The ice cream cabinet is becoming increasingly varied, and shoppers will happily pay a premium for luxury tastes and unusual flavours

Ice cream is a freezer cabinet staple, with the category worth £342m in the UK convenience channel alone and growing at 5% year on year (IRI 52 week value sales 3 February 2017 convenience). It’s a category that once would have been considered complete with a few family tubs of Neapolitan, but in 2018 the choice is abundant. And as we breeze into summer, the new product development bandwagon continues to pick up pace.

At one end of the NPD spectrum sit decadent tubs full of the latest flavour crazes – think smoked caramel, saffron and even unicorn glitter (yep, you read that right) – while at the other end, it’s all about slashing calories and cutting out dairy.

Flavour innovations are a key focus for the UK’s leading manufacturers in 2018 as Christina Veal, director at New Forest Ice Cream, explains: “Customers are becoming more adventurous and are often attracted to flavours that are on-trend or offer a point of difference.”

Mike Dorey, owner of Eastcombe Village Stores in Gloucestershire, agrees that customers are becoming increasingly open to new taste sensations.

“In recent years we’ve had real successes with more unusual and decadent-sounding flavours such as Champagne and coconut,” he says. “There’s definitely scope for exciting developments here, particularly when the sun shines, as people are just generally happier and more open to trial then.

“We’d definitely be up for trialling more new flavours in our store, but manufacturers also need to help us be more adventurous by offering smaller case sizes so that we’re not taking too much of a risk if the latest flavour craze doesn’t quite live up to expectations,” he adds.

Recent years have seen strong growth in a few key areas, according to Mintel data, including: coconut, which is up 117% since 2015; pistachio, which is up by 34%; and hazelnut, which is up 18%.

“Other new and trending flavours in ice cream are largely exotic, plant-based and colourful, from the vivid gold of saffron to vibrant purples of ube [purple yam] and blackcurrant,” Mintel insight adds.

Understanding ice cream flavours

The modern-day 
ice cream shopper 
is becoming more discerning when it comes to flavour, according to Mintel data, with flavour descriptions reflecting this.

Toasted smoky notes: Use of toasted, roasted or smoky descriptors in ice cream increased by 207% between 2015 and 2017. Such descriptors not only sound more enticing, they add complexity of flavour without adding sweetness – for example, dark chocolate smoked sea salt.

Salty, spicy or sour: Sour ice cream flavours increased by 117% between 2015 and 2017. Along with sour flavours, salt and spiciness can accentuate and balance sweetness –for example, lime, liquorice & chilli.

Sweet and savoury: Savoury flavours in ice cream grew by 306% between 2015 and 2017, while vegetable flavours grew by 86%. These flavours are generally paired with a sweet flavour – for example, sweet potato with torched marshmallow.


Exotic flavours

Taywell Ice Creams, a particularly strong seller in Peter Lamb’s Lamb’s Larder store in Bell’s Yew Green, East Sussex, has just added a vibrant-looking mango & raspberry ripple flavour to its range.

The full line-up of 17 flavours already includes exotic variants such as Turkish delight, plum wine, Kent cobnut and even Japanese Matcha green tea. Despite his “price-conscious” customer base, Peter says he sells through around 20 500ml tubs of premium-priced Taywell ice cream a week.

“Customers in our store are very price-conscious, particularly when it comes to essential items and groceries where they don’t care about what brand they buy,” he explains.

“However, there are some product categories such as ice cream and ready meals, where they will definitely pay more for a premium experience, particularly if they aren’t going out as much and staying at home more.

“Shoppers are definitely keen to indulge themselves with luxurious and exotic flavours and Taywells’ dulche de leche and rum have done well for us. Honeycomb is our biggest seller by far, though. It’s really creamy and luxurious and contains crispy chunks of real honeycomb,” he adds.

Manny Patel, of Manny’s in Long Ditton, Surrey, is also experiencing premium tub love. “The weather has been pretty dismal in March, but sales of premium ice cream tubs such as Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs are selling really well as people choose to stay in and enjoy a treat at home,” he says.

