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What's hot in frozen treats?

From ice cream novelties to freezies, innovation and premiumization are giving the category a new cool among c-store customers. Insiders share strategies for boosting summer sales.
Selection of colorful summer popsicles and ice cream treats. Overhead view scattered on a rustic blue background.

Ignore reports from last year about ice cream sales experiencing a meltdown. Canada is still among the top six ice cream eating nations. Globally, the market for ice cream is expected to expand at a CAGR of 5.93% between 2022 and 2027, according to Technavio. And whether they’re ice cream-based or not, frozen treats occupy a unique niche in the market that makes them very desirable to consumers and c-stores alike.

Canadians love affordable, because-I-deserve-it indulgences. Frozen treats tick that box. Innovation and premiumization ensure category sales won’t experience a deep freeze.

Canadians love ice cream

“The ice cream category has been growing consistently in recent years,” says Marco Felicella, western sales manager at Chapman’s. “Canadians are certainly eating more ice cream. Consumer demand is ever changing. We must continuously stay innovative and introduce new products to meet demand. Convenience is the place to discover ‘new,’ keeping the category fresh and exciting. The convenience channel wants to lead with exclusive and first-to-market items. This is where innovations debut.”

Chapman’s has been successful highlighting the value and quality of their products. “We provide a perfect mix of both,” he notes. “As inflation continues to be an issue in Canada, Chapman’s can offer quality Canadian products with real ice cream at affordable prices, which is superior to ‘frozen dessert.’ At the same time, consumers are reacting to ‘shrinkflation’ by choosing brands that decide to keep their standard product sizes.”

Ice cream sandwiches and cones are fighting for the first place as Canada’s favourite single serve novelty, says Felicella. Chapman’s dominates in the sales of vanilla ice cream sandwich field, snagging top spot.

A taste for premium products

 New for 2024, Chapman’s has a slew of fresh introductions on deck, including four new, rich luxurious Super Premium Plus SKUs (500mL) for true ice cream connoisseurs—Cherry Cheesecake, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Chocolate Cake Batter and Ruby Raspberry.

The ice cream category has continued to grow, largely driven by premiumization, according to Paul McMahon, category & shopper development director, Nestlé Ice Cream. “Over the past few years, we’ve observed that consumers are willing to pay more for premium brands that deliver unique and indulgent experiences,” he says.

While classic flavours and varieties will always be big hits with consumers, c-store channels allow for the trial opportunity of those new and different flavours, notes McMahon.

With the launch of two new bars for the convenience channel this year, Häagen-Dazs will expand its single-serve portfolio to include bestsellers from its retail portfolio. Watch for the Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Hazelnut, featuring velvety chocolate hazelnut ice cream coated in a rich milk chocolate, hazelnut crunch pieces and roasted hazelnuts and Häagen-Dazs exträaz Cookie Dough Dynamo 72mL, an updated, bigger version of the best-selling bar with a textured coating and 10% more cookie dough.

Better-for-you options

“As consumers in general look to healthier lifestyles, the ice cream category has participated in these trends with wholesome and permissible options, launching vegan and plant-based alternatives,” says McMahon.

Nestlé’s will expand its portfolio of frozen treats with the introduction of Drumstick Plant-Based Caramel Sundae Cones (120mL), filled with creamy caramel plant-based frozen dessert, topped with a dark-chocolatey drizzle and crunchy peanuts: It’s first plant-based cone in a single-serve format. The Drumstick brand has been a favourite among Canadians since 1928.

“COVID has taught consumers of the importance of well-being and being proactive in their consumption habits,” he explains. “While indulgence is still the biggest driver, consumers are seeing more options offering a unique approach to health and well-being. The increase in plant-based treats in the frozen category and beyond is an example of this.”

Affordable indulgence

Affordability remains a concern for Canadians as inflation and higher interest rates persist. Retailers can showcase the value proposition of frozen treats by bundling them with foodservice programs as shoppers also turn to convenience stores for quick, affordable meal deals. 

Since ice cream is an impulse buy, the ice cream cabinet needs to be near the cash to provide the highest visibility. He also suggests providing a varied product selection with a range of price points and formats. To support sales, c-stores shouldn’t wait until the first hot day of the summer to stock up on frozen treats. “Maintain a strong inventory position,” he says. “Out of stock means lost sales.”

5 cool tips

  1. Location is key: Frozen treats are Impulse purchases, well positioned near the checkout.
  2. Something for everyone: Stock classics alongside premium and BFY options.
  3. Timing is everything: Don’t wait until summer, frozen treats are evolving into a year-round indulgence.
  4. Bundle up: Consumers are looking for deals, consider promos that combine foodservice offerings with frozen treats. 
  5. Take risks: Canadians have evolving taste buds and crave unique flavours–be the destination for a favourite new treat.  

Balance nostalgia with diverse flavours

Meanwhile, Kisko Products is prepared for the summer rush with a sweet product lineup that includes a nostalgic favourite, Mr. Freeze (jumbo and medium sizes, plus no-sugar-added, Freeze Pops, juice bars from Welch’s, Mott’s, Kisko and Crush Freeze Pops. It will add a shelf-stable package of 12 Kisko Amazin Fruit treats, containing real fruit juice.

Company president Mark Josephs is seeing licensed brands, innovation and flavour trends (especially those highlighting tropical fruit) also driving the frozen treats category.

Kisko and Mr. Freeze freezies are sold at ambient temperature, then frozen by the consumer and/or the retailer. The Mr. Freeze Jumbo format is typically available at c-stores in the freezer section. These products are popular among consumers who are looking for a treat for themselves and their families—after kids’ sporting events and games, working outside on a warm day, or en route to the cottage, he says. “C-stores are a great place for that impulse purchase.”

Dave Mah, national sales manager, Mini Melts Ice Cream, is hoping for a long, hot dry summer for the company and its retail partners. While sales in the off-season (especially over Christmas and New Year’s) are increasing, summer is prime time. The company is poised for success by bringing back some beloved flavours—Creamy Orange, Mint Chocolate and Rich Chocolate. Its new multi-million-dollar production facility in Airdrie, Alta., will be fully operational by spring.

It is an interesting time in the frozen treats category, he says: “Manufacturers are adding more diverse and exotic flavour options (mango, green tea) to their products. And there is also a niche category for healthier options such as gluten-free and lactose-free, as well as many vegan/non-dairy ice cream. Ice cream from different countries, like Japan and Korea, has also seen some expansion in recent years.”

And, due to environmental concerns, brands have focused on being more sustainable by using eco-friendly packaging to be more responsible corporate citizens.

Aiming to sell more Mini Melts? Mah’s advice for c-store stores is this: “The old real estate adage ‘location, location, location’ couldn’t be more true. From our database, there is a clear difference in sales when a retailer is more strategic in their freezer placement than with those that don’t have a plan.”

-This article originally appeared in May/June 2024 issue of Convenience Store News Canada

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