Friday, August 6, 2021

Five Take-Aways from the 2021 Ice Cream Season


National Ice Cream Month has passed, which means that most of the celebration and special summer flavors are now in distribution. What’s different between this year and years past, excluding 2020, because nothing compares…

#1 While the basic flavors may dominate ice cream sales, consumers will buy the bizarre. In fact, they will go to great lengths to try something that everyone is talking about in social media. That brings me to the next take-away. 

#2 Consumers will pay for shipping and handling of ice cream. They probably prefer not to, so building the cost into the product makes sense, as well as incentivizing them with free shipping after a certain price threshold is met. Again, build that price into the product and you also are building sales. 

#3 Vegan ice cream is here to stay, but has limitations in terms of flavor innovation. Not everyone needs to be in this spot. And while plant-based ice cream is reported as being a “booming” category, so was fat-free ice cream 30 years ago, and high-protein, low-calorie ice cream just five years ago. The real deal never goes away. That’s because…

#4 Ice cream is a universal food. In addition to dairy ice cream providing a clean-flavor base that almost any flavor system complements, it also is a globally recognized food. While the flavors and inclusions vary around the world, that same delicious, simple base is universally embraced. It’s time to show appreciation for all nationalities that are part of The Great American Melting Pot. (Remember that School House Rock song and video? Check it out HERE. The video could showcase more diversity, but the intent was there.)

#5 Ice cream is nutritious. That’s right. Ice cream naturally contains bone-building calcium, satiating high-quality complete protein, and healthful fatty acids, including conjugated linoleic acid, which is all the buzz in the keto world these days.  

Please allow me to expand on these five takeaways. 

For starters, I was interviewed earlier this week by an editor with a consumer magazine who kept pressing me on the growing popularity of not just plant-based, but specifically vegan ice cream, and how Gen Z and Millennials are fueling growth of these products. While I agreed with him that the segment is here to stay, I don’t think he was pleased with the fact that I would not budge from my opinion that the market is saturated and limited with opportunity for growth because of limits on ingredients. 

See, that delicious pure clean base of dairy ice cream mix can carry all types of flavorful ingredients that add complexity and invite consumers to tantalize their taste buds. Vegan ice cream is limited in those additions. 

To read more about the ins and outs of formulating vegan, link HERE to an article I wrote for Food Business News on the topic.  

The reality is that layers of flavors are almost impossible with a vegan claim, and keeping vegan or plant-based ice creams “clean label” is often quite challenging. The Food Business News article expands on this, but to give you a sense of ingredient limitations, unless a packaged food product has the word vegan on the label, it is often impossible to be assured that the product is animal free. Natural flavors are one of the most common hidden sources of animal. 

The FDA allows food and beverage manufacturers to protect secret recipes by using the ambiguous terms “natural flavors” and “artificial flavors” on ingredient statements. Natural flavor or flavoring means “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional,” according to FDA.

This distinguishes natural flavors from artificial flavors, which rely on synthetic chemicals to add taste and aroma to food. In other words, artificial flavor can only refer to products not made from any plant or animal product; therefore, artificial flavors are vegan, but natural flavors may not be unless the product explicitly states that it’s vegan. This is tough in ice cream, where most inclusions are made with natural flavors, and likely most are not vegan. 

Just how many brands of vegan or plant-based vanilla or chocolate frozen dessert do you think a retailer is willing to stock when something like Graeter’s Ice Cream’s limited-edition Bonus Flavors sell out within a few weeks of being stocked? 

That’s right limited-edition and seasonal ice cream flavors continue to boom. Because of ingredient limitations, vegan and plant-based brands are yet to be able to embrace this concept, as flavor innovation is restrictive. 

Here’s what Graeter’s has done in this space thus far in 2021. First there was Black Raspberry Cookies & Cream, which was followed by Pralines & Cream right before Memorial Day. The third Bonus Flavor, Midnight Snack, was released on June 14. This is malt ice cream and a mix of peanut butter cups, chocolate-covered pretzels and brownie pieces. Just in time for the July 4th holiday came Cherry Cheesecake, which was an indulgent combination of cheesecake ice cream loaded with tart cherries and crunchy graham cracker pieces. 

