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In frozen treats, a shift to the stick

Ice cream makers have launched a host of products for on-the-go cravings

Ah summer! That time of year when I scream, you scream, all Canadians scream for ice cream. Here, in one of the coldest countries in the world, consumers’ love of frozen treats hasn’t wavered over the last several decades.

But their old ice cream rituals are evolving: Unlike boomers and seniors, who prefer traditional ice cream formats (in a dish or on a cone), millennials are big fans of novelties, often eating them as snacks rather than as post-dinner desserts.

Viewed as convenient, permissible indulgences, demand for novelties is growing in Canada. According to Euromonitor, single-portion dairy novelties beat out all other ice cream formats as the fastest growing category last year, with an estimated 4% volume growth. Meanwhile, dollar sales of novelty multipacks, the kind sold at grocery stores, jumped 6% between 2010 and 2012.

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CPG companies, for their part, appear convinced that the market for novelties won’t soon melt away. This year, major players such as Unilever and Nestlé, as well as startups such as DeeBee’s, launched an unprecedented number of new novelty SKUs, each capitalizing on food trends that are already top-of-mind with consumers.

Super-indulgent stick bars (think Häagen-Dazs) were recently called the “new hero” of the ice cream category. Why? Unlike other formats, which have seen flat sales in recent years, handheld treats are growing in popularity.

The turning point, according to Euromonitor, was 2011, when Unilever launched its Magnum bar in Canada with much fanfare. “It traded consumers up,” says brand manager Charlie Clark. “We’re bringing growth overall to frozen novelties.”

Consumers, particularly millennials, appreciate stick bars’ on-the-go convenience, as well as their built-in portion control. Plus, they make great snacks. NPD data shows 60% of all novelties are consumed at snack time, whereas traditional ice cream is usually eaten at dinner.

“A novelty feels more like a snack than having to go to the freezer, and get a bowl and a spoon,” notes Carm DaSilva, marketing manager at Häagen-Dazs.

In March, Häagen-Dazs launched two ice-cream bar flavours: chocolate peanut butter and salted caramel. The latter capitalizes on the now booming trend of combining sweet and savoury flavours.

Magnum, meanwhile, introduced its own salted caramel SKU this year, named Gold. Clark says Magnum’s summer ads will focus “more or less exclusively” on this new flavour, and will feature True Blood actor and hunk-of-burnin’-love Joe Manganiello (pictured in photo above)–a surefire way to attract more than a few female fans to the brand.

Of course, handheld treats aren’t just for young adults. NPD data shows that people under 18 eat 30% of all frozen novelties, more than any other age group.

To reach kids, Nestlé recently debuted a product that invites them to defy their parents’ long-standing rule to “never play with food.” Peelin’ Pops are eaten like bananas. Kids peel back an edible, yellow outer layer to reveal a vanilla core.

“Within the kid segment, highest performing innovation this season so far,” says DaSilva.

In summers past, Canadians were faced with an impossible dilemma: indulge in frozen treats and blow their bikini-season diets, or maintain their meal plans but miss out on a refreshing treat. Now, there’s no need to choose, thanks to the growing selection of low-calorie, low-sugar novelty products.

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Take DeeBee’s Teapops. Billed as the country’s first-ever tea-based frozen treats, Teapops contain between four and eight grams of sugar per serving–low by ice cream standards. The products are also certified organic, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO and kosher, says DeeBee’s Victoria-based founder, Dionne Laslo-Baker.

“Three flavours are rooibos-based, so they’re naturally non-caffeinated,” she says. “So anyone would feel very comfortable providing that to children.” Teapops, which won this year’s Best New Product award at the World Tea Expo, are due to hit Whole Foods’ shelves in June.

Chapman’s new sport line, meanwhile, may soon replace orange slices as little league soccer players’ go-to half-time snack. This spring, the company launched electrolyte enhanced lollies called Sport Frozen Hydration.

“This is something consumers have asked for,” says Chapman’s sales and marketing manager Mary Breedon. The lollies come in four fruit flavours and are nut-free, gluten-free and kosher.

For people looking for a little extra texture in their frozen novelties, Sunkist’s new line of frozen fruit bars is just the ticket–some flavours contain actual puréed fruit.

The bestseller, coconut, “has shredded coconut meat in it to give you that authentic texture and taste,” says Ernest Bednarz, whose company distributes the products. Sunkist Frozen Fruit Bars come in five flavours and don’t contain any high-fructose corn syrup.

South of the border, companies are discovering a strong consumer appetite for Greek frozen yogurt. Ben & Jerry’s, for example, recently added three flavours to its year-old line of Greek frozen yogurt: Liz Lemon (named after the unlucky-in-love main character on NBC’s 30 Rock), Pineapple Passionfruit and Vanilla Honey Caramel.

Each product is made with 25% Greek yogurt, says Kirsten Schimoler, one of the company’s “flavour gurus.” The yogurt lends the product a creamy, indulgent texture.

Ben & Jerry’s Greek frozen yogurt line is not available in Canadian supermarkets. But, according to Unilever’s Clark, the company is “looking at the possibility of bringing into Canada in grocery.”

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Right now, few Canadian national brands offer Greek frozen yogurt. But at least one private-label brand has jumped on this burgeoning trend. PC Blue Menu, Loblaw’s store brand, has come out with a line of Greek Yogurt Smoothie bars.

Advertised as “creamy, velvety smooth,” each stick bar has just 1.5 grams of fat and contains one billion probiotic live active cultures.

Shoppers are raving about the products online: “We are already hooked on Greek yogurt, but these frozen smoothie bars will be a staple in our house now on. The texture and taste are a delight, but what a bonus all that protein is,” one consumer wrote on the product website.

When it comes to frozen novelties, Canadians are clearly spoiled for choice. But in such a brand-centric category, grocers may find that shoppers are hesitant to add new, unfamiliar products to their baskets.

The solution, says Sheri Pearson, senior director of retail at shopper marketing agency Hunter Straker, is twofold: promotions and product sampling.

“Mass vehicles like weekly flyers and free-standing inserts always work,” she notes. “But sampling through an in-store demo program gets the purchase without having to discount.”

Take her advice, and watch as your frozen novelty sales start burning up this summer.

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