Açai is certainly hot right now. The small dark-purple drupe of the palm Euterpe oleracae hails from northern Brazil and is known by natives as “iça-çai,” which means “fruit that cries.”
The idea of strongly colored natural superfoods with high levels of antioxidants has driven consumer interest in plants and ingredients from South America. For centuries, berries from the açai palm have been eaten with breakfast to provide a daylong boost of energy, build the immune system and treat infections.
It was not until the 1950s that these health benefits, including cancer-fighting properties, began to be investigated. Today, açai is used as an ingredient in a variety of products, from freeze-dried fruit snacks to cosmetics to flavored vodka.
Sorbet or sherbet is a frozen dessert made from sweetened water and iced fruit, as opposed to ice cream which is made from dairy products. Sorbet is believed to have been invented by the Roman Emperor Nero during the first century A.D. Buckets of snow were transferred by runners down the Appian Way and mixed with honey and wine in the great banquet halls of Rome.
The U.S. is the second largest consumer of ice cream per capita (10 quarts per person) with 93 percent of households consuming ice cream. This consumption is driven mostly by households with children -- 34 percent of households with children consume four or more quarts of ice cream per month. Only 20 percent of households without children eat that much.
Nestle’s Haagen Dazs looked at this market and the tidal wave of health expectations from consumers and considered how to create an intuitively healthy indulgent dessert focused on the some of the biggest demographic growth segments, baby boomers and households without children.
Understanding the marketplace
The overall ice cream category has been generally flat for more than a decade. So the fact sales were down 2.9 percent in 2006, according to Information Resources Inc., comes as no surprise. Even though Americans spend approximately $21 billion a year on ice cream, nearly two-thirds of it is eaten away from home, according to the Intl. Dairy Foods Assn. Coupled with the reality of its loss leader status in the supermarket, the picture tends to look grim for this category.
The one bright spot is sales of reduced-fat varieties grew 15 percent between January and June 2006. Many consumers still believe a low-fat diet is one of the best definitions of healthy eating. Sorbet sits very squarely in this arena, and can still be premium. Sorbet can sound decadent and delicious without necessarily calling to attention its low-fat content.
The top flavors of ice cream are vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan and strawberry. In order to clearly call attention to the fact this product is different, the flavors had to be premium and unique. When consumers are asked about what would make them feel better about their cravings for ice cream, low-fat, calcium, antioxidants and all-natural ingredients are the properties they are looking for – according to our own Crave It! 2007 studies. Using the acai berry makes the product a win on two of these properties.
Right after published research regarding the açai berry's cancer-fighting ability in 2005, global launches of products containing açai tripled. Consumers heard the message that acai was healthy. The acai berry contributes enormously to the economy of the Amazon Rainforest region. Unlike the deforestation that occurs with the harvest of hearts-of-palm, the twice-yearly açai harvest does not destroy the trees that produce it.
Many by-products also are profitable, including the sale of palm fronds for hats, baskets and roof thatch, whole seeds for jewelry and souvenirs, ground seeds for livestock feed and the outer bark, which is an excellent fuel source. It all makes this sorbet a premium healthy indulgence that gives back to the environment.
Our CraveIt!, Deal with it!, It's Convenient and Healthy You! studies indicate refreshment, indulgence, relaxation and fun are among the roles ice cream plays. When people eat ice cream, they want it to taste good, look good and be from the right brand. Consuming ice cream makes people feel happy. When consumers have to make choices about ice cream, they choose multiple additives (nuts, chocolate, etc.), real ingredients, melt in you mouth and multiple flavors.
Key trends in the ice cream category are:
Co-branding and flavors: Co-branding to deliver distinctive flavors (candy, cookie, fruit and flavors) has been a strong trend. Novelties and ultrapremium products have teamed with candy, coffee and chocolate manufacturers to deliver branded flavors of ice cream (think Starbucks coffee flavors, Dove chocolate, M&M’s inclusions). New flavors that are multidimensional have driven the marketplace the past few years.
Fat level: Giving the consumer multiple fat-level choices has provided some growth for the category. Regular ice cream accounts for the largest share of the frozen dessert market, at 63.8 percent. Reduced-fat, light, low-fat and nonfat ice cream account for 23.5 percent of the market, followed by frozen yogurt (4.3 percent), water ice (4.3 percent), sherbet (3.6 percent) and other (0.5 percent), according to 2006 figures from Information Resources Inc.
Novelties: Following the focus on portion control in other categories, novelties have driven growth in the category. Smaller sizes and individual portions have been key to this sub-category.
The Haagen-Dazs Reserve series is available in one-pint cartons for about $5.50. We evaluated the Brazilian Açai Berry Sorbet. Other varieties are Amazon Valley Chocolate, Pomegranate Chip, Hawaiian Lehua Honey & Sweet Cream and Toasted Coconut Sesame Brittle Ice Cream. In bars, there’s also a Pomegranate & Dark Chocolate Bar.