Friday, July 23, 2021

Making Ice Cream a Pandemic Trend that Continues to Grow


This past Sunday, July 18, was National Ice Cream Day. I ventured with the family to one of my all-time favorite places--Sherman’s Dairy Bar—in South Haven, Michigan. My friends at Hudsonville Ice Cream produce product for Sherman’s using the Sherman family’s proprietary formulas. The Holland-based company started doing this in early 2020 after Sherman’s decided to stop production after the 2019 summer season. Thank you, Hudsonville, for keeping this Southwest Michigan tradition alive. I enjoyed the limited-edition Super Scoop, which is swirled Blue Moon, Black Cherry and Vanilla ice creams. 

National Ice Cream Day was a great start to this week’s annual conference of the Institute of Food Technologists, which was held virtually under the banner of FIRST (Food Improved by Research, Science and Technology). A recurring theme in many of the sessions was the evolving interpretation of health and wellness, and how companies that adapt to this, along with incorporating sustainability efforts into their business plans, may be what is necessary to keep the sales momentum of the pandemic on an upward trajectory.  

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for the food industry to stick to those gains and retain those gains,” said Nicholas Fereday, executive director at Rabobank. “It’s theirs to lose.”

Joan Driggs, vice president of content and thought leadership at IRI said, “Whenever you have a major change, a major disruption in the market, it does spur innovation,” as she compared the pandemic to the recession from 2007 to 2009.

She moved onto the topic of health and wellness, explaining that most consumers have more than six personal wellness goals. This includes everything from getting better sleep to improving mental acuity to destressing, and, of course, managing weight.

“People are looking for a lot of different things,” she said. 

The pandemic made them more mindful of these goals. It also made them more aware of the role of food and beverage in attaining these goals. 

Might ice cream be a “health and wellness” food for someone who needs some calming and comforting? It can be that and a whole lot more! 

You can read a more comprehensive review of the FIRST session HERE

This brings me back to the blog I wrote last week on “What’s the Next ‘Healthy?’” 

You can read it HERE.

I got some interesting feedback from readers regarding my suggestion to use the word “nutritional” or “nutritious” on product packages. The fact is that dairy ice cream packs in 13 essential nutrients. It’s the ultimate “permissible indulgence.” It also may serve as a canvas for further nutritional enhancements. 

Here’s an example. A few weeks ago I featured Carter & Oak frozen dairy dessert as a Daily Dose of Dairy. The product carries the tagline of: Indulgence you crave. Nutrition you deserve. 

The product was developed by Kyle Peters, who after graduating from university in 2015, set out to make a nutritionally superior ice cream in honor of his recently deceased mother who struggled with the side effects of chemotherapy. One of the few foods she was able to eat was ice cream.

“The issue was that the ice cream she would eat was super high in sugar, made with artificial ingredients and was not putting her body in an ideal position to feel better and recover from her treatments,” says Peters. “I decided to combine my passion for culinary with inspiration from my mother and her fight to create Carter & Oak, a frozen dessert brand dedicated to providing delicious, premium products that are made with clean ingredients and provide high-quality nutrition.”

Currently Carter & Oak comes in single-serve 8-ounce cups in three varieties. Cold Brew Coffee and Vanilla Bean contain 190 calories, 7 grams of fat, 8 grams of sugar (none are added sugars), 8 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar alcohols and 16 grams of protein. Chocolate Peanut Butter is a bit more indulgent with 260 calories, 14 grams of fat, 8 grams of sugar (none are added sugars), 9 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar alcohols and 18 grams of protein. Key ingredients are organic skim milk, cream, organic egg, organic erythritol, chicory root fiber, whey protein isolate and monk fruit. The company has also developed a self-serve mix with a similar nutrition profile.

Now, before others try to duplicate his efforts, remember, health and wellness is very personal. As Driggs said, “People are looking for a lot of different things.”  

Ice cream is one of the ultimate comfort foods. And this past year, innovators turned up the comfort notch with their creativity. So many “firsts” debuted this summer that is has been impossible to cover them all. A recent example is the product of a partnership between Kraft Heinz and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream to introduce limited-edition ice cream inspired by Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, complete with cheese powder and turmeric for coloring.

Supermodel Tyra Banks entered the ice cream business with SMiZE Cream, which is a superpremium, custard-style ice cream that inspires you to reach for more than just a spoon, as the bottom of every container has an edible surprise aptly named the SMiZE SURPRiZE. This extra treat is a cookie dough truffle covered in naturally colored sprinkles. It’s said to be a tasty reward that symbolizes what the brand stands for: goal getting and dream catching.

