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Maturity, health-conscious consumers and a decline in product launches have all contributed to a slowdown in ice cream sales in saturated markets such as the US and the UK. However, whilst Unilever and Nestlé dominate overall sales of ice cream, with a combined global value share of 35%, a somewhat controversial revolution is brewing in the background, targeting the ultimate indulgent experience. Will hemp-infused ice cream and alcoholic popsicles pioneer the wave of craft ice cream? Euromonitor International takes a closer look at the rise of craft ice cream and how Unilever and Nestlé should take pointers from two university graduate entrepreneurs.
Retail ice cream sales in the US posted a 1% decline in 2013 compared to historic average growth of 2%, primarily due to a drop in product innovation, consumers switching to healthier products outside ice cream, such as Greek yoghurt or fruit, or opting for cheaper formats. The UK paints a somewhat different picture; growth has also slowed down, but still registered a 5% value increase in 2013, compared to 7% in 2012.
While major manufacturers have been busy trying to launch healthy ice cream formats or jumping on the Greek yoghurt bandwagon, a new wave of entrepreneurs are instead focusing on flavour, excitement and, above all, provocative product innovation. Hemp-infused ice cream by Relaxation Solutions, a subsidiary of Bebida Beverage Company (BeBevCo), is expected to be launched in the US by August this year. The company is partnering up with 80s comedy duo Cheech and Chong to be the face of this ‘’relaxation’’ ice cream, which claims to contain 5mg of hemp per half pint serving. With some states in the US having already legalised recreational marijuana use and more to follow this year, it’s quite the catchy product launch of 2014.
More extravagant products are also being launched. Mahiki Lic, an alcoholic cocktail popsicle, comes in flavours such as Mojito and Piña Colada, and is infused with a 20ml shot of rum, equivalent to drinking one glass of wine. Distribution at the moment is solely through on-trade channels in the UK including festivals such as Park Life and V Festival, as well as nightclubs such as Mahiki, in order to create a buzz around the brand and hit the perfect target audience. Whilst this is still a start-up company of two university graduates funded by grants such as the Prince’s Trust, it is a showcase for creative innovation in ice cream, albeit for a niche market.
Similarly, new brand POPS is introducing champagne popsicles, containing 37% alcohol, and uses a similar approach to distribution, including a point of sale at this year’s Glastonbury, one of UK’s biggest indie/rock music festivals. Whilst the champagne popsicle is very similar to Mahiki Lic’s, it has a slightly more premium positioning, and is due to be launched in the off-trade channel with a suggested retail price of £100 for a box of 24 popsicles. This product would lend itself well to more premium supermarkets, such as Waitrose, to hit the mass market or alternatively in the food hall of department stores such as Harrods or Selfridges, to keep it more exclusive.
Whilst these product launches are in their nascent stages, they won’t form any direct threat to the mass market ice cream giants Unilever and Nestlé, as such. Instead, these launches demonstrate a movement of craftsmanship in ice cream, or in indulgence as a whole, offering a more distinctive product, high in character. The hemp ice cream and alcohol-infused popsicles are targeting a specificmellow and buzz mood audience, that are seeking an indulgent product that can give them a new experience. If successful, these types of products can create a new wave of craft ice cream. Perhaps the two giants can learn from this and develop their ultimate indulgence product. After all, most of Nestlé’s ‘light’ ice cream variants are underperforming compared to their full-fat counter parts. When it comes to ice cream, does one really count calories? Or would they rather experience that ultimate buzz?
Whilst products such as Magnum’s champagne flavoured ice cream or Häagen-Dazs’s black cherry amaretto ice cream are already widely available in the freezer isle, the mere flavouring of the product does not compete with the real thing – the actual buzz of a champagne-infused popsicle.