Friday, June 4, 2021

Dairy Foods Innovation 2021: Ten-Plus Ice Cream Brands that Provide Inspiration for Innovation


Photo source: Milk Cult

While it’s not officially summer, for many readers of today’s blog, it’s time to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and mask-free fresh air. Once again, the marketplace is changing and marketers are pivoting to adjust. To help maintain the momentum of retail sales’ gains during the pandemic, brands are getting creative with formulations, marketing and messaging. This is very apparent in ice cream, with the retail freezer a hot spot in the supermarket.  

Shoppers are increasingly choosing to grocery shop inside the store as COVID-19 concerns abate, according to the April IRI survey among primary grocery shoppers. Additionally, shoppers are spending more time in the store, which once again makes it paramount that your product gets their attention. 

“Consumers who have been vaccinated are more likely to do all shopping in-store and are the ones driving the more relaxed in-store mindset,” says Anne-Marie Roerink, president, 210 Analytics. “This points to potentially ongoing shifts back to pre-pandemic behaviors as more people get vaccinated. As retail demand continues to be elevated, some categories squeezed out gains over 2020 whereas others fell short of matching the 2020 records.”

210 Analytics, IRI and the American Frozen Food Institute partnered to understand how the frozen food department fared relative to their 2020 and 2019 performances. Data show that with the exception of prepared vegetables, all areas tracked ahead of the 2019 pre-pandemic sales levels. Not surprisingly, however, is that 2021 vs. 2020 numbers are down, as more consumers venture out to eat and treat themselves. Still, retail ice cream sales were up 6.8% in April 2021, as compared to the 52 weeks ended April 30, 2019. Only two areas, frozen novelties and desserts, grew dollar sales in April 2021 versus year ago levels. And impressively, frozen novelty sales were up 31% in April 2021 as compared to the 52 weeks ended April 30, 2019.

Frozen novelties are booming thanks to the constant innovation taking place in this space. Formulators are prioritizing texture differentiators, along with pushing the envelope on flavor exploration. 

Source: IRI, courtesy of 210 Analytics 

Milk Cult, a Washington, D.C.-based ice cream company, has rolled out four handcrafted, made-from-scratch frozen novelties. There are two sandwiches: vanilla ice cream with chocolate chip cookies and vegan avocado with chocolate wafers. 

Photo source: Milk Cult

“We reworked our own version of the public school cafeteria lunch cookie and paired it with a custard base French vanilla ice cream. Except the cookie had to be soft when frozen, with natural ingredients, and salty as hell,” according to the company. 

There are also two Dippy Boys novelties: vanilla ice cream with a chocolate shell and potato chips (opening image) and vegan Makrut lime in a candy shell and crispy rice.

The inspiration for the flavor profiles came from collaborations with a few of D.C’s Michelin-starred restaurants and James Beard award-winning chefs. 

“It’s taken eight years and a lot of trial and error to hone in on the four distinct flavors for our ice cream novelties,” says Ed Cornell, co-founder and co-owner of Milk Cult. “We put attention into every detail and step of production from the flavor profiles to the selection of ingredients, the assembly process and resulting texture.”

Founded in 2013 in Washington D.C., by two friends turned co-founders, Milk Cult began as a mobile vending ice cream company. The duo noticed the ice cream food category lacked innovation from the natural food perspective. Since then, Milk Cult has grown through local grocery channels and was met with intense consumer demand. 

“Consumers are smart and can tell when something is hand-crafted, yet there was a lack of options and choices in ice cream novelties,” says Pat Griffith, Milk Cult co-founder. “It was a space where we thought better products could be made, and we wanted to build something from scratch. We were always intentional about the product.”

The concept of providing unexpected textures in ice cream really started to resonate with U.S. consumers when mochi went mainstream. Today there are a number of mochi brands in the frozen novelty space, all of which continue to innovate with flavors. 

My/Mochi, for example, is expanding its portfolio with three new globally inspired flavors that include the brand’s signature chewy, sweet rice dough shell. Flavors are: Coconut, Guava and Horchata.

