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CHICAGO — A less-is-more mindset is prevailing among Americans when it comes to ice cream, according to research from Mintel. While 92 percent of consumers report having purchased frozen treats in the past six months, 22 percent are buying less. Additionally, while just 11 percent of consumers considered portion control as a purchase factor in 2013, today 32 percent report purchasing single-serving frozen treat packages.
Although reduced consumption could have a negative effect on category sales, consumer interest in premium offerings has kept market sales afloat despite declining volume sales. Nearly one quarter of consumers purchase frozen treats that they consider premium, and 34 percent say they are willing to pay more for these treats. Additionally, 35 percent of consumers agree that premium frozen treats taste better than regular frozen treats.
Along with the perceived enhanced taste of premium frozen treats, 14 percent of consumers also view them as healthier, making these options an appealing choice for the 19 percent who say that health factors into their frozen treat purchase decisions. And with snacking fully engrained in American eating habits, Mintel found that ice cream as a snack is nearly as popular as ice cream after a meal, at 49 percent and 55 percent respectively.
"While little opportunity exists to acquire new customers in the universally penetrated frozen treat market, interest in premium and healthy options gives brands the opportunity to offer products that communicate health and wholeness, while also encouraging moderation, which can aid in increasing trials through smaller sizes," said Beth Bloom, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. "Putting a heavy focus on quality, taste and health will resonate with consumers, and emphasizing single-serving packs and messaging around the variety of products should appeal to Americans' preference for snacking."
Ice cream variety appeals to changing consumer taste preferences, as 27 percent of consumers have purchased a variety pack in the past six months. However, despite the desire to experience different flavors consumers primarily buy products that feature a single flavor (53 percent). Adding to the appeal of single-serving and variety packs, 27 percent of consumers typically have more than one type of frozen treat or flavor in their freezer at the same time, Mintel found.
Although single flavor ice cream is most likely to be purchased, an increasing number of consumers are experimenting with mix-ins such as nuts and cake bits. In 2013, Mintel found that 24 percent of consumers agreed that"fun ingredients mixed in" was an important factor when buying frozen treats, and 41 percent are buying flavor treats with mix-ins today.
"The wide range of single-flavor frozen treats and products with unique mix-ins are keeping consumers from becoming bored with the category," Bloom said. "The rise of new, trendy flavors speak to the dual components nostalgia and indulgence play in the market, while internationally inspired varieties like mochi ice cream and gelato are succeeding in flavor and format. For more traditional offerings, mix-ins can give treats an added boost, with fruit and nut additions potentially alluring health-focused consumers."
The overall frozen treat market is experiencing tepid growth despite premium and flavorful frozen treats catching consumer interest, with sales increasing only 6 percent from 2011 to 2015 to $12.6 billion. Over the same time period, volume sales declined 5 percent, with all segments of the category experiencing a decrease in volume.
Gelato is a bright spot for the category in the U.S. market, but there has been a gradual slowdown in sales and new product development. Today, 43 percent of consumers purchase gelato, up from 39 percent in 2015. Outside of a dip in 2011 to 2013, retail sales of gelato and gelato-based novelties have been on the rise; however, this segment experienced slowed growth in the last year, up an estimated 32.3 percent over 2015 compared to increases of 41.7 percent 2014-15 and a whopping 247.1 percent 2013-14.
"Sales of ice cream and frozen novelties have kept up despite declining interest thanks to innovative new product development and continued interest in gelato. However, gelato may be nearing its peak, as sales increases and new product launches are in decline compared to recent years. It's possible that gelato is going the way of Greek yogurt, and losing a little of its luster. That said, we predict that gelato will remain relatively popular as it carries strong appeal for indulgence and satisfaction, and delivers the cues of a premium product," Bloom said.