The British weather is about as reliable as England in a penalty shoot out. It might start off looking promising, but it’s pretty likely things will go wrong somewhere down the line. While April 2011 got off to a reasonable start, the summer failed to deliver and ice cream singles took a hit. “Out-of-home sales in the convenience sector suffered quite badly, down 11% in value and 14.5% in terms of units,” says Fredericks Dairies trade marketing manager Ed Jones. “Poor weather and consumer buying behaviour were the biggest contributors to this poor season.”

However, the forecast for 2012 is much sunnier as this year comes with plenty of opportunities to prosper, provided retailers stock strong singles offerings for the seasonal peak, and multipack offerings that sell whatever the weather. Fredericks believes that kids’ products will be a key growth driver, in both out-of-home and take-home sectors.

“I feel that children’s products will be one of the best-performing categories,” says Jones. The firm has just secured a 10-year licensing agreement with soft drinks giant Britvic and is launching what it says is the biggest kids’ fmcg brand in the UK, Robinsons Fruit Shoot, as a blackcurrant & apple Squeeze Up (rrp £1 single, £2.79 six-pack). And it’s not stopping there - other big brand kids’ launches from Fredericks include: Barratts Dip Dab lollies and Vimto cherry lollies six-packs and The Natural Confectionery Company Squeeze Up singles.

Another household name making the transition into the kids’ ice cream category is Rowntree’s Sour Pastilles lollies. Available in a pack of eight, the product has an rrp of £2.49. R&R is hopeful the launch will bring incremental shoppers to the category, mirroring the confectionery story which attracted 55% new consumers .

The company has also announced that last year’s limited-edition Fab apple & blackcurrant is to become a permanent addition to the brand’s portfolio, having generated 62% incremental sales to the category in 2011.

Mr Freeze is using the limited-edition technique to trial new flavours, too. The firm recently ran a survey to find out how to improve its offering and found that its flavour mix left room for improvement. “Our tropical and lemon & lime flavours are the least popular. The feedback we got was that they were too adult orientated,” says business manager Brian Hartley. To remedy the situation, the company is investing more than £150,000 into its freezepops brand. A new limited-edition 90ml orange & blackcurrant variant (rrp 22p) will join the existing portfolio, and the firm will be providing new pos material. It is expecting to see a 10% sales uplift year on year as a result of its investment.

Limited-edition flavours are on offer within the Calypso portfolio, too, where mango and cherry flavours (rrp £1.59 for a box of eight) are being added temporarily to the firm’s Luvvly Jubbly range. The company specialises in freeze-at-home products, a category it claims has a growing following.

Also new to the Calypso range are Exotix freezepops in a choice of five varieties - mango, banana, strawberry & kiwi, passionfruit, and pineapple. They are priced at £1.59 for a box of 20 regular size 45ml pops.

In addition, Calypso is hoping to attract consumers with a Disney-themed treat of mini size Mickey & Friends freezepops packs (rrp £1.39 for 40 x20ml) targeted at six- to 12-year-olds.

New Forest Ice Cream will also be using some cartoon magic to capture children’s imaginations with its Bubble Gum Highball. Following the success of its Bubble Gum Ice Cream, which launched last year, the new product uses the same flavoured ice cream, but with the added value of a ball of gum at the bottom of the container. Pos material featuring Jack the Bubble Gum Kid is available to retailers to support the launch.

Little luxuries

But it’s not just kids who are going to have all the fun in 2012. There’s plenty to keep adults happy as portion-controlled indulgence products continue to make their mark. The phrase ‘good things come in small packages’ is certainly true of ice cream, where the minis market continues to flourish.

“Consumers are looking to reward themselves, but in a controlled manner that won’t break the bank,” says Unilever brand building director for ice cream, Pete Harbour. The company launched the My Carte D’Or 200ml tub range in September.

Fredericks is also confident that ice cream miniatures have plenty of mileage. “We believe the minis category will continue to grow in 2012,” says Jones. “This year we are launching our first mini stick product into the market under the Cadbury Bliss brand.” The six-pack multipacks of hazelnut ice cream contain hazelnut praline sauce swirled throughout.

R&R is feeding into the mini trend by making its £5.4m Nestlé Potz brand available in a smaller format. “Despite the economic climate consumers are still looking to treat themselves, and ice cream can now satisfy more occasions, such as the Big Night In,” says senior marketing manager Charlotte Hambling. “To meet consumer demand, Potz will be repackaged into a 150ml single-portion pot, which will be rolled out later this year.”

Also going down the indulgent, yet measured, route is Häagen-Dazs, which claims its mini cups are winners for convenience retailers. “We expect 2012 to show growth as consumers trade up from regular treats to luxury ice cream, and mini cups are a gateway to the category,” says convenience channel director Liam Ward. “Within convenience outlets, luxury ice cream is growing more than double the rate of total ice cream at 5.4%.”

The brand is going to greater lengths to create a feeling of luxury with the recent unveiling of Secret Sensations, which uses a patented technology to create a liquid centre of gooey sauce enveloped by ice cream. The launch is being supported by a £1.6m marketing campaign including TV advertising, digital activity, an in-store support programme, consumer sampling and a PR programme.

Häagen-Dazs isn’t the only company going for goo. Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s brand has just introduced its “most indulgent” offer ever. Ben & Jerry’s Core contains a soft core of sauce surrounded by two flavours of ice cream. “With a more premium price point, Ben & Jerry’s Core will drive up the average unit price in the market, and drive further growth for retailers,” says brand manager Rhodri Morgan. Core is being supported by a £5m marketing campaign, including TV advertising, which will hit our screens in April.

Raising the bar

There is plenty of money being poured into the ice cream bars category as well this year. R&R Ice Cream is hoping for a roaring success with the introduction of Nestlé Lion Ice Cream Bar. It comes with a pricemarked flash - a first for a major brand in the impulse sector. “Pricemarked packs can help stimulate impulse sales and are prevalent in other categories in convenience as a trusted mechanic,” says Hambling. “R&R Ice Cream is focused on driving growth in the impulse channel and this year in particular we are introducing industry-leading pricemarked packaging for one of our new products, which gives the consumer sound reassurance on value, while adding growth to the market.”

Hambling’s views on pricemarking singles are in direct contrast to those of Tony Lorman, general manager at Mars Ice Cream. The company has announced plans to double its marketing spend to £2m in 2012 as it relaunches the Twix Ice Cream bar, but Lorman tells C-Store that there is “no need to price flash singles packs”.

However, he believes that pricemarking can be an effective tool for take-home products. This year Mars is introducing pricemarked four-packs of Mars, Snickers and Twix Ice Creams, priced at £1.50. The group is also offering a ‘100% satisfaction guaranteed’ promotion on its six-packs, and pack refreshes for Mars and Snickers. “We’re expecting the packaging alone to increase sales by 7%,” says Lorman.

And it’s not just Mars products that are changing, it’s the firm’s approach. Lorman concedes that a few years ago Mars “lost focus” where ice cream was concerned and is now on a mission to increase its distribution and visibility. “We’re going to have field sales groups speaking to independents for the first time in years. We aim to target 10,000 independents this year across the UK.”

With so much activity in the bars arena, Lorman is confident that the future is bright. “I think the bars category is set up for success. I’d hope that in 24 months, bars will be back in growth and a formidable part of the ice cream fixture.”

So while a spot of sunshine would certainly help sales along, it is not the be all and end all for the ice cream category as a whole. Select the best singles for your customer base, as well as a compelling take-home offering, and you won’t be left out in the cold when the dark clouds gather. •