“We sell a range of Wall’s soft scoop products which are more affordable, but it’s the premium tubs with decadent flavours that customers are choosing at the moment.

“My Ben & Jerry’s tubs sell for £5.29 and shoppers snap them up, particularly new and interesting flavours of the chocolate variety,” he says. “I’m seeing a similar phenomenon in the wrapped hand-held market, where premium Magnum lollies such as the recently-added Magnum double raspberry are outselling other cheaper varieties,” he adds.

New Forest Ice Cream has recently introduced a 500ml take-home range featuring “some truly unique flavours” such as rhubarb & ginger, clotted cream strawberry shortcake and chocolate ganache, along with some more traditional tastes, to appeal to all members of the family.

While chocolate remains the country’s favourite ice cream flavour, according to Mintel, customers are demanding to know more about the type of cocoa they’re buying.

“Premium brands such as Magnum and Häagen-Dazs already flag up the use of Belgian chocolate, but ice cream consumers want to know more about the chocolate they are eating, and they are demonstrating increasingly sophisticated tastes for chocolate ice cream,” Mintel ice cream insight says.

“In the UK, a sizeable 48% of adults would like to see a wider variety of ice cream made with high-quality chocolate, such as products made by premium chocolatiers or cocoa from a specific region,” it adds.

These shoppers should be pleased by Magnum’s latest tub offering, then, which is inspired by luxury chocolate collections. The brand added chocolate & hazelnut praliné to its luxury tub offering in January. Each tub contains “velvety chocolate and hazelnut ice cream, mixed with cracking chocolate shards and caramelized hazelnut pieces which are encased in a classic Magnum chocolate and hazelnut shell, topped with a thick layer of chocolate”.

Alix Colin, brand manager for Magnum at Unilever UK, says: “The launch of Magnum tubs has been highly successful, with the Classic variant taking position as number one NPD in luxury ice cream in 2017. We are excited to build on this success in 2018 with a new indulgent flavour inspired by luxury chocolate collections.

“Chocolate & hazelnut praliné has been developed with special care and attention for a unique chocolate sensation in every bite, to make it the ultimate night-in indulgence.”

And the growing super-premium ice cream category received a further boost in March when Froneri celebrated the addition of Green & Black’s to its portfolio, with the launch of three new variations all focusing on premium, indulgent flavours. The new flavours include: salted caramel, chocolate & ginger and chocolate & salted caramel.

Products that offer new texture sensations and experiences are another key trend to take note of this year, Mintel says. In fact, according to Mintel’s report on food and drink trends for 2018, “texture is the latest tool to engage the senses and deliver share-worthy experiences”.

It adds: “The quest for experiences will provide opportunities for multisensory food and drink that uses unexpected texture to provide consumers, especially the teens and young adults of the iGeneration, with moments worth sharing either in person or online.”

The iGeneration is bound to be delighted by the January launch of Ben & Jerry’s Pretzel Palooza flavour, “offering vanilla malt ice cream, chocolatey hazelnut swirl, and chocolate-covered crunchy pretzel chunks beneath a spoonable topping with chocolatey chunks”.

Topped Pretzel Palooza is available now, rrp £5.49 (470ml), and joins the rest of Ben & Jerry’s Fairtrade Topped family: salted caramel brownie; chocolate caramel cookie dough and topped strawberry swirled.

The use of traditional deserts and bakery products within an ice cream format also looks set to lead Ben & Jerry’s NPD march. Just last month it created a new Birthday Cake variant, featuring vanilla cake batter ice cream with pink frosting, strawberry swirls and cake pieces.

Tyrrell’s, traditionally known for its hand-cooked crisps, has even tapped into the trend for interesting flavour and texture combinations by putting its popular potato snacks into ice cream tubs. Its three-strong Jolly Good Scoop range (rrp £3.99 per 500ml tub) includes a chocolate tub with a sweet chilli crisp inclusions, strawberry ice cream with a black pepper crisps bite, and a caramel sku with a lightly salted crisp.

Growing demand for interesting flavours and textures is one of the key reasons behind the success of Donna and Stephen Mullan’s serve-over ice cream counter in their Mullan’s Spar in Armagh, Northern Ireland. The dedicated Quinn’s Gelato counter is set in its own dedicated section of the store, with an attractive ‘ice cream parlour’-style tiled wall.

