocha and caramel.

Ice cream is associated with pleasure and experimentation of flavors. This new concept of mixed sensation-based pleasure is reflected in the names of recent introductions, such as Nestlé Schöller's (Germany) new Schokolade Orange, a chocolate and orange ice cream refined with spices for a unique exotic taste. Evoking sensuality and pleasure are Frigo's Cornetto Love Passion (hazelnut-stracciatella and tiramisú-cinnamon, nut and herbal flavors) in Spain, or Unilever's Seven Sins intense pleasure in the Netherlands.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Italian Ice Cream Trade Assn. (AIG), relatively unusual flavors, such as pink pepper, chili and nutmeg, are increasing in popularity, with nuts and chocolate also being confirmed among the most in-demand. However, some exotic flavors introduced just a few years ago such as kiwi, papaya and coconut, reportedly are declining.

A further trend in Western Europe is the increasing importance of fruit flavors, which are perceived as healthy as well as pleasurable. In the Netherlands, a new Orange Fresh flavor of the brand Solero was launched. The formula contains 50 percent fruit and only 4 percent fat.




Defining ice cream

USDA's specific rules define what can and can't be labeled "ice cream." To bear the "Meets USDA Ingredient Standard for Ice Cream" stamp, it has to contain at least 10 percent milk fat and a minimum of six percent non-fat milk solids, and a gallon must weigh at least 4.5 pounds.

The range of milk fat (sometimes referred to as butter fat) used in ice cream can range from the minimum 10 percent to a maximum of about 16 percent. Most premium ice creams use 14 percent milk fat. Higher fat content leads to better, richer taste and a creamier texture. Ice cream makers don't go higher than 16 percent because it would be costly and highly caloric.

The recipe for ice cream is simple, but in scientific terms, it's complicated stuff. Ice cream is a colloid, a type of emulsion - a combination of two substances that don't normally mix together. Instead, one of the substances is dispersed throughout the other. In ice cream, molecules of fat are suspended in a water-sugar-ice structure along with air bubbles. The presence of air means that ice cream is also technically a foam, according to HowStuffWorks.

In addition to milk fat, non-fat milk solids, sugar and air, ice cream also contains stabilizers and emulsifiers. Stabilizers help hold the air bubble structure together and give the ice cream a better texture. Although gelatin was originally used as a stabilizer, xanthan gum, guar gum and other compounds are used today. Emulsifiers keep the ice cream smooth and aid the distribution of the fat molecules throughout the colloid. Egg yolks once were used, but ice cream manufacturers now tend to use other chemical compounds. These stabilizers and emulsifiers make up a very small proportion (less than one percent) of the ice cream.



An ice cream diet?

New research shows that ice cream - when eaten as part of a healthy diet - may actually melt away fat, helping you lose extra pounds faster than if you had abstained. Aficionados will be happy to know that Prevention magazine developed The Ice Cream Diet. A dish a day helps you: keep bones strong; burn fat more efficiently; lower high blood pressure; crush cravings; ease PMS symptoms; fight colon cancer; stop bingeing; cut stroke risk; boost immunity; and prevent kidney stones.

Women get 1 cup and men get 1 1/2 cups of ice cream every day. You'll still drop pounds, because your treat is factored in to a nutritious diet that totals 1,500 calories a day for women and 2,000 calories for men. Since you'll be cutting 300 to 500 calories from a typical daily intake, women can lose up to 30 lbs. and men as much as 50 lbs. in a year.

To keep calories in check, you'll need to choose a reduced-calorie ice cream. But don't say yuck just yet. There are some great choices that meet the diet's guidelines of 125 calories or less per 1/2-cup serving and at least 10 percent of calcium's daily value of 100 mg per serving.

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