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Frozen Fun

Forget plain old vanilla.

At the Country Grocer in Ottawa, you could say that the cold stuff is a hot item. To satisfy shoppers’ sweet tooth, the store has 12 doors of frozen desserts. Ice cream flavours range from Coffee Crunch to Double Churned Extra Creamy Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Vanilla Bean Tiramisu. There’s also a generous selection of gelato, sorbet, frozen custard and ice cream on a stick. And for those watching their weight, the store stocks everything from 100-calorie ice cream portions to mini ice cream bars and cheesecakes to bite-sized brownies.

In the middle of the frozen dessert section there is a permanent four-foot display section. “And in that middle is every chocolate topping and fudge topping and cherry topping, sprinkles for the kids, ice cream cones of different forms and shapes and chocolate bowls to put ice cream in,” says store owner François Bouchard. The displays cross-promote each other and push sales for both frozen desserts and their accessories. “We do quite well with it,” he says.

Selling frozen desserts used to be a simple thing: fill your freezers with plain, old vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream and perhaps something exotic (Walnut Crunch, anyone?) and you were set. Lately, the category has expanded in several directions, with new and exciting flavours and products to entice consumers with a penchant for frozen treats. And as Bouchard understands, convincing consumers to buy these products means more than stocking up on ice cream and frozen pies in the summer. There’s room for incremental sales through savvy merchandising and new products.

The hottest categories in frozen desserts are not, in fact, plain old ice cream. According to Nielsen MarketTrack, during the 52 weeks ending Feb. 13, 2010, ice cream and related products increased by 2% to reach almost $470 million; frozen confections (including juice, water ices and sorbet) jumped 10% to hit just under $323 million; frozen yogurt rose 8%, to $48 million; frozen dough and pastries rose 6%, to $69 million; while baked desserts remained unmoved, at $93 million.


James Fraser, a retail analyst and partner at Hunter Straker, sees two trends in frozen desserts. People want a guilt-free indulgence, he says. At a Loblaws store in Toronto recently he noticed that 25% of a 60-foot freezer section comprised low-calorie and frozen yogurt desserts with names such as Breyers Smooth and Dreamy Triple Chocolate Chip and McCain Cheery Cheese Cake Singles.

The second trend is a sense of fun that consumers are expecting from dessert. “So we’re seeing the incorporation of confectionery properties into frozen dessert products,” he says. “Smarties, Rolo, Oreo and Oh Henry to name just a few. This category–not including the store brand knock-offs–made up approximately 15% of the section.”

Other trends are emerging south of the border. The hottest thing for frozen desserts in the U.S. right now is a new wave of tart frozen yogurt with live probiotic bacteria cultures, which promote digestive health. Howard Waxman, market analyst at Packaged Facts, says portion control is also big with consumers and he expects to see an increase in “all-natural” and organic ingredients in frozen desserts.

Nestlé Canada is revamping its entire lineup to deliver more natural flavours and colours to meet consumer demands, says Erin Lazer, marketing manager of packaged ice cream, adding that Nestle has grown 5% between June 2009 and January 2010 compared to 2% in the ice cream category overall. Nestlé also has a large lineup of premium light ice cream and frozen yogurts, says Lazer. “Frozen yogurt is the fastest-growing segment in packaged ice cream,” she says.

Mary Breedon, sales and marketing manager at Chapman’s Ice Cream, sees a big future in frozen yogurt. The company has just launched three new flavours: Rocky Road, Nanaimo Bar and Mac Nut. “Our yogurt is a big, big seller and we are finding that people want the indulgent flavours with less fat, less guilt.”

But Joel Gregoire, a food and beverage industry analyst at the NPD Group, doesn’t hold a lot of hope for growth in this category in Canada. “Over the past few years, the frozen dessert category has remained relatively flat with just less than one-fifth of Canadians eating frozen desserts in the home with dinner in an average week. Within frozen desserts, ice cream heads the list as the most popular food item, though it’s a food that’s seeing declines,” he says.


Last year, Vancouver-based Purdy’s Chocolates teamed up with Island Farms to produce ice cream flavours that reflect chocolates such as Hedgehog, Mint Meltie and Sweet Georgia Browns. The ice cream line sells in B.C. grocery stores, and Samantha Bahrini, national marketing co-ordinator, says customers are interested in buying local, even in frozen desserts.

Kraig Kinsman, frozen food manager at the Grocery Store in Whistler, B.C., is also seeing a desire to buy local. His freezers include lines from brands such as Vancouver’s Mario’s Gelati and Lucia Gelato of Whistler, B.C. Kinsman says he’s seeing manufacturers shift to a smaller packaging format and portion sizes, and new lines of low cal or low fat. He adds that anything that is staying the same has received a facelift.

“In our store, the bestsellers are definitely the premium products–Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s–as well as the Island Farms Tracks line and Breyers Classics.” People, says Kinsman, like to treat themselves.

4 Merchandising Tips

1. Take advantage of the seasons to move frozen desserts. In the fall you could do apple, in spring maple, and in summer strawberry. “We cross promote in different departments, so we’ll have maple tarts, maple syrup, maple bacon, and we’ll try to tie something in with the frozen dessert section,” says the Country Grocer’s François Bouchard. “We did a maple theme where we had a whole door dedicated to maple ice cream and other maple-flavoured product.”

2. Change displays often. Rotate products to create interest at different times of the year, such as a maple leaf ice cream brick for Canada Day. Provide secondary display space in bunkers or end caps, particularly in the key summer season and around big holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, when sales spike.

3. Offer discounts and sampling to increase trial. Nestlé Real Dairy, for example, has launched a trial-size 500ml Natural Vanilla ice cream tub to drive trial on its new recipe and positioning. It retails for
$2 and includes a $1-off coupon on the lid that’s good for any product.

4. Use end-of-aisle hero signage to promote appetite appeal. It’s an effective way to entice shoppers from the perimeter of the store into the frozen dessert aisle, says James Fraser of Hunter Straker.

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