Ice Cream and Desserts: Shelter from The Weather with Warming Flavors

Ben & Jerry’s has launched two limited edition flavors in the UK as it seeks to replicate the seasonal sales boost attributed to its festive innovations last year. The winter-inspired Minter Wonderland and Cinnamon Buns ice creams are packaged in 500ml tubs that have also been given a festive makeover, complete with snowflakes and a bobble hat for brand mascot Woody the cow. The introduction follows a similar successful launch by Ben & Jerry’s in 2014, which the brand claimed helped boost sales and attract new customers to the category.

By Alex Beckett, Mintel

This performance is significant in a category that is inherently seasonal. Mintel’s Ice Cream and Desserts – UK, June 2015 report revealed that 48% of category users eat ice cream to cool down in hot weather, ranking it as the second most common occasion behind “when I feel like a treat”. Brands have traditionally found it difficult to maintain consumer interest beyond the peak summer months, and volumes also typically decline or rise depending on average summer temperatures. For example, a prolonged heatwave in 2013, which saw 19 consecutive days of temperatures exceeding 28°C in the UK, led to a rise in both value and volume sales in the year. This suggests that usage is still not ingrained into regular eating habits, and that manufacturers have more work to do to encourage consumption – regardless of the weather.

dreamstime_xxl_50275520Brands ‘warm up’ ice cream for the winter

The warmer months clearly remain the priority for ice cream manufacturers in the UK, with launch activity heavily weighted towards the spring and summer. Product development typically spikes in April, May, June, and July, before falling back during the rest of the year. This trend has continued into 2015, with a fifth of all innovations appearing on the market in April, and close to 50% debuting in the second quarter of the year. Ice cream brands are, however, also beginning to use innovation to create excitement and keep consumers engaged during the quieter months of the year. Seasonal claims appeared on 5% of all ice cream launches in the UK during the 12 months to November 2015, up from just 1% in the previous year. Products containing the descriptors “winter” or “Christmas” also spiked slightly in 2014, albeit still representing only a marginal element of the total category.

Most ‘winter’ innovations have used spices traditionally associated with the colder months, such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, to try and ‘warm’ ice cream. Unilever, for example, unveiled two high-profile winter ice creams in 2014, using these flavors to better maintain sales throughout the year. Wall’s Gingerbread Sandwich mixed vanilla ice cream and gingerbread biscuits to create “the perfect winter ice cream”, while Carte D’Or’s Cinnamon Biscuit combined spiced cinnamon ice cream and crunchy biscuit pieces to “meet consumer interest in Christmas-inspired flavours (and) delicious dessert options in the colder months”. Other brands, meanwhile, have used traditional festive desserts as inspiration for winter varieties, with both Waitrose and Laverstoke Park Farm formulating with mixed peel, orange, brandy, and winter spices to create Christmas pudding ice creams in 2014. Alcohol alone is also an effective way of adding a premium winter image to ice cream, with Tesco Finest Rémy Martin Christmas Ice Cream, launched in November 2014, a good example.

More generally, there has also been a tendency by brands to launch ice creams with more indulgent, rich flavors in the autumn and winter months, while lighter fruit dessert flavors tend to be the focus in the summer. In recent years, this has led to a glut of ice cream innovations in the third quarter with coffee, salted caramel, dark chocolate, hearty nut, and super indulgent dessert-inspired flavors. For example, Carte D’Or launched a Vanilla Pecan with Salted Caramel & Biscuit Ice Cream in September 2015, while Remeo unveiled a raft of coffee-inspired gelatos during the same month in 2014. Brands that incorporate similar flavors into their portfolios are likely to build stronger year-round appeal and be less exposed to the sales fluctuations wrought by the UK’s uncertain weather. Snacking formats can reduce dark clouds of winter while flavor innovations have been at the forefront of efforts to reposition ice cream as a year-round treat, there is also potential to remove the influence of the weather by better associating ice cream with specific eating occasions.

Mintel’s Ice Cream and Desserts – UK, June 2015 report revealed that ice creams are most associated to the dessert occasion, and that seasonality is not a major influence on the wider desserts segment, which has encouraged brands to experiment with more explicit dessert-style flavors and formats in recent years to widen usage. The same report found, however, that the snacking occasion has strong opportunities to drive growth, with just 13% of users currently eating ice cream as a snack.

The development of smaller, bite-sized ice cream snacks can offer portion-controlled moments of indulgence, whether it is summer or winter, potentially increasing frequency of consumption. Unilever’s Magnum brand has embraced this trend in the UK, launching a Mini Baileys and After Dinner range ahead of the winter season in 2013 to “tap into the trend for snacking and sharing”. Magnum also expanded this offering in the last quarter of 2014 with a Minis White & White Almond variant after the two ranges added almost £3 million to sales. The launch was designed to offer consumers “an array of ice cream treat options for the cozy nights of the winter months”, and illustrated that format can be just as important as flavor when extending ice cream’s appeal outside of the summer.

Ice cream brands have found it difficult to maintain sales beyond the peak summer months in a category that is inherently seasonal, with warmer weather traditionally boosting volume and value sales. Ben & Jerry’s and a number of other leading brands are, however, increasingly introducing limited edition winter flavors, inspired by popular festive spices and desserts, to try and ‘warm’ ice cream and boost frequency of consumption. There are also opportunities for brands to build stronger year-round appeal by developing snackable formats that offer bite-sized moments of indulgence, whatever the weather.