The 5th Bonus Flavor, which was released to Graeter’s scoop shops and online just a few weeks ago, was Lemon Ginger. This Monday, August 9th, will be the last one of the season. Bonus Flavors remain a secret until the day it is released. Consumers are made aware of the new flavors via broadcast media, social media, local scoop shops, the Graeter’s app and online store. Each Bonus Flavor is considered a “Limited Time Only” flavor, and once the flavor is gone from scoop shops and online, the flavor is retired for the year. 

Many brands introduced limited offerings this summer, but in my opinion, Graeter’s does it best. Blue Bell does a good job of it all year long. The company celebrated National Ice Cream Month with Coconut Cream Pie Ice Cream, which was a rich, coconut French ice cream with flakes of coconut, tasty pie crust pieces and a whipped topping swirl loaded with toasted coconut. 
California’s oldest dairy—Crystal Creamery—commemorated its 120th anniversary during National Ice Cream month with a limited-time celebratory flavor. New Birthday Cake boasts a cake batter ice cream base with cake pieces and rainbow sprinkles throughout.

In addition to dairy ice cream providing a clean-flavor base that almost any flavor systems complements, it also is a globally recognized food. While the flavors and inclusions may vary around the world, that same delicious, simple base is universally embraced. 

Here in the U.S., Hispanic- and Asian-inspired flavors continue to become more mainstream. Just this past month, McConnell’s Family Dairy began a rollout of Eva’s Helado Artesanal, a line of super-premium pints that celebrate multicultural culinary traditions. The brand’s initial release features globally inspired flavors that draw on the ingredients and culinary traditions of North, South and Central America.

Eva Ein, chef and owner of McConnell’s, says that while McConnell’s is a company rooted in American tradition, Eva’s Helado Artesanal is an expression of America’s multiculturalism and a homage to the people who bring it to life, a.k.a, The Great American Melting Pot.

The line includes six dairy ice creams and one sorbet. They are:
  • Cafe Con Donuts: Coffee ice cream and chunks of cinnamon-spiked donuts
  • Chocolate, Caramel & Cookies: The traditional alfajor confection transformed into ice cream with dark chocolate ice cream, a caramel swirl and shortbread cookie pieces
  • Dulce De Leche: A traditional recipe of sweetened milk, cooked down to caramel and swirled into cajeta-infused sweet cream 
  • Fresas Con Crema: Strawberries and strawberry jam stirred into sweet cream plus an additional swirl of cream
  • Horchata & Churro Swirl: Sweet cream infused with cinnamon, paired with a swirl of churro batter
  • Mangoneada: A sorbet of fresh mango puree with a tamarind chamoy swirl
  • Mexican Vanilla: Sweet cream blended with the sweet, floral, creamy spiciness of a pure, full-flavored vanilla

In the U.K., Little Moons Mochi, which carries the tagline of “ice cream from another world,” rolled out three new limited-edition flavors only available through its website. Because of all the hype surrounding them, they sold out quickly. The biggest buzz on Instagram came from the Fish & Chips option. This is a sweet and salty combination with a hint of tangy vinegar and mini chocolate chips throughout. Each ice cream ball is encased in soft, chewy mochi dough that replicates the color of golden batter before being topped off with a mini white chocolate fish.

Here are some innovative flavors developed by Lithuanian chefs to attract tourism for the post-quarantine summer of 2021. Black Rye Bread Ice Cream contains salty, crunchy bread pieces, while Cucumber Honey Ice Cream is a creamy blend topped with a mint leaf. 

One chef combined the popular Lithuanian aged hard cheese “Džiugas” with cranberry ice cream, producing a piquant, yet sweet and silky ice cream that gets served with a crunchy molten cheese biscuit. Moose antler and smoked seasonal berry ice cream is exactly that. It uses moose antler powder, which is made from the antlers males in the wild shed each year, along with smoke-infused seasonal berries.

I’ll stop there. I am sure you get the idea. (While you likely know that moose antler powder would never be allowed in vegan ice cream, neither is honey.)

