For most consumers, summer is the season for ice cream, and David Taylor, sales and marketing director at Frederick’s Dairies, reckons it’s more about sunshine than temperature. "My theory - though it’s not a scientific one - is that more than three days of constant sunshine means sales of ice creams will rise."

And Taylor is hoping we get those sunny days this summer. "Last year impulse market sales of ice cream were down 15%, however Frederick’s Dairies grew its share," he says, putting the growth down to an increased distribution base.

"Forecourts are one of our strongest areas, with Flake Cone the biggest product. I think it’s the nature of our products that makes us do well in forecourts. We offer retailers adult premium lines, we’re not big on kids. The premium nature of our products means they are a good way of generating a good cash return from the freezer."

Taylor is particularly pleased with the Flake Cone: "It’s successful because it’s very similar to the 99 cones you get from an ice cream van. It does very well in forecourts, however we’ve had two other very big successes in forecourts in the past couple of years. These are Cadbury Crunchie Blast, which is a fun product containing popping candy, and the Del Monte smoothie, especially in the raspberry flavour. We go for differentiation with our products and that’s why they sell."

A new product for 2008 is a new take on traditional summer favourite strawberries and cream. Strawberries & Dream is a combination of white chocolate, ice cream and strawberries.

This year Frederick’s is also expanding into the children’s arena with two new lines: Jelly Babies wobbly lolly and the Buttons Cone. Taylor reckons these are probably only suited to forecourts in urban conurbations.

Each wobby lolly contains 25% real fruit juice, no artificial colourings or flavours and only 65 calories per stick. Rrp is 50p. The Buttons Cone is smaller than the Flake Cone and comprises vanilla ice cream with a generous helping of Cadbury Chocolate Buttons.

Taylor praises forecourts for their positioning of ice cream freezers which, he says, are typically by the door or on the way to the till. However, he says the biggest issue for retailers is keeping them well stocked.

"There’s nothing worse than walking up to a freezer and finding just a couple of lollies at the bottom - this kills sales. If customers see a well-stocked freezer they will buy from it. I know that some retailers don’t like having money tied up in stock but if they stock ice creams they will sell them. However, on the whole I applaud forecourts as they tend to keep their freezers better stocked than other outlets, making ice cream more a part of their mix all year round."

Despite manufacturers’ attempts to ’de-seasonalise’ ice cream, there are still two distinct seasons - summer and winter. "March to September can account for 80% of ice cream trade in impulse outlets - but that 20% in the winter is an improvement," says Taylor, "as it used to be just 10%."

He adds: "In impulse, ice cream equals summer, however consumers have become used to buying ice cream all year round in supermarkets so there is a year-round opportunity emerging." He advises forecourt retailers to ’flex’ their ranges with more chocolate ice creams in the winter for indulgence, and fruit-based lines in the summer for refreshment.

Meanwhile Charlotte Hambling, senior marketing manager at R&R Ice Cream, reckons the super-premium sector of the ice cream market is the only one that’s not affected by the weather. "It fits a real consumer trend for premiumisation, which makes it a veritable gold mine for profit-savvy forecourts," she says. "We’ve just launched Rachel’s Organic, a delicious super-premium ice cream product, and strongly recommend that forecourts stock up."

The product contains whole fruit pieces and comes in two flavours: ravishingly raspberry and decadently double cherry. Rrp is £4.29 for a 500ml tub.

R&R’s indulgent theme continues into the impulse category with Thornton’s ice cream sticks, Nestlé raspberry cheesecake stick and the Nestlé Munchies ice cream bar.

The Thornton’s ice cream sticks come in two flavours. Toffee temptation is a toffee ice cream swirled with toffee sauce then smothered in thick Belgian chocolate and Thornton’s Special Toffee pieces. Meanwhile the chocolate trio comprises two halves - one half is white chocolate ice cream, swirled with a dark chocolate sauce while the other half is dark chocolate ice cream coated in a thick layer of Belgian chocolate.

"These products meet a real consumer need for indulgence," says Hambling. "The Thornton’s brand is recognised by consumers, especially for its chocolate and toffee heritage. There is also a real opportunity to add value back into the individual category as consumers trade up for a premium offering." Rrp is £1.40 per stick.

The Nestlé Munchies ice cream bar, which retails at £1.10, builds on the equity of Munchies chocolates; while the Nestlé raspberry cheesecake stick is a raspberry cheesecake ice cream covered in a yogurt coating with biscuit pieces swirled in a raspberry sauce. Hambling says it is the only impulse ice cream stick to have biscuit inclusions. Rrp is £1.25.

Also available from R&R is the new Ribena Smoothie, which cashes in on the big smoothie trend. It is an iced blackcurrant smoothie stick made with real fruit juice. It contains 85 calories and is virtually fat free. Rrp is £1.10.

