Ice cream often evokes memories of big swirls of vanilla soft-serve that melt down a classic cone onto your fingers. But the frozen treat is taking on new, healthier and more innovative forms that are quickly taking over grocery store freezers.
As new flavors and ways to eat ice cream abound, manufacturers and retailers have been zeroing in on offerings that are friendly to both the waistline and the environment. These attributes have taken the supermarket by storm in every category imaginable, and retailers are adapting quickly to meet shoppers’ demands for items that meet their lifestyle and dietary needs.
Stocking a freezer full of better-for-you options, however, is not enough, says Russell Barnett, CMO of Los Angeles-based My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream. He says variety is also important in creating successful ice cream sections.
1. Creating Instagrammable Shopping Experiences
According to Barnett, millennial consumers are snacking about four times a day—more than any other generation—and the need for portable, well-portioned snacks is transforming the ice cream aisles and beyond.
“The high demand for handheld and portion-controlled snacks is playing a big role in redefining the ice cream category—adding exciting colors and ‘instagrammable’ shopping and eating is key for a successful retail program,” he says. It also takes balancing the “familiar and not-so-familiar,” Barnett says, as well as showcasing products that tap into “both the desire for classic, fun flavors and the millennial demand for accessibility and experience.”
2. More Than Just ‘Natural’
In addition to portability, millennials have also brought the cruelty-free and environmentally friendly mission to center stage, which retailers have taken careful note of. For example, Lakewood, Colo.-based Natural Grocers offers only pasture-based dairy products, meaning all animals involved are outside on a pasture eating grass and exhibiting natural behaviors—and ice cream is no exception.
Leigh Paone, category manager for Natural Grocers, says ensuring all the retailer’s dairy products meet these requirements helps avoid labeling confusion among its shopper base, because the “natural” label no longer cuts it. Instead, terms such as “pasture-based,” “pasture-raised,” “antibiotic- and hormone-free,” “certified organic” and “non-GMO” are far more important.
“We’re proud of our ice cream selection and know that our customers love it because it is produced at such a high standard,” says Paone. Natural Grocers has also created an alternative ice cream set for the plant-based crowd, she says, which includes cashew, coconut and other vegan options.
3. Providing Plant-Based
Natural Grocers appears to be on the right track, as Isabella Monico, brand manager at Austin, Texas-based GoodPop, says all food trends are pointing toward the “popularization and normalization” of plant-based diets. Additionally, Barnett says the plant-based ice cream market is set to grow nearly 10% annually over the next decade.
“This can be seen across food categories, with ice cream being no exception,” Monico says. Because of this, grocers have been adapting ice cream displays to better integrate dairy-free options.
“As dairy-free ice cream becomes the dessert of choice for the everyday consumer and not just those allergic to dairy, we’re noticing these items presented side by side in displays, so that all alternatives are conveniently presented to the buyers,” she says.
4. The Power of the Promo
Monico says retailers have also been finding success in promotions such as partnered couponing campaigns that encourage customers to “purchase one item to receive another free,” for example. She says these promos allow shoppers to try brands they might not have otherwise.
Sunbury, Pa.-based Weis Markets has found a way to connect with its shoppers through their love of ice cream, offering reduced-price frozen treats as part of its recently updated Preferred Shopper customer loyalty program. The program—which grew a whopping 311% in just the first four weeks following the updates—offers discount rewards on nine Weis-brand products, including Weis Quality ice cream and bananas, as well as gas.
“We’ve heard anecdotally from customers that they like having a menu of options,” says Ron Bonacci, VP of marketing and advertising for Weis Markets. For example, “Weis Quality ice cream is $3, but if customers use 100 points through our rewards program, they get it for 99 cents. People like that kind of thing.”
5. Going Local
Customization according to regional need is another important piece of the shopper satisfaction puzzle that is oftentimes overlooked by retailers, according to Monico.
“At the end of the day, yes, we are all Americans,” she says. “But to ignore the regional cultural differences and trends is a terrible lost opportunity to appease customers who enjoy that personalized touch in their grocery store.”
Paone of Natural Grocers says the retailer understands the desire for local products and fulfills this need by working with local farmers, so that “shoppers in the Pacific Northwest can find a cheese brand they’ve known for years, and customers in Texas can support a local farm who makes their favorite ice cream.”
6. Moving Out
Ice cream has traditionally been relegated to the center of the store where freezers are found. But last year, My/Mo Mochi introduced single-serve, grab-and-go freezers that can be placed in the bakery and prepared meals sections of supermarkets.
The help-yourself bars, and the idea of being able to move ice cream products to other parts of the store, was quickly picked up by retailers such as Wegmans, Safeway, Kroger, Harris Teeter, King Soopers, Pavilions and Vons when it launched in October, and is setting the stage for ice cream’s liberation from the classic freezer.