Back in the States, Marble Slab Creamery is offering its limited-time-only Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Ice Cream and Shake through September 30. The company partnered with Frito-Lay/PepsiCo to create the line-up, a dream for Cheetos’ cult following and fanatics. The flavor features Marble Slab Creamery’s sweet cream base with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos crushed and scattered throughout. 

That brings me to a press release I received on Thursday morning about a new book with the title: Who Said You Can’t Have Ice Cream for Dinner? Not Me.

My sons are now adults (19 and 21 years), and they never asked for ice cream for dinner, but if they had, I would have been perfectly fine with it. A bowl of ice cream is likely more nutritious than a bowl of macaroni and cheese, especially if it is one of the lower-sugar ice creams in the market. 
I was strict in some spaces, like homework, grades and curfew, but I was very easy going with food, and always explained to them the nutritional value of foods. I do believe a lot of us Gen X parents have food smarts that we subtly passed onto our kids: Gen Z. (Your new most important target customer!)

The author of the book--Dr. Richard Saracen, a chiropractic physician who lives in Central New Jersey—is a Gen X parent with a Gen Z daughter. I think we have a lot in common in regards to the importance of nutrition smarts.

Dr. Saracen writes, “Parents, I understand. Like me, you want the best for your child. So let me help you and let’s make as many children as we can ‘ice cream-for-dinner kids.’ We can work together so that our children will have the tools and learn lessons they can carry on through life. Together we can put a dent in the epidemic of childhood obesity in the USA.”

He proposes ways to help ensure regularity and healthy eating habits. In the long run, it’s important to focus on reducing the intake of sugars and carbohydrates. Better-for-you ice cream is possible when it is made with milk and cream. Now’s the time to explore sugar reduction technologies.

Here’s a concept that really makes ice cream what’s for dinner. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Ice Cream, which was a limited-edition ice cream developed by Kraft Heinz and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream. The brands collaborated to turn the comfort of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese into the ultimate summer treat with no artificial flavors, preservatives or dyes. The product was for sale at Van Leeuwen scoop shops and online starting July 14, National Macaroni & Cheese Day. The product sold out online in the first few hours. (I never even got a sample!)

In case you missed last week’s blog, also on ice cream flavor innovation, link HERE to read “Get Ahead of the Fad: Make Dairy Groovy.”

Functional Dairy Foods Innovation
The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) has announced the 12 semi-finalists in the Real California Milk Excelerator, the 3rd edition of CMAB’s dairy product innovation competition in partnership with innovation consultancy VentureFuel Inc. The companies will compete for more than $650,000 in prizes for their emerging dairy products that promote personal performance and recovery benefits.

The 2021 Real California Milk Excelerator taps into the thriving functional foods market. With consumers prioritizing personal health and wellness in response to the pandemic, the competition identified early-stage, high-growth companies with a cow’s milk-based product that plays a critical role in personal performance like focus, energy, exercise, and strength, and/or recovery benefits such as rejuvenation, relaxation, gut health and sleep.

“This competition is designed to inspire new ideas integrating the natural benefits of real milk and dairy products as functional ingredients delivering a flavor and nutritional profile that’s hard to beat. This year’s entries demonstrate the versatility of these ingredients and how they can be used in endless formulations,” says John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “Just as our definition of health has evolved, our desire for functional benefits from our food and beverage choices has evolved with it. Our twelve finalists certainly capture this evolution, with every manner of benefit from maximum athletic performance to gut-health and even sleep support, all in relevant formats that will appeal to today’s consumers.”

Fred Schonenberg, founder of VentureFuel, says, “Each year we see such disruptive and unique products built specifically around consumers’ evolving needs and wants. This year’s applicants were particularly inspiring as each sought to create better-for-you products that can improve and sustain the many ways we define health. We saw applications from Australia to Austin, from local dairy farmers to PhDs to celebrity chefs, all tapping into the natural nutritional value of real dairy. Now we move to accelerating these businesses to drive commercial growth through mentorship, strategic resources and introductions to buyers and investors.”