Chewy textured ice cream is not unique to mochi. Brown Sugar Boba Ice Milk Bar from Taiwanese Company I-Mei Foods was available in Costco this past spring. Boba, also known as bubble tea, is an Asian beverage that combines milk-based tea with chewy tapioca pearls. The multi-textured novelty mimics the real deal through creative use of ingredients, including milk powder, coconut oil and a range of stabilizers to mimic the tapioca pearl eating experience.

Turkish ice cream, known as dondurma, is known for its unique texture. The slightly stretchy, chewy texture helps with savoring the flavors a bit longer, as dondurma does not melt in the mouth as quickly as other types of frozen dairy desserts. In fact, sometimes it is served like a slice of cake: on a plate with a knife and a fork.  

Gallivant Mawa Ice Cream has been named one of five finalists in the ice cream/frozen dessert category in the World Dairy Innovation Awards 2021. Mawa ice cream is made with milk and mawa, which are South Asian milk solids. Mawa is prepared by slow cooking full-fat milk for many hours, reducing it to one-fifth its volume by removing moisture. The solids have rich, silky caramelized notes, which when used in the manufacture of ice cream, results in a “creamier than gelato” frozen dessert, according to Snehee Chaplot, founder and CEO.

Chaplot created nine flavors of Gallivant Mawa Ice Cream for the initial rollout. They are: African Chocolate, Chinese Black Sesame, Guatemalan Cardamom, Indian Mango, Japanese Matcha, Madagascar Vanilla, Persian Pistachio, Thai Coconut and Vietnamese Coffee.

Another finalist in the competition is N!cks Ice Cream, which is described as Swedish-style ice cream that is so creamy, so light and so Swedish. Swedish-style is low-fat, low-calorie and keto-friendly, as the product contains no added sugars. The brand’s unique formulation—including sweeteners, fibers and texturants—results in a creamy mouthfeel that compares to mainstream ice cream, according to the company. The brand further differentiates with many of its flavors, such as Swedish Lemon Bar, which is cheesecake ice cream with a ribbon of lemon puree. (This product line will be featured next week as a Daily Dose of Dairy.)

“In North America, we continue to target new business in attractive subcategories. One subcategory is low-net carbohydrate ice cream,” said Nick Hampton, executive director and CEO, Tate & Lyle plc, at the company’s Full Year 2021 Earnings Presentation on May 27, 2021. “Last year, we started discussions with a customer who wanted to reformulate their low net-carb ice cream to use an alternative fiber and improve its mouthfeel. Using our prototype pantry approach, we created several ice cream variations to optimize the formula and meet our customers’ requirements.”

The system includes a blend of stabilizers, allulose, soluble corn fiber and monk fruit extract. 

Well Enterprises embraces the concept of multiple textures and flavors in its Blue Bunny Load’d brand. The brand commenced in 2018 with Load’d Sundae Cups, followed by Load’d Cones in 2020 and now Load’d Bars. 

The bars are described as having “two times the mix-ins” and are loaded with “ooey-gooey” swirls and pieces in every bite. The five varieties:

Bunny Tracks: vanilla frozen dairy dessert filled with caramel swirls and chocolate-flavored peanut butter bunnies topped with caramel sauce dipped in milk chocolate-flavored coating and peanuts.

Cookie Dough: cookie dough frozen dairy dessert filled with chocolate fudge swirls and cookie dough pieces topped with fudge sauce dipped in milk chocolate-flavored coating and cookie crunch.

Salted Caramel: salted caramel frozen dairy dessert filled with salted caramel swirls and salted caramel bunnies topped with caramel sauce dipped in milk chocolate-flavored coating and cookie crunch.

Strawberry Shortcake: strawberry-flavored frozen dairy dessert filled with strawberry swirls and shortcake pieces topped with strawberry sauce dipped in whipped cream-flavored coating and shortbread crunch.

Super Fudge Brownie: chocolate frozen dairy dessert filled with chocolate fudge swirls and brownies topped with fudge sauce dipped in milk chocolate-flavored coating and chocolate cookie crunch.

The brand continues to grow the cups and cones lines, too. For example, there’s new Load’d Sundae Caramel Fudge Brownie Cup, which is vanilla-flavored frozen dairy dessert, fudge brownie and caramel swirls, fudge brownie pieces, fudge chunks and caramel-filled bunnies.

