How cool! Top ice cream innovations you’ll want to share
Our ice cream brands have been serving treats and smiles to consumers for 100 years. And while the classic vanilla and chocolate combo is still adored across our entire portfolio, today’s ice cream lovers are keen to experiment. Here’s how we create innovations that deliver.
Whether it’s from a spoon, a cone, on a stick or in a dish, our brands have been finding innovative ways to serve up delicious, indulgent ice creams and frozen treats that create happy memories for consumers for more than 100 years.
“As the maker of iconic and adored brands, we are constantly looking at trends and innovations to bring frozen treat lovers new experiences that they will enjoy,” says Vice President, Unilever Ice Cream North America, Russel Lilly.
And for good reason. Markets are buoyant, in the US, 45% of consumers of frozen treats say ice cream is their favourite indulgence, with sales in North America exceeding annually. In Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), consumption is around . And sales from new, innovative products accounts for a bigger part compared to other food product categories.
The secret sauce to successful ice cream innovation
Developing a new ice cream innovation can be a whole lot of fun, but it also requires a great deal of teamwork. “It takes an entire village of consumer insight experts, R&D and marketing teams to really drive meaningful ice cream innovation,” says Glenn Handoko, Global Brand Manager for Wall’s Classics and Masterbrands. “But we all start by putting the consumer’s needs first.”
“That means finding out what they’re looking for and what their current solution to that problem is. Then we hit the drawing board and focus on five key areas of incremental innovation – size, flavour, format, sub-brand, and brand innovation – to see if we can help address it or give them something better.”
And that strategy is delivering results. “This year, we’re excited to introduce inventive flavours, increased variety and reimagined takes on classics to your favourite retailers,” says Russel Lilly. “We’ve also expanded our popular lines to create products that will bring joy all year long.”
Read on to find out how the teams flexed each of the five areas to bring five fresh new product lines to market in 2021–2022.
Size – Indulgent, plant-based minis of Magnum bestsellers
While the uptick in vegan diets provided Magnum with a strong case for extending its much-loved classic range to include plant-based alternatives; vegans are not the only consumers attracted to a non-dairy offering.
In a , nearly 40% of people said they are looking to plant-based dairy alternatives to ‘feel healthier’. Other reasons include: “I digest them better”. Add to this mix, of Gen Z consumers who snack up to twice a day and 49.4% of whom choose ice cream when they do, and you have a set of data that saw the brand teams look to flex size and plant-based as part of their innovation mix.
Vegan Magnum Mini Classics were launched in January 2022 as a multi-pack including three mini bars of classic and almond vegan flavours. The range, with PETA award-winning flavours, has proved a hit with consumers and has now been rolled out to the US, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, the Nordics, and Central and Eastern Europe.
Talenti Pairings offer treats from more than one category
Boomer consumers might be happy with a scoop of vanilla but the same cannot be said for Millennials and Gen Z foodies. Two in five are keen to explore candy “mash-ups” and hybrid desserts.
“We also know US consumers have two ways of eating packaged ice cream,” says Talenti’s Associate Innovation Marketing Manager, Tony Patrignelli, “some dig their way to the bottom of the pint before advancing horizontally, while one-third eat horizontally, scraping layer by layer off the top until all the ice cream is gone.”
Using these insights, the teams worked with chefs, mixologists and culinary creators to produce a dessert range for the scrapers. Borrowing trends from desserts and cocktails, the team developed Talenti Pairings, two expertly paired flavours in one jar, which could stand alone but together create a striking new flavour experience.
Consumers can choose from Strawberry Margarita, Bourbon Fudge Brownie, Salted Chocolate Churro or Caramel Pretzel Blondie. And while it’s early days, consumer engagement has been strong. Social posts for Talenti Pairings have recorded the highest hits the brand has seen in the last two years. It’s confident this positive sentiment will add to the brand’s 4.3% share of packaged ice cream in the US and sixth place ranking in the marketplace.