However, according to AC Nielsen data, R&R’s Fab remains the UK’s number one lolly, performing as strongly in convenience as it does in take home. This obviously makes it a must-stock line for forecourts. Another must-stock is the Rowntree’s Fruit Pastil lolly, which is the UK’s number two lolly and performs particularly well in the convenience channel.

Hambling advises retailers: "Forecourts need to be aware that ice cream is seen as a snack during the hot summer months, so it needs to be given the space and signage in-store that it deserves. Brand names are increasingly becoming a factor in consumers’ decision-making process, so stocking the best-selling brands is imperative."

R&R is supporting its ice cream range with a £2m spend this year.

Meanwhile the new Magnum girl is none other than Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria, who will front a new ad campaign.

The new Magnum variant for 2008 is Mayan mystica which Unilever says is inspired by the ancient origins of chocolate - the Mayan Indian culture. Mayan mystica comprises chocolate ice cream coated with Magnum milk chocolate, blended with cinnamon, honey and nutmeg flavours. Rrp is £1.25.

Magnum senior brand manager, Anna Ford, says: "Magnum Ecuador dark was a huge hit with consumers last year and Mayan mystica will capitalise on this success and add value to the category by responding to consumers’ growing love of quality chocolate. In addition our high-profile ad campaign starring Eva Longoria is going to be literally everywhere and will both engage with existing Magnum consumers as well as attract new and lapsed users to the market."

Other Unilever activity includes a new addition to the Cornetto range. Frutti disc is a cheesecake flavoured ice cream with raspberry ripple sauce topped with a disc of fruit of the forest puree with milk chocolate. Rrp is £1.10. The launch follows the success of Cornetto choco disc last year which, according to IRI data, became the second best-selling new product in the impulse market (behind Magnum Ecuador dark).

Another new line for the impulse market is Unilever’s Footballissimo! - which was probably developed when the company thought there’d be a home nation playing in Euro 2008. The football- shaped lolly is made from vanilla and chocolate ice cream and includes one of four different whistle sticks for consumers to collect. Rrp is 65p.

Wall’s brand manager at Unilever UK, Iain Brooksbank, says to maximise the potential in impulse, forecourt retailers should also stock up with Wall’s top-sellers -what it calls its ’storming six’: Magnum classic, Magnum white, Cornetto strawberry, Twister, Solero exotic and Calippo orange.

== Take home ==

Ice cream to eat there and then is usually the best seller in a forecourt with the only exception to the rule being luxury tubs of Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs.

According to Caroline Simpson, Ben & Jerry’s UK brand manager, more than one in 10 households have bought Ben & Jerry’s in the past year, with household penetration having risen from 7% in January 07 to 11.1% by the end of the year.

"Consumers spend an average of £10 on Ben & Jerry’s over the course of a year," she says.

The latest launches in the UK are of frozen yogurts and sorbets.

"It’s increasingly important to cater for consumers wanting a lighter option, so Ben & Jerry’s is always concocting desserts that both ease the conscience and tickle the taste buds," explains Simpson.

"Strawberry cheesecake joined cherry garcia and chocolate fudge brownie as part of the low-fat frozen yogurt range last autumn. This year will see further product innovation with the launch of Ben & Jerry’s Jamaican me crazy and mango berry swirl sorbets."

The company also offers impulse products, namely the Wich and the Shorty tub. Wich is ice cream sandwiched between two American-style chewy chocolate chip cookies. Rrp is £1.69; while the 150ml Shorty tub, rrp £1.79, now comes in eight varieties including caramel chew chew, strawberry cheesecake and fairtrade chunky monkey.

Meanwhile there are two new flavours in the 500ml tub range. Baked Alaska contains marshmallow swirls and white chocolate polar bears and has been created to support Ben & Jerry’s Climate Change College. Meanwhile the One cheesecake brownie flavour has been created in honour of Bono’s One campaign to make poverty history.

Support for the Ben & Jerry’s brand in 2008 will include the first ever TV advertising in the UK for its frozen yogurt. There will also be Free Cone Day on April 29 - the brand’s annual thank you to loyal customers and with 2008 being Ben & Jerry’s 30th birthday, there will be celebrations including the launch of an ’anniversary edition’ tub.

Andy Foweather, sales director at General Mills UK, reckons luxury ice cream is seen as a ’permissible treat’ by many consumers. "The growing health trend means that traditional snacks, small treats and desserts are increasingly falling off the shopping list. Conversely this is fuelling the desire for a special treat like Häagen-Dazs," he says.

"Retailers need to ensure they reflect this change in terms of the freezer space they allocate to luxury ice cream, covering the breadth of the range for key brands such as Häagen-Dazs, in order to maximise the sales potential and satisfy this growing consumer demand."

