The scoop on ice cream for private brands

Publix has gained an excellent reputation and following for its store brand ice cream.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for low-calorie, low-sugar, high-protein, plant-based, super-premium, dairy-free, indulgent, vegan, good fat, super fruit, high-butterfat, real-fruit, portion-controlled, mini-sized, alcohol-infused, savory, vegetable-infused, prebiotic-added, probiotic-added, unique flavors and textures of … ice cream. And frozen novelties.

The ice cream and frozen novelty category is diverse, crowded and complex, declares market researcher Mintel. And even though recent innovations have provided something for practically everyone, sales growth has been relatively static for some time, according to Mintel’s May report, “Ice Cream and Frozen Novelties, U.S.”

Encouraging, however, is the category’s 90% household penetration rate, which reflects continuing consumer devotion to these beloved indulgences, Mintel notes. 

Ice cream and sherbet is eaten by 86% of households, frozen novelties are consumed by 54% of households and packaged frozen yogurt by 21%, according to data cited by research firm Packaged Facts.

Even though sales growth has been low and volume declining for a long time, dollar sales have spiked “slightly” in the last few years, according to Packaged Facts’ just-released August report update, “U.S. Food Market Outlook, 2019.” 

Consumers are treating themselves to more higher-priced, high-end, indulgent ice cream and specialty novelties, the report says. And, indulging in a different sort of way, they are flocking to low-calorie, low-sugar, high-protein ice creams like the phenomenally successful Halo Top brand, which beckons consumers by suggesting they can eat more of its ice cream while consuming significantly fewer calories than if they were eating regular brands.

A Lightspeed/Mintel online survey of 1,796 adults conducted in January asked what attributes would prompt respondents to try a new frozen treat product. Number one, at 34%, was new textures. Coming in second was mini sizes, cited by 25%. Tart flavor was favored by 22%; high-protein content by 21%; salty flavor, functional benefits and plant-based by 20%; and internationally inspired by 17%.

Health consciousness
Billed as “healthier” than regular ice cream, frozen desserts made from oat, almond, coconut and cashew milks and boasting nutritional benefits like high protein and low sugar are the fastest growing in the segment, says Stephanie Schultz, marketing coordinator for Fort Walton Beach, Fla.-based G.S. Gelato & Desserts.

“Where in the past, consumers would have to go to a specialty aisle to find non-dairy, plant-based products, the ice cream freezer now has an abundance of flavors to choose from,” Schultz adds. “Now that plant-based products have entered the mainstream, it’s important for retailers to adapt to the trend by ensuring they have their own selection of non-dairy flavors that are a good mix of classic and unique innovations.”

Founded by Italian couple Guido Tremolini and Simona Faroni, G.S. Gelato creates authentic, artisanal Italian gelato, sorbet and non-dairy frozen desserts from oat milk and coconut milk for private label and foodservice clients.  According to the company, it’s the largest foodservice distributor of gelato and sorbet in the U.S.

To indulgence
“We see a future in the more decadent things,” says High Road Craft Brands Chief Brand Officer Nicki Schroeder.

The Marietta, Ga.-based maker of handcrafted, high-butterfat, “luxury” ice creams and frozen novelties, founded by Schroeder and her chef-businessman husband Keith Schroeder, started as a supplier to high-end restaurants before entering the retail and private label world. Sam’s Club is a client, and High Road creates Tanzanian vanilla ice cream, sourced from small farms in Tanzania, exclusively for the retailer.

Indulgence in moderation is what many consumers are after, Schroeder says. “People want something that makes them feel satisfied. It’s exciting to discover things and bring them to market so people can” fall in love with them.

High Road acquired Ciao Bella Gelato last year, and has overhauled the recipes (some back to their original formulations), flavor lineup, graphics and packaging, returning the brand to more sustainable paper pints. The new holiday sorbet line includes apple cider, tangerine, holiday punch (cranberry, tangerine and a splash of prosecco) and other flavors. High Road is currently working on its new 2020 flavors.

Clean and artisan
Old-world methods differentiate frozen desserts by improving the taste and appearance while also producing clean-label product, says Daniel Salazar, marketer for Emila Foods in Modena, Italy.

Emila’s gelatos; fruit, yogurt and gelato bars; mini cones and gelato sandwiches are made in small batches and instantly frozen to lock in flavor intensity, according to the company. Crafted from all-natural, organic and non-GMO ingredients, the products are free from artificial ingredients, colors and flavors.

“Consumers are becoming more aware of healthy and ethical choices, and their search for transparent and clean labels is relentless. Offering a quality product that embodies the values praised by new generations of consumers is the most reliable way for a retailer to sympathize with its customers,” Salazar says.

Staying ahead of trends
G.S. Gelato’s research and development team monitors the global ice cream market to keep ahead of the trends and create customized private label programs, Schultz says. The category has a lot of potential to showcase innovation and is very adaptable to change as the ice cream industry evolves, she adds.

Some of G.S. Gelato’s flavors include amaretto, Sicilian pistachio, espresso chocolate chunk, toasted coconut, triple chocolate, bananas foster and peach guava. Seasonal flavors include sweet potato marshmallow, cinnamon brown sugar and cherry cobbler.

High Road’s in-house research and development and design teams keep it ahead of the trends, Schroeder says

“We look at the trends, but we also ask ourselves, ‘What do we want to do with the culinary knowledge we have and the travels we’ve taken to Italy and Tanzania? How do we translate that into products?’ ”

Salazar advises to keep things fresh by introducing exciting seasonal flavors, either based on a theme or made from exotic ingredients such as yuzu, açai and passion fruit. New flavors and combinations may seem unusual at first, but have the potential to be appreciated in the long run, he adds.

Store brand gains
Private label is on the move in this category, as consumers continue to choose private label overall more than individual brands, Packaged Facts states.

In 2018, 28% of households consumed private label ice cream and sherbet, up from 22% in 2008, according to Packaged Facts.

Additionally, consumption of “other brands” of ice cream increased by nearly 10% as consumers increasingly gravitated toward new brands, many of which are small players in the super-premium niche, Packaged Facts reports. 

Some retailers are becoming bolder with their private label ice cream offerings, Packaged Facts notes, offering more premium products with on-trend flavors, ingredients and forms. For example, Walmart’s Great Value brand is offered in trendy flavors such as banana pudding and sea salt caramel truffle. Target introduced a Halo-like, low-calorie, high-protein line under its private brand. Albertsons’ upscale Signature RESERVE brand offers seven flavors of super-premium ice cream featuring globally sourced ingredients.  And Kroger’s Private Selection brand went upscale with flavors like wildberry lavender mascarpone.

Cvetan is a contributing writer to Store Brands.