The line is launching in seven flavors, and more are on the way, according to the company. They are: Best Vanilla I Ever Had (vanilla ice cream with a fruity cereal cookie dough truffle), Brownies, I Love You (milk chocolate ice cream, brownie pieces, brownie batter bites and fudge with a chocolate blueberry cookie dough truffle), Caramel Cookie Queen (vanilla ice cream, caramel butter cookies and a salted caramel swirl with a toffee caramel cookie dough truffle), Chocolate Barbeque (smoked chocolate ice cream, brownie pieces, roasted almonds and a bourbon cookie dough truffle), Purple Cookie Mon-Star & Me (purple sweet cream ice cream with Oreo cookie pieces and a cookies and cream cookie dough truffle), Salted Caramel King (salted sweet cream ice cream, butter-roasted pecans and salted caramel butter with a salted caramel cookie dough truffle) and Strawberry BirthYay! Cake (strawberry ice cream with cake pieces and colorful sprinkles plus a sprinkle birthday cake cookie dough truffle).

Will our new normal actually include a supermodel making ice cream, eating it and raving about it? Like I said, it has been a summer of many ice cream firsts. 

“It’s official, baby! Now everyone in mainland USA can enjoy the creamy, dreamy taste of SMiZE Cream,” says Banks. “Bite after bite, taste test after taste test, the nationwide launch of SMiZE Cream is by far my most delicious, chunk-a-licious accomplishment. Ever since I was a little girl, my mama and I have been obsessed with the creamy, crunchy, ooey-gooey comfort and delight of ice cream. Everybody has their own unique stories and moments with ice cream at the center of them—hot summer days, celebrations, even broken hearts—but ice cream always made it better.”
My colleague at Food Business News developed an informative slide show of some recent ice cream flavor innovations. You can view it HERE.

There are packaging firsts for ice cream, too. Unilever’s new Klondike Shakes are frozen 4.7-ounce pouches. Flavors are Chill Out & Vanilla and Wind Down & Chocolate. The consumer just lets it sit out for about three minutes, then twists off the cap and sips. 

There are numerous new options in the single-serve retail milkshake and sundae space, with brands trying to recreate the dairy counter experience. Palazzolo’s Artisan Dairy offers 18-ounce “blended and ready to eat” ice cream milkshakes made with only clean, simple ingredients. Varieties include Cookies and Cream, Double Shot Cappuccino, Double Dutch Chocolate, Fresh Strawberry, Salted Caramel and Tahitian Vanilla. 

When the Roadside Ice Cream & Diner in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, had to close its doors during the pandemic, the company quickly pivoted and entered retail with its hand-made soft-serve sundaes. The company joined brands such as Turkey Hill, Friendly’s and Blue Bunny.    

This is one cool first. The Churnbaby brand from Casper’s Ice Cream gives a unique spin to single-serve sundae cups by topping them off with an entire cookie and including a spoon under the lid. The 7-ounce cups are sold in two packs in four varieties. They are: Choco Chip Cookie Dough (whole chocolate chip cookie, fudge drizzle, sweet cream ice cream, cookie dough swirl and chocolate chip cookie dough), Choco Chip Vanilla Fudge Brownie (whole chocolate chip cookie, fudge drizzle, vanilla ice cream, brownie bites, chocolate flakes and fudge ribbon), Cool Mint Chocolate Chip (whole double fudge cookie, fudge drizzle, mint ice cream, chocolate flakes and fudge ribbon) and Peanut Butta Brownie Luvva (whole double fudge cookie, peanut butter drizzle, chocolate ice cream, peanut butter ribbon and brownie bites). 

The brand also has two varieties of ice cream sandwiches, which are even now available through private-label retailer Aldi. The ice cream sandwiches come in Caramel Cashew (caramel ice cream with a sea salt caramel ribbon and crunchy cashew chunks sandwiched between shortbread cookies) and Caramel Cookies n’ Cream flavors (cookies n’ cream ice cream with a sea salt caramel ribbon sandwiched between double fudge cookies).

As you can see, there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation in the novelty category. And consumers appear to be eating it up. While retail ice cream sales have slowed compared to 2020, they are still up from 2019. Novelty sales remain up from last year. (See chart.)

Recent data provided to the International Dairy Foods Association showed that hard ice cream production for the first five months of 2021 was ahead of last year when hard ice cream production set a five-year high with more than one billion gallons produced. Through the first six months of 2021, just as the summer season kicked into high gear, retail ice cream sales continued to flex their muscle and were slightly behind 2020’s record highs when shoppers couldn’t get enough of America’s frozen treat.

“Ice cream sales set a blazing pace in 2020 and just never let up,” says Michael Dykes, president and CEO of IDFA. “All in all, 2021 is shaping up to be one of the strongest years on record for ice cream production and sales as the U.S. economy opens up and restaurants and foodservice compete with grocery stores for ice cream sales.”

The average American eats approximately 23 pounds of ice cream each year. The United States ranks second in global ice cream consumption only to China, which has one billion more people living in its borders.

Need more incentive to get innovative in ice cream? Fortune Business Insights estimates the global ice cream market will reach $91.9 billion in 2027, up from $70.9 billion in 2019, a 30% jump in less than a decade due to the world’s craving for ice cream. 

Remember those cravings may be for many varied reasons. People are looking for a lot of different things!

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