The wide range of flavours is divided into three key sub-categories including: Original and Frutti, Kooki & Nutti and Wakki & Chocci, with flavours such as tropical lime and coconut & Jaffa Cake.

Says Donna: “Our Quinn’s Gelato ice cream has been a huge success since installation. There are so many flavours and each tub is beautifully presented with various crispy bits and edible decorations, so it’s very often hard for shoppers to choose which flavour they want! However, our most popular is honeycomb or bluesky. We also run our own whipped ice cream alongside the gelato range, which is equally popular with our customers.”


While one end of the NPD spectrum is all about excess, at the other it’s all about stripping out the calories and adding healthy options.

“Health, no added sugar and low calories are dominating both the headlines and ice cream product development,” says Natasha Dowse, co-founder of no-added-sugar Jersey ice cream brand Minioti.

“Public Health England’s latest research has calculated that cutting calories by 20% would save 35,000 lives over a generation, as most adults and a third of children are overweight.

“We can put the nation on a diet, but children – and adults – will always want treats. That’s why we created a great-tasting premium and healthy ice cream with no added sugar.”

Minioti claims that at 0.65g sugar per 100ml (one serving), its vanilla ice cream contains the lowest amount of sugar per scoop among competitors, “even the perceived healthier ones”.

“A 100ml serving contains only 61 calories, too, making it a healthy treat that fits with NHS guidelines of two snacks at less than 100 calories each, for children per day,” Dowse adds.

And Minioti is not alone in its quest to meet demand for a calorie cut in the ice cream category. Breyers, the number-one premium ice cream brand in the USA, launched a new range of products in the UK earlier this year – all with 350 calories or fewer per tub, while also high in protein and lower in sugar.

With four flavours – vanilla, cookies & cream, chocolate, and mint chip – Breyers Delights is designed to tap into the low-sugar, but also health and wellness trend.

Amy Knowles, UK marketing manager for Breyers Ice Cream, says: “We know there is a demand out there from health-conscious consumers who want to limit their calorie intake, while also wanting to treat themselves. Breyers Delights is the perfect product for them, and also helps us to reach new consumers who may not have previously bought into the category.”

Dennis Williams, of Premier Broadway Convenience Store in Edinburgh, agrees: “I think that the low-calorie ice cream sector has huge potential for convenience stores. Just one year ago we thought that reduced-sugar soft drinks would never shift and we were reluctant to add them to the range, but looking at my chiller now it’s amazing how many no-added-sugar products we now stock, and they are selling.

“Scottish people have always had a sweet tooth, but even here interest in healthier options is on the rise and I fully expect that to follow suit in the ice cream category and I will be amending my range accordingly,” he adds.

The health and wellness trend is also likely to lead to a rise in the number of mini-sized format ice creams as portion-controlling tactics become more widely introduced, Mintel adds.

“Consumers are cutting back on ice cream owing to concerns around sugar, and brands are under pressure to act responsibly in the face of a global obesity crisis. However, reformulation can be a risky pursuit for brands.

“Ice cream is ultimately a treat food, and if the taste does not meet people’s expectations there is a high chance of a consumer backlash. Brands are more likely to convey a permissibly indulgent appeal by offering smaller-sized alternatives.”

According to Mintel, there is general approval in the UK to see manufacturers reducing the size of single-serve ice cream to bring the calories down to 250 or less, with 38% of UK consumers saying they would approve of such a move. However, a further 38% were indecisive.

Dairy free

Plant ingredients and vegan claims are also becoming increasingly prominent within the ice cream category thanks to the growing number of products containing coconut or almond milk.

The dairy-free ice cream category shifted into wider consumer consciousness this year when Ben & Jerry’s unveiled its range of vegan tubs – backed by an investment of more than £1m.

Available now with an rrp of £5.99, the new line-up includes: chocolate fudge brownie; chunky monkey; and peanut butter & cookies. The trio are made using almond milk and are vegan certified.

