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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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.

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