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Frozen assets

With Canadian consumers seeking affordable indulgence, ice cream and icy treats are well poised for a sizzling summer.

For a glimpse of what to expect this summer for ice cream and frozen treat sales, let’s rewind a year. We were entering into unchartered territory as the pandemic marched on, people worked at home and lockdowns persisted. How many people would venture out for their favourite hot-weather pleasures?  A lot it seems. According to Nielsen data, ice cream sales increased by 19%. 

While summer 2021 may not post the same robust figure, it’s expected the ice cream/frozen treats category will perform well. Here are five strategies to make the most of the season.

1. Make room in the freezer 

“While single-serve novelties represent the majority of sales in the convenience channel, in 2020 we saw a significant sales increase in take-home formats, particularly in super premium tubs, says Paul McMahon, category and shopper development leader, Nestlé Ice Cream. “Expanding space for this segment provides an opportunity to grow the category and drives sales.”

2. New takes on old favourites

This year, Nestlé’s Häagen-Dazs brand adds a new chocolate hazelnut ice cream and a Toblerone offering to its roster. While consumers may be torn between indulgence and health, Häagen-Dazs aims to please everyone with its light ice cream spinoff, Divine, boasting 50% less fat and 25% less sugar with less than 200 calories per serving. “It’s a permissible treat that may align to their lifestyle goals, but will not require them to compromise on taste,” explains McMahon. Flavours will include Raspberry Cheesecake, Vanilla Caramel Pretzel and Chocolate Chunk Brownie.

3. Get creative, go soft

Though ice cream sales peak in the summer, consumers in the pandemic age are looking for it all year round, points out Judi Saliba, senior national account executive, TFI Food Equipment Solutions Inc. “The soft serve ice cream category is large and growing,” she says. Its popularity is also being fuelled by ice cream shops like Sweet Jesus, which offers Instagram-ready creations generating line-ups around the block. “We have seen a surge of retailers being equally successful by offering ‘designer’ cones and cups to their guests,” she notes.

Soft serve also lends itself to self-service (less hands-on work for busy staff), once permitted by local health units again. “Taylor offers a soft serve model suitable for every application, as well as ancillary products that can turn a single flavour machine into one producing eight more flavours,” she says. It can be a lucrative endeavour with margins of around 80%—much higher than those for frozen novelties. 

4. Disrupt and differentiate 

Neale’s Sweet N’ Nice is making headway into the c-store space. The Toronto company has roots in Trinidad. Charles Neale began selling his homemade ice cream made with natural ingredients, like mango and coconut, in the 1940s as a way to earn a steady income and support his 12 children. His knowledge of ice cream was passed on to his family, including his grandson and current CEO, Andrew Barnett, in Canada. “We decided to redevelop the recipe for mass manufacturing,” he says. Sweet N’ Nice gained mainstream traction in 2018 after getting listed in Sobeys and being featured on Dragons’ Den.

The premium ice cream brand experienced plenty of wins and challenges last summer. Its roll-out into other stores was delayed by COVID, but experienced an uptick when the Black Lives Matter movement put on a spotlight on the importance of supporting Black-owned businesses. Sampling, so important for new brands to gain exposure and for consumers to learn about Caribbean ice cream, was put on hold, but a pop-up store was a big success. This summer, Barnett is hoping for more c-stores to come onboard with the introduction of a 100 ml grab-and-go size, as well as new flavours like banana chocolate. 

5. Plan ahead

C-stores can take advantage of key sales drivers with strategic placement of POS material to let consumers know what’s available in-store, a single-server freezer placed in high traffic areas (especially near the cash) and by ensuring freezers are full stocked and ready for when the warm weather hits.

This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Convenience Store News Canada.

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