A disappointing British summer did nothing to help impulse ice cream last year, with sales down 12.9% year on year (24 weeks ending 16 August 2015 IRI). But with summer 2016 upon us there’s everything to play for. “Ice cream is still a critical category,” says R&R Ice Cream’s UK head of marketing Charlotte Hambling.

Ice cream as a category has a huge amount of growth potential, adds Unilever. “Ice cream buyers shop convenience 3.9 times more than the average shopper and buy more items (4.7 versus 2.6),” says brand building director - ice cream Noel Clarke. “Ice cream shoppers visit more of the store, too.”

And if you look at the bigger picture, then ice cream has come a long way. “The ice cream market has grown 20% over the past seven years,” says Unilever category manager Kieran Bansi. “2015 wasn’t the best of summers. But even with this, people are still buying into ice cream 13 times a year.”

The firm is urging retailers to focus on making ice cream more appealing as a snack. “A lot of consumers are used to having ice cream as a dessert, but how do we encourage that on-the-go trend?,” says Wall’s senior brand manager Brigitta Weeks. “On-the-go snacking is huge, but people only consume one or two ice creams on the go.”

She claims that ice cream over-indexes between 2pm and 5pm so pushing ice cream sales at this time would drive a huge amount of footfall into the shop. “Ice cream is one of the most expandable categories; if you make it visible, people will increase spend,” she says.

One retailer who seems to have ice cream licked is Eamonn McKillopp, owner of Spar Frys Road in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. “Ice cream sold extremely well for us last summer,” he says.

At the beginning of last month he dusted off his Blizz soft ice cream machine, ready for the summer. He made sure customers knew that the Blizz ice cream machine had returned by posting photos on Facebook displaying the products and prices, the machine, and a freshly whipped 99 cone.

The Blizz machine is just the tip of the iceberg for Spar Frys Road, though. The store also boasts a Dale Farm ice cream freezer, a Wall’s impulse freezer, a Morelli take-home freezer and a 16-scoop Morelli cabinet. “There are 50 Morelli flavours to choose from,” says Eamonn. “Our best-sellers are bubblegum ripple, pink panther (raspberry ice cream with marshmallows), Mr Morelli (a banana-flavoured base with chocolate beans) and Ferrero Rocher.”

Within the range, he aims to cater for a variety of tastes. “Flavours like bubblegum, Mr Morelli and Oreos & cream tend to appeal to the kids, and we have Ferrero, Honeycomb and Mint & Belgian Chocolate Chip flavours for adults.”

Between summer 2014 and 2015, the store witnessed a 30-40% increase in ice cream sales across Morelli and Blizz. In fact, ice cream has become so popular that Eamonn kept his Morelli scoop offering open throughout the winter.

Eamonn claims that his ice cream success is down to a strong in-store display, regular promotions and community engagement. He makes good use of POS, too. “We have a big ice cream outside the store, and a swinging sign,” he points out.

Clarke concurs that flagging up your ice cream offering outside of the store can make a big impact on sales. “If you put visibility outside, you can increase sales by 15%,” he says.

Unilever’s Bansi elaborates: “Using bright and branded POS material, such as pavement signs, flags and branded waste bins, creates awareness outside the store so retailers should position these where passers-by can’t miss them.”

Ensuring that the category has good visibility in-store is also vital. “For summer, the focus is on being well stocked, well lit and having the freezer in the right place - as near to the tills as possible,” says R&R Ice Cream’s Hambling.

Clarke concurs that the till point is the best position for impulse ice cream. “Only 15% of people walk around a convenience store so visibility is key. 100% of people get to the till so put ice cream there.”

That’s exactly what Peter Singh Dhesi of Nisa Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire has done. “We have ice cream out all year. We have multipacks at the back of the store and an impulse freezer by the till.”

He claims that Twister, Feast and Calippo all perform well, but Magnum is his bestseller. “The pink and black ones they launched last year did well,” he notes.

Harj Gill also reports positive sales of the pink and black Magnums. “We sell impulse Magnums, Cornettos, Solero, Twister, Calippo, and Tip Tops (ice poles) all year round. Last year we had one customer come in every day to buy one of the new Magnum flavours. We’ll always try anything new.”

Stephen Archer, who owns three Premier stores in Cheshire, Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, also waxes lyrical about the Magnum NPD. “The brands still sell, especially when they bring out new flavours. The Magnum espresso and raspberry were magnificent.”

Nicola Rolfe, Magnum brand manager, claims that the brand witnessed 5% sales growth last year. “Pink and black was the biggest ever ice cream innovation launch; 14% of the nation tried them,” she says. “They added one million new households to the category and totalled £25.3m retail sales value in the year to date.”

The firm is hoping to follow up this success with two new Double Magnum variants. Available in chocolate and peanut varieties, the product retails at £1.90 and is available in multipacks of three, rrp £3.35. The brand will be backed by a £13m media campaign from April to August. Adds Rolfe: “Magnum really is the juggernaut that gets the ice cream market going, so stock up early.”

Of course, Magnum isn’t the only product vying for your freezer space this summer. Häagen-Dazs has entered the handheld category with Stick Bars. Available exclusively to the convenience channel in single packs, the product will be supported by a heavyweight marketing campaign that includes PR, digital media and in-store POS.

The products come in three flavours, all featuring inclusions. The salted caramel variant features salted caramel brittle, while the white almond variant contains vanilla ice cream with crunchy almonds, and the vanilla caramel almond variant has a milk chocolate shell with almonds.