When Unilever decided to expand the Klondike brand from square chocolate-covered frozen dairy dessert treats into cone novelties, the company knew it had to stand out among others in this space. How? By providing multiple textures in one product. New Klondike Cones feature a distinctive swirled-shape top with sauce that travels throughout the entire center of the crispy cone. It includes flavorful toppings and a chocolate cone tip. Varieties are: Classic Chocolate and Nuts for Vanilla, Double Down Chocolate and Classic Chocolate, and Unicorn Dreamin’ and Vanilla Chillin’. Unicorn is a green cone filled with strawberry and bubblegum frozen dairy dessert, strawberry sauce core, and chocolatey coating.

Award-winning chef Christina Tosi has long appreciated the ability to manipulate texture and offer innovative flavors in the ice cream she developed for Milk Bar, the rule-breaking dessert company she founded and operated through stores mainly in New York City. Of course, the pandemic required that she pivot her business and now four of her ice creams flavors are available in retail pints.  

Like novelty cups, pints present a package size that readily accommodates lots of inclusions along with unique textures, as compared to larger multi-serve containers that may get too messy when overwhelmed with extras that impact the frozen state.   

Milk Bar’s Birthday Cake is birthday cake-flavored ice cream, birthday cake crumbs and ribbons of birthday frosting. The Cereal Milk ice cream base tastes like the bottom of the cereal bowl with some extras in the form of a salty-sweet cornflake crunch. Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow is an ode to the Milk Bar’s bestselling cookie. It combines cornflake crunch, chocolate chunks and gooey marshmallow swirls throughout a cookie dough ice cream. Lastly, there’s Milk Bar Pie. This is vanilla ice cream with swirls of a gooey butter filling and toasted oat crumble.

“I have dreamed about bringing Milk Bar to the freezer section (the holy grail of the supermarket in my opinion) for nearly a decade. I knew coming in now, we’d need to do more than bend pieces of our finished treats into an ice cream pint. So we toiled and tinkered, taking our favorite flavor profiles and imagining them through ice cream bases, swirls, gobs, fudges, frostings, crumbs and crunches to create our proudest on-shelf creation yet,” says Tosi. “Our ice creams are meant for the unapologetically indulgent moments and mean serious business, no two are alike. Whether we already have a place in your heart or you’re looking for even more joy and spirit in your ice cream bowl, we got you!”

Chef-inspired ice cream at retail has always been a niche, but the pandemic inspired many culinary professionals to package their product for the masses. This is no easy feat, as hand-crafted ice cream sold on premise is easier to manage for quality than packaged pints going through the supply chain where they may encounter temperature abuse multiple times during distribution. 

That’s something Tosi and others have learned during the scaling process. What works in foodservice may not work for retail. 

Until the pandemic, Chef Liz Rogers only sold her homemade Creamalicious Ice Cream online and at her Southern-style restaurant, Wing Champ, in Sharonville, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati. She prides herself on being truly innovative with her whimsical two-in-one desserts that pair fresh-baked pastries with homemade ice creams. As you can imagine, these unique textures require extra care.

Chef Liz crafts her Southern artisan desserts by celebrating her roots and community. The award-winning flavors are inspired by her family’s recipes and have been passed down four generations. Varieties are: Banana Pudding, Gigi’s Sweet Potato Pie, Mama Poonie’s 3 Layer Caramel Cake, Pecan Pie, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Porch Light Peach Cobbler and Red Velvet Cheesecake.

The Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs brands have long emphasized the multi-texture, varied inclusion ice cream experience. The brands both continue to innovate. Earlier this year, for example, Häagen-Dazs Duo rolled out to the U.K. marketplace. The two-in-one format combines complementary yet contrasting flavors and textures of ice cream in one container. The concept debuted in three varieties. They are: Belgian Chocolate & Strawberry, Belgian Chocolate & Vanilla Crunch, and Dark Chocolate & Salted Caramel Crunch. These novel ice cream products were created in response to the growing consumer demand for interesting eating experiences.

Staying relevant to consumers in a discretionary category such as ice cream and frozen novelties will require innovation. Delivering unique eating experiences is one way to get there. 

It’s time to grab me a scoop!

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