Ice Cream Innovations Keep Category Growing

At Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Markets LLC, “the novelty category is showing the most growth,” observes Tracy Strauch, category business manager frozen foods at the northeastern regional grocer. “While all novelty segments are growing at a similar mid-20 percentage rate, the adult novelty segment has a slight lead with growth, at 33%. Part of the growth is due to bringing in incremental items during our reset, Yasso being a good example.  Their new chocolate-covered [Greek yogurt] bars bring the best of both worlds — better for you with a bit of indulgence.” She attributes the dramatic increase “to more people being home, leading to greater snacking.” 

However consumers like their frozen desserts in a bowl, straight out of the package, on a stick or in a handheld format sales of these cold comforts have risen amid the stress of the pandemic, with shoppers often opting for greater quantities of their favorite frozen indulgences.

“We have seen sales across the category grow versus year-ago,” says SanGiacomo. “As consumers have remained at home throughout COVID, they have looked to ice cream as a way to treat themselves and their families. In doing so, there has been a shift to purchasing larger sizes (48 ounces) versus pints. We saw this especially during the first six months of COVID.”

Her company anticipates “continued growth of the category, with a main contributor coming from our new Roche Bros. private label ice cream. This is a locally made premium ice cream built on the Roche Bros. quality name, available in a 48-ounce container.”

“As far as ice cream goes, the super-premium subcategory is the strongest,” notes Strauch, adding that “Ben & Jerry’s expansion of their nondairy varieties has contributed to the growth.” Tops draws attention to its ice cream and novelty offerings with end cap displays to inspire extra impulse buys, or by offering additional incentives, such as Buy 4, Save $4 instantly or inclusion in a gas points program, to provide incremental lift over a traditional promotion.

Like SanGiacamo, Strauch believes that the category’s gains are here to stay. “While more consumers may be comfortable going out, many will continue to stay home,” she points out. “Therefore, we expect sales to remain strong, but at a slightly lower level than we saw during the height of the pandemic.”

By the Numbers

What’s occurring at Roche Bros. and Tops is in line with national trends. As Julie Henderson, VP of communications at the Harrisburg, Pa.-based National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA), notes: “Traditional regular-fat ice cream still holds the largest percentage of category sales. As consumers normalize indulgence, seeking balance and happiness over sacrifice, super-premium offerings are driving growth.”

Continues Henderson: “Ice cream is still the largest category in the frozen food department, accounting for $8.041 billion in sales for the 52 weeks ending March 27, 2021, according to Nielsen. Frozen novelties is also a top category, with $5.991 billion in sales for the same time period.”

What’s behind such impressive figures? “In general, ice cream is associated with a higher spend,” says Henderson. “Customers buy it because they like it; it’s new and different; and they don’t mind spending more. Categories like ice cream and novelties saw growth during the pandemic as people were seeking out familiar and comforting foods.”

She believes that “limited-edition and seasonal flavors have the opportunity to create interest and boost sales, as well as plant-based options, which are driving innovation in the category.”