Cold comforts

From ice pops to ice cream bars, new innovations in frozen novelties abound.

With warmer weather finally starting to show itself across the country, consumers are looking to indulge in sweet frozen treats. There’s been a lot of recent innovation in hand-held frozen novelties with manufacturers putting new spins on items like ice pops, freezies, ice cream bars, sandwiches and the like. And while traditional ice cream in a tub is still the bestseller among Canadians, Nielsen data shows water-based freezable novelties, like popsicles and freezies, accounted for $29 million in sales across the country in the latest 52 weeks ending Feb. 1, 2020—up an impressive 8%.

What’s gaining popularity in frozen novelties right now aligns with the health-based trends that have taken the food world by storm, including keto-friendly options, less added sugar, and plant-based items. The changes in the frozen novelty category “mirror innovation in other parts of the grocery store,” says Dana McCauley, food trends expert and a current director in the Research Innovation Office at the University of Guelph.

Traditionally, frozen novelties have been an indulgence category, says McCauley, so products with a health claim are competing with the old favourites including drumsticks, dairy-based ice cream bars and high-sugar popsicles. To succeed in a category that typically occupies a small amount of real estate in your store, managers will need to ask: “What are my bestselling items that are traditional? Keep those, and then choose a few new things that give people the features they want, like plant-based or made from real fruit. You want to hit as broad a spectrum as you can to keep inventory turning over,” says McCauley.

Happy Pops is one of those newer items. Toronto founder Leila Keshavjee decided to create her healthier popsicle, which has significantly less sugar than the norm, when she realized just how many names there are for “sugar” in a typical frozen treat’s ingredient list. Keshavjee says her product is healthier, yet still offers a bit of indulgence. With a base of either fruit or coconut, the flavours range from old favourites like strawberry or orange to more creative ones like lemon-mint or matcha.

Benjamin Outmezguine, co-founder of Montreal’s CoolWay, says his team decided to expand its product lineup to include novelties last year. CoolWay’s low-cal, high-protein ice cream has been on the market for a few years now; but it launched a line of low-cal ice cream bars last spring, and in March launched a “healthier” ice cream sandwich.

READ: Low-calorie ice cream craze hits Canada

It’s not just smaller companies and startups offering innovations that align with current diet trends—last year, Unilever launched a non-dairy/plant-based version of its indulgent Magnum Bar; while just this spring, Nestlé launched a plant-based version of its iconic Drumstick ice cream cone novelty in Canada in two flavours: Caramel, and Vanilla Chocolate Swirl “in a plant-based, vegan cone” containing no artificial colours.

Who’s buying novelties? According to James van Bolhuis, promotions manager at The Sweet Potato natural grocery store in Toronto, the category is “for everyone, unless they can’t eat for dietary reasons.” McCauley adds that the millennial mom is often the one who buys the healthier, more customized options in the indulgence category (if they can afford to do so). Older gen Zers may also be young parents or will be parents in the next decade, and they are interested in sustainability and transparency, she says. And now as they grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis they may be looking for less expensive options as money for specialty items will be tight for many this summer.

To make the most of novelty sales—especially during uncertain financial times and amid potential supply chain concerns—consider stocking what you can when you can, and featuring limited-time offers to create urgency and get items out the door, rather than doing long-term listings that you may run out of, says McCauley. Consider also having some “perennial favourites” alongside “good value, specialty items with cool new benefits and flavours,” she says—though if you have to limit flavour choices in the newer products, lean toward traditional flavours like chocolate or strawberry. If you get any discounts from the manufacturers, consider offering the special price in a display bin, passing savings along to the shopper.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s May 2020 issue.

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