Format – Ben & Jerry’s parlour-style sundaes that can be enjoyed on your sofa
Memories of family holidays and favourite treats can go a long way towards driving customer decision-making. And nothing speaks more to childhood holidays than the indulgence of ice cream parlour-style sundaes, the ultimate ‘original’ dessert where you got the chance to pick the topping of your choice.
But ice cream is no longer just a summer treat; have a stock in their freezer all year round. It’s also no longer an out-of-home experience; research shows there’s an uptick in people self-treating in the form of a premium tub, consumed .
With this in mind, Ben & Jerry’s team worked to create four new sundaes (three dairy and one non-dairy), tapping into flavours including hazelnut, berries and banoffee pie. An extra dash of creativity saw the addition of a whipped style topping that references the cream toppings of parlour sundaes but lightens the mouthfeel.
“Consumers have been loving these uber-indulgent new sundaes across Europe in 2022. Launched in the UK in January, all three dairy flavours achieved spots in the top ten highest-performing summer innovations in ice cream, with Cookie Vermont-ster even grabbing the number 1 spot,” says Niels Tigges, Product Marketing Manager Europe.
Sub-brand – Magnum’s fashionable flavour twists bring new audiences to classics
Remixing classics is a theme of 2022, from Elton and Britney Spears taking Tiny Dancer back into the charts to TikTok foodies putting their own stamp on traditional recipes such as macaroni cheese.
This summer, Magnum joined the party, bringing pop icons Kylie Minogue and Peggy Gou to the Cannes Festival to launch a set of fashionable flavour twists to three all-time favourites in its bestselling stick range with a K-pop inspired club remix of Kylie’s classic track ‘Can’t get you out of my head’.
Magnum’s ice-cream stick launches include Magnum Almond Remix, featuring a duo swirled almond flavour and Madagascan vanilla ice cream, encased in luxurious white chocolate with chopped almond pieces and half-dipped in cracking milk chocolate; Magnum White Chocolate and Berry Remix pairing berry and Madagascan vanilla ice cream, coated in white chocolate and half-dipped in classic milk chocolate. And last but not least, its Magnum Classic Remix featuring chocolate ice cream swirled with Madagascan vanilla ice cream, fully dipped classic milk chocolate and half-dipped in milk chocolate combined with crunchy cocoa pieces.
In all remixes, whether it’s lyrics or recipes, the ingredients loved by the core fan base remain the same. But those little upgrades to a premium offering can provide powerful and profitable introductions to a new, wider audience.
“Pairing classics elements loved by consumers and turning them into something new, combined with an amazing summer drove outstanding performance for Remix double ; Almond Remix is the N°1 NPD of the ice cream category in France in 2022” says Elena Rakocevic, Magnum’s Brand Manager for France. In Turkey the Magnum White Chocolate and Berry Remix was the summer hit according to Hazal Kantman. “We saw outstanding performance of more than 50% higher vs last year innovation’s Magnum Gold Caramel,” she says.
Brand – Twister Peek-a-Blue provides a fruity update to a kids’ favourite
“We want to give the best and, for us, that’s fun and tasty ice creams that kids will love but also that parents approve of. That means all our innovations for this young audience come with guard rails including strict adherence to Unilever nutritional commitments,” says Glenn Handoko. “Every children’s ice cream portion we make has a maximum of 110 calories, 12 grams of sugar and 3 grams of saturated fat.”
Creating a new take on Twister ice creams, a firm kids’ favourite, saw the brand team create a fun shape that references the original but with Twister’s core shape reimagined to look like twisted, braided strips of ice cream. Real fruit purée and fruit juice concentrates were used to keep a cap on calories and deliver a delicious melon and strawberry flavour combination.
The result is Twister Peek-a-Blue which comes in at 66 calories per portion. And with Mintel research telling us that 41% of consumers would like to see more desserts and confections that are naturally sweetened (with ), these single-servings of snacks may become a firm favourite for all the family.
Post-launch sales across Europe are promising, with the product taking the number two and number three spot for in-home ice cream sales in the UK and Ireland, and ranking third in out-of-home ice cream sales in Germany.