The importance of ice cream

Overal ice cream sales in convenience have total value sales of £828m, according to Michelle Frost, general manager at Mars Chocolate Drinks and Treats.

The pandemic has led to something of a boom in demand for ice cream, thanks to comfort seeking throughout multiple lockdowns. While the lockdowns are over for the time being, there is little chance that sales will decrease as people look to treat themselves and their friends and family.

Summer is when ice cream sales become really important, so now is the time for retailers to start thinking about creating and promoting their offer. “With fi ve ice creams sold every minute in the summer, ice cream is a key product in any convenience store,” says Kenton Burchell, trading director at Bestway Wholesale.

“Ice cream also has a higher retail sales value than other snacks, and with more than 94% of people snacking more than twice a day, it’s no wonder it results in great sales.” Every retailer spoken to by Retail Express said that ice cream is “really important” to their business. However, the incoming cost-of-living crisis is creating a split between customers looking to save and those looking to indulge.

Upcoming trends in ice cream

We are all more aware that we should be eating more healthily and many of us are beginning to cut out particular foods, such as meat, for environmental reasons.

This is starting to be refl ected in customer choices when it comes to ice cream, with particular emphasis on more plant-based and vegan options, which have become more widely available over the past few years. There is also a desire for luxury and indulgence, after long periods of time spent in multiple lockdowns.

Jose Alves, marketing manager for ice cream at General Mills UK, highlights this. “Our reports show 36% of consumers are treating themselves more than ever. At the same time, we are noticing a more holistic shift to ‘better for you’ products. Shoppers are torn between the push towards healthier living and their desire for comfort and indulgence,” he says.

Bestway Wholesale’s Burchell agrees. He says: “We have also had an increase in vegan and healthier options reaching the market. This has been partly due to suppliers looking to mitigate the impact of high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) restrictions, but also as a result of the growing trend of consumers embracing healthier food choices. The convenience channel, which is largely exempt from HFSS, has a golden opportunity to drive sales in categories that would otherwise be impacted, so we expect sales in the channel to grow in 2022.”

Sustainable packaging should also be looked at, as this is something consumers are considering more often. Carte D’Or has transitioned its range to be packaged in responsibly sourced and recyclable packaging paper, compared with previous plastic tubs. Ninety-three per cent less plastic will be used per tub. For customers increasingly interested in sustainable packaging, advertising this fact could be a useful point of difference.

“We’re proud to have made this move to paper packaging, saving more than 900 tonnes of virgin plastic every year and helping shoppers to reduce their plastic-packaging footprint at home,” says Horacio Cal, ice cream marketing director for Unilever UK&I. Take-home tubs of ice cream were more popular during lockdown, when people weren’t on the move as much.

Since restrictions have lifted, however, on-the-go ice cream is enjoying a considerable uplift. However, the take-home market could still prove very important as people look to save money and gather together. “During lockdown, we had a massive increase in take-home tubs,” says Christine Hope, from Hopes of Longtown in Herefordshire.

“I hope this continues this summer because it is a cost-effective option, that doesn’t require VAT payments. VAT is just one of the things you need to bear in mind when retailing ice cream.” Hope also believes dairyfree will be a growing trend this summer, and expects a resurgence in choc ices and Magnums. “They’re a family treat and a surprise winner, usually for nostalgia reasons,” she adds.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is have as much choice as possible. Magnum will be big seller again this year.” Heidi Moseley, from Aberdyfi Village Stores in Gwynedd, believes multipacks will retain their popularity due to the cost-effectiveness for young families. Her customer demographic is considerably “environmentally friendly” as well, making sustainable options within the category more popular as well. “Handheld multipacks are a signifi cant driving force in the category and now total sales are £178m,” says Mars’ Frost.

“The past year has had trends that have contributed to our handheld ice creams growing across all channels. “As the UK continued to predominantly work from home, shoppers are seeing the freezer become an extension of the fi snack cupboard.”

Store advice: The stock take

Promoting your ice cream range

There is no set way to promote ice cream. However, there are some things retailers would be wise to consider for maximum impact while selling, such as using shelf space effectively. General Mills’ Alves says: “Pair complementary categories together. Cross-merchandising ice cream with alcohol or other sharing-size snacks can often interrupt purchase occasions. This presents an opportunity to up-sell occasions such as nights in.”

Alves also believes that not fi xating on particular seasons benefi ts ice cream fixtures. Bestway’s Burchell advises planning in advance to maximise potential impact. “Retailers should begin to roll out promotions from this month onwards once spring hits the scene.

It’s worth noting the weather has been getting warmer earlier in recent years, so retailers may wish to start even earlier,” he says. “Single ice creams tend to be an impulse purchase versus multipacks and tubs, which are usually part of a bigger buying mission. The most important thing is to make sure your ice creams are visible and customers can see what they want. Bring ice cream to the top of customers’ minds with branded cabinets and PoS materials. Place your cabinet in a visible location, stock the core lines all year round and include new products when possible.”

With upcoming HFSS regulations to consider, suppliers will be responding, perhaps with a greater focus on healthier ice cream options. While the HFSS regulations will have a signifi cant impact for affected retailers when it comes to impulse sales at the till, most suppliers are confi dent the ice cream category will not be as greatly affected as other categories, as it is something people tend to actively seek out.

With this in mind, retailers should consider making their ice cream offer more of a major installation rather than a tillside impulse. Or they could look into the healthier products being launched. “Suppliers are looking into healthier ice cream options and offering different pack sizes, but this category is largely driven by indulgence, so customers will still be on the lookout for their favourite ice cream even if they do not see it promoted,” says Burchell. “It also presents a fantastic opportunity for the channel to gain market share from the multiples.”

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