R&R also has two new chocolate stick products featuring inclusions. Daim ice cream sticks comprise caramel ice cream with almond pieces covered in chocolate. The product is available as a single stick (rrp £1.50) and a three-pack (rrp £2.50). The brand has already proven successful in take-home ice cream, where it is the top performer in the 450ml take-home range.

The Cadbury Dairy Milk (CDM) Marvellous Jelly Popping Candy Ice Cream Stick is hoping to appeal to a younger family audience and people who are looking for something different. Says Hambling. “People are feeling braver and interested in trying new flavour combinations.”

The stick (rrp £1.60) follows the success of the flavour in take-home ice cream (500ml), following its launch last year with the brand rising to be worth £5m in the take-home market.

The CDM Marvellous take-home range has also been expanded with Rocky Mallow Road. The new 500ml sharing tub (rrp £3.99) contains strawberry & cream and chocolate ice cream swirled with Cadbury milk chocolate, mini marshmallows, milk chocolate coated shortcake and strawberry inclusions.

New product development is a key sales driver, according to Bansi. “More than 10% of sales were from innovation in summer 2015,” she notes.

Peter agrees: “People always want to try something new, so I always look at new product launches.”

In addition to keeping track of new product launches, it is crucial retailers keep a close eye on the weather. “We get an email from Nisa about a week ahead with the weather report, and they tell us to make sure we have ice cream in stock,” he says.

Harj is also careful to look ahead. “The defining factor in ice cream is the weather. It makes such a difference,” he says. “If we know it’s going to be hot then we stock up on ice cream. I look a week ahead on an app on my mobile phone.”

Paul Mather, who owns Sherston Post Office in Wiltshire with wife Gail, is another weather watcher. “We always have an eye on the weather. I check the internet two weeks in advance; it’s all about anticipating demand. My wife Gail liaises with her planogram, and we know our customers. When it’s a certain temperature - about 23-24°C and sunny, then ice lollies will outsell Magnum and Calippos will fly out.”

Bansi says that being prepared is a sure-fire way to succeed. “You can’t control the weather but, by planning ahead, you can make sure that you are in the best place to maximise sales when the sun does come out,” she says.

“Knowing when good weather is expected will help you manage your orders and ensure you’ve got sufficient stock to meet demand. Keep up to date with the latest forecast on the Partners for Growth website, or look out for tweets on Twitter. Consider identifying a secondary supplier for ice cream as stock can sell out fast in sunny weather - it’s disheartening to turn customers away because you haven’t stocked up.”

Regardless of the weather, Eamonn is convinced that c-store retailers can make a success of ice cream by ensuring that their range appeals to a wide range of customers, and by making the offering highly visible. “My belief is that you have to promote and present these products,” he says. “There’s no point in getting a freezer and leaving it in the corner; you have to shout about it.”

ices on-the-go

Ben & Jerry’s is hoping to unlock on-the-go consumption with its ’Wich format. Available in cookie dough and chocolate fudge brownie, individually wrapped ’Wiches come in single format (rrp £2.49) and multipacks, rrps from £4.19.

Mars targets sharing with Maltesers teasers four-packs

Retailers need to tap into the sharing trend by stocking multipacks of top-selling brands, claims Mars Ice Cream.

“Multipack formats allow consumers to share their favourite confectionery brands in an ice cream format and enjoy ice cream at home, extending the ‘traditional’ season,” says trade communications manager Bep Dhaliwal.

This month Mars Ice Cream launched its Maltesers Teasers ice cream in a four-pack, capitalising on the trend for in-home treats to share and popularity of ice cream on a stick, which the firm claims is the most popular format in the wrapped handheld category.

“Within convenience, wrapped handheld accounts for £115m (63.2%) of ice cream sales,” says Dhailwal. “Single wrapped handheld is worth £77.6m (67.4%) and four-packs account for £17.5m (15.2%).”

Last year sales of the single variant of Maltesers Teasers ice cream grew by 13%, making it the number three best-selling branded ice cream on a stick, it says.

Retailers should display the £3.35 packs prominently, face forward, to make the most of the appeal of recognisable brands, advises Dhaliwal.

Mars brands will be supported by a £52m investment in advertising this year. “Retailers can maximise the benefits by stocking the full Mars Ice Cream range, bringing ice cream options to fans of the confectionery brands,” Dhaliwal says.

Cornetto taps into teens

Unilever has unveiled Cornetto Choc ‘n’ Caramel Disc. The firm will be appealing to the biggest snacking group in the market, teenagers, via MTV, Facebook and Twitter.

Twister goes blackcurrant

Made with blackcurrants and strawberry juice, new Twister Blackcurrant is available in a mini multipack of six (rrp £2.49) and out-of-home single (rrp £1).

Feast in bar format

New Feast Snack Bar is seeking to tap into the trend towards affordable snacking. Available in a peanut butter flavour, the innovation will be supported by Wall’s £3.5m ‘Talking Ice Cream’ marketing campaign. Feast Snack Bar is available in singles (rrp £1) and multipack of six (rrp £2.25).

Fresh look for Marshfield ice cream

Organic dairy farm and ice cream producer Marshfield Farm has given its ice cream tubs a new look and extended its portfolio with a 500ml pack size.

Kids’ lollies with character

Retailers looking to appeal to the kids’ ice cream market may be interested in Icefresh’s Star Wars- and Minions-branded lollies. The firm says that 
its tie-ins with popular film franchises have boosted sales.