According to IRI data for grocery and impulse (52 weeks ending November 3, 2007), sales of luxury ice cream topped £100m for the first time and the category achieved growth of 13.4% in the most recent 12-month audit period - well ahead of total ice cream which declined by 4.3% over the same time. Foweather says much of the growth was generated by Häagen-Dazs which achieved annual retail sales of £36.9m and grew by 12.2% in value terms.

"But the sales performance statistics on their own don’t really do justice to the strength of the Häagen-Dazs brand," says Foweather. "The fact is that four out of the top seven luxury ice cream products are Häagen-Dazs - underlining its consumer appeal and unrivalled pulling power in the freezer cabinet."

In addition, the beauty of luxury ice cream brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs for retailers in the convenience sector is that, because of their link to treating, they are all-year round sellers.

"Approximately half of Häagen-Dazs sales are generated in the winter months," explains Foweather. "And the benefit of this is that a poor summer - like last year’s - doesn’t have a negative impact on sales. That is why retailers who are looking to build their luxury ice cream business must focus on harnessing the brand strength of Häagen-Dazs."

General Mills UK believes the success of the brand stems from its ongoing programme of innovation -which freshens its appeal on a regular basis by offering new variants - as well as its quality and the fact that consistent TV advertising keeps Häagen-Dazs front-of-mind with shoppers.

The latest flavour to join the range is limited-edition raspberries & meringue. "We are generating interest in the luxury ice cream category through the regular introduction of six-monthly ’limited editions’ to deliver innovative flavours with broad appeal to consumers," explains Linda Hipkiss, marketing director of General Mills UK. "We want to encourage consumers to experiment outside their normal flavour repertoire, and so far the limited-edition strategy has worked spectacularly well."

Another sales-driving initiative is the Häagen-Dazs summer range which includes seasonal favourites such as strawberries & cream.

General Mills is backing Häagen-Dazs with a £5m marketing campaign during 2008 but the brand also benefits from its association with prestigious events such as Wimbledon where it is the official ice cream supplier.

Unfortunately not even the Met Office can supply weather forecasts that are long-range enough to see what is going to happen this summer.

But from what the manufacturers have to say there are still things forecourts can do to help increase their ice cream sales. Namely keep stocked up - come rain or shine - with big brand ices, particularly those backed by advertising. If you stock them, they will sell!


=== The inside view ===

Brian Whiting, customer account manager at Unilever, offers this advice to forecourts:

? Siting

"Time spent in a forecourt shop is very short - usually between 45 seconds and about two minutes. It will be more in a BP Connect or Esso On the Run as these type of sites tend to have a car park area for the driver to shift the car to when paying for the petrol.

"This time limit means siting of the ice cream freezer is imperative. Moving the freezer from the back of the shop to the impulse run between the entrance door and the cash point will add about 30% of sales. Positioning the freezer next to the cash point will add another 12% but the sales lost by displacing the confectionery in this area would cost the retailer more in lost confectionery sales than gained ice cream sales."

? Out of stocks

"More sales are lost by ’out of stocks’ than anything else in the forecourt. Petrol retailers need to order smaller quantities more often and make the wholesaler or delivery agent do the work. There are two times when the ice cream freezer is low - when the weather is good and when the weather is bad! When the weather is bad the retailer forgets about the ice cream category and lets the freezer run down which means the best sellers like Magnum run out. And when the weather is good the retailer is ’taken by surprise’ and so the freezer empties before the next delivery. The message remains: order smaller quantities more often."


"The Maxivision freezer has proved to be the best development for years for the category and latest research suggests replacing a glass-top freezer with a three-tier Maxivision will increase sales by as much as 40%. And obviously retailers need to keep the freezer tidy. And they need to use point-of-sale material, but not too much or they’ll create confusion. They must always remove out-of-date pos material."


"Range is very important and retailers should avoid the temptation to buy ’deals’ from the wholesaler of lesser products. They will not sell through and will have an adverse effect on stock turn. Retailers should avoid shared baskets and stock 12 products in a 12-basket freezer and 18 in an 18-basket etc. They need to consider that the customer profile is adult and mainly male so the only child products would be ones that cross over the age barrier such as Twister and Calippo."


=== Indulge yourselves ===

With indulgence a key driver of food consumption Mars has created what it says is its most indulgent cone yet. The Galaxy vanilla & chocolate temptation cone comprises ice cream with chocolate ripples topped off with Galaxy chocolate. It is exclusive to the impulse sector and retails at £1.25. Also new and exclusive to the impulse sector is the Starburst Smoothie lolly, available in berry blast and exotic fruits varieties, rrp £1. Both lollies contain 30% real fruit and less than 100 calories.

Mars trade relations manager, Bep Sandhu, says the ice cream range will be supported by a £1m marketing campaign, with an extra £42m being spent on their confectionery counterparts." In 2008 our sales force is looking to contact over 30,000 independent shops offering advice on merchandising deals and providing eye catching pos material," she adds.