Christina Dunn, country business leader for Ben & Jerry’s UK & Ireland, said: “We listened to our fans who were calling out for us to create a non-dairy ice cream range. We’re delighted that our famous flavours can now be enjoyed by even more people, including those who are vegan or lactose intolerant.”

Products that highlight their gluten-free credentials are also increasingly coming to the fore, in line with growing consumer demand for gluten-free which is being seen across all the major convenience categories. Last month Poland’s leading ice cream brand Grycan, which is gluten-free, was launched in the UK. The luxury take-home ice cream brand includes a range of traditional flavour ice creams such as chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, forest fruit and hazelnut, as well as cherry, raspberry and mango sorbets – all of which are gluten-free.

Ensure you’re ready for sunny day sales

The weather has a huge impact on ice cream sales and it really does pay to keep a close eye on forecasts, plan ahead and expand your range accordingly.

On a sunny day ice cream sales can jump by 400%, according to Partners for Growth, while simply letting people know 
that you sell ice cream can even increase sales by up to 15%, making clean and clear POS material outside the store particularly key.

Partners for Growth merchandising and creative controller Nick Widdowson says: “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. Knowing when good weather is expected will help you manage your orders and ensure you’ve got sufficient stock to meet demand.”

Widdowson recommends identifying a secondary supplier for ice cream to act as a failsafe and ensure you can prevent stock from selling out in sunny weather.

He adds: “Throughout summer, retailers should aim to meet the demands of consumers searching for a treat, as well as something refreshing, by stocking a range of impulse ice creams – for example, kids’ lollies, chocolate snacks and cones.”



It’s not all about premium products and prices to match, however. The need to offer value for money should certainly not be overlooked, as Anita Nye, of Eldred Drive Stores in Orpington, Kent, attests.

“Shoppers in our area are very price-orientated and unless the premium brands are on promotion they don’t tend to move that quickly. We get tubs of Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs on offer through Booker about three or four times a year and when that happens they fly out of the freezer, but other than then they move more slowly.”

Mike at Eastcombe Village Stores agrees. “Decadent flavours and textures are all very well, but price still plays a key role,” he says.

“These days we are seeing far fewer introductory low prices for new products than we used to and I think manufacturers need to think about bringing those types of special offers back.

“Consumers are definitely open to new experiences and like to treat themselves, but they still aren’t that willing to shell out well over a fiver to do so, particularly if it’s an untested new product,” he adds.

Because of the price, Anita says that own label is a “big area of growth” in her store. “As a result, the Happy Shopper tubs sell really well all year round,” she adds.

“We also have quite an elderly customer base, which means that more traditional products such as Arctic Roll are popular and sell all year, and we sell through at least one case of Lyons Maid Vanilla ice cream blocks a week in the winter, rising to two or three in the summer.”

Mars Chocolate Drinks and Treats recently introduced new pricemarked packs of its new Mars and Snickers tub ice creams to meet the need for value in the tub market.

Phil Shaw, head of sales for Mars Chocolate Drinks and Treats, says: “We know that price and value are key factors in the purchasing decision for shoppers, and most convenience retailers agree that they are a way to reinforce both positive price perception and trust.

“With a combination of share-at-home products, well-loved brands and great price, the new pricemarked packs are sure to be popular with both retailers and consumers.”

Merchandising advice

Highlight the fact that you sell ice cream by using pavement signs, flags and waste bins outside your store. Use of these can attract unplanned sales as well as those on a
 mission to buy an ice cream

Place the cabinet in a prominent and visible position within the store and increase awareness with further in-store POS material

Ice cream is an impulse category so you can help maximise sales if the cabinet is among other impulse products such as crisps, confectionery and soft drinks

Keep your cabinet clean and regularly defrosted. This will not only attract more sales, but also lengthen the life of the appliance and keep running costs lower. Upgrading your freezer to a modern, attractive design can result in a 42% sales increase

Stock ice cream all year round

Partners for Growth recommends that retailers organise their cabinets into four segments: chocolate snacks; filled cones; adult refreshment; and kids.

Best-selling lines should be easy to find and clearly priced, though new products can also stimulate sales.

Source: Partners for Growth