Each semi-finalist’s product is made with cow’s milk dairy as the first ingredient and making up at least 50% of the formula. The startups have committed to producing the product in California, with milk from California dairy farms, should they win the competition. Each semi-finalist accepted into the cohort will receive $10,000 worth of support to develop their product further while receiving a suite of resources including lab or kitchen time, graphic design, consumer insights, and elite mentorship from global marketing, packaging and distribution experts. The first-place winner will receive up to $150,000 worth of additional support and the second-place winner, $100,000 worth of additional support to accelerate the commercialization of their product to market. The total value of competition prizing is over $650,000.

The 12 semi-finalists for the 2021 RCM Excelerator are:

  • Alexandre Family Farms: Fourth generation California dairy farmers with functional brand extensions for liquid milk, powder and yogurt focused on properties for anti-anxiety and gut health.
  • Boba Guys: Trendy tea brand Boba Guys, with 15 brick and mortar locations in California, is developing a bottled milk tea latte with key nutrients, vitamins and caffeine to optimize performance and recovery.
  • GoodSport Nutrition: A first-of-its-kind, all-natural sports drink made from the goodness of real milk that delivers superior hydration with three times the electrolytes and less sugar than traditional sports drinks.
  • Kefir Lab: Kefir Lab takes kefir and makes it more effective with organic milk cultured with 24 live and active potent protein strains for a bottled kefir that boosts immunity, metabolism and brain health.

  • Nightfood: Uniquely formulated by sleep experts and nutritionists, Nightfood ice cream delivers great taste for those nighttime cravings and a sleep-friend nutritional profile to help promote quality sleep.
  • Positive Chemistry: A dissolving pouch that melts in the bath, releasing a bubbly, fizzing mixture of real milk and recovery salts to promote recovery for skin, muscles and the soul. A hidden exfoliating sponge with a message of positivity is designed to float to the top of the bath.
  • Rizo Lopez Foods: Award-winning and family-owned, Rizo Lopez utilizes Old World recipes and traditional techniques for their Ready2Go Whey products derived from a specially processed whey protein concentrate for a creamy, delicious and gut-healthy drink.

  • ReThink Ice Cream: Low sugar, stomach and diabetic-friendly ice cream that is infused with fiber and sourced from lactose-free A2 dairy, ReThink Ice Cream is a decadent source of natural nutrition.
  • Sweetkiwi: Founded by a McKinsey 2021 Black Executive Leader and certified cultured dairy professional, Sweetkiwi makes whipped Greek yogurt that is low in calories and high in nutrition. Sweetkiwi pints are under 320 calories and formulated with fiber, protein and probiotics for better gut health with fewer calories.
  • The Indian Milk & Honey Co.: Sugar-free probiotic Lassi with Ayurvedic immunity supporting herbs and spices, that also support mental clarity, in one environmentally-friendly carton.
  • Top O’ the Morn Farms: A California-owned dairy farm with an expansive line of fresh products, Top O’ the Morn’s Cow-Pow chocolate milk is a clean-label pre- or post-workout beverage fortified with whey protein isolate and natural caffeine.
  • Wunder Snacks: A 2020 RCM Snackcelerator finalist, Wunder returns with a new protein keto cheesecake snack bar with 10 grams of clean protein to indulgently refuel.

Semi-finalists will participate in a series of mentoring and support events leading up to the virtual pitch event semi-finals in November where four companies will be selected for a final virtual event to select the Excelerator winner. In addition to the semi-finalists, two companies have been selected to participate in the new Real California Milk Incubator Boot Camp program, which was built to assist ideas and promising prototypes that are too early for the Excelerator. These companies will receive mentoring and support from VentureFuel, CMAB and the California Dairy Innovation Center.
Darvida’s concept is a bottled, drinkable milk beverage made with 100% fresh colostrum, with high concentrations of vitamins and minerals to improve gut health. Perfect by Nature is using high-pressure processing, which leaves the original proteins and enzymes in farm-fresh milk intact, to bring the nutritious and delicious qualities of real fresh milk to the masses.

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