Katherine Rich: exciting times in the ice cream world

One of the great things about working in the food and grocery industry is that I get to meet people who are among the best around when it comes to innovation and imagination.

They are the ones on whose skill companies rely if they are to stay ahead of the game in very competitive environments. 

It’s often not just about being the first with something that catches the imagination of consumers, it’s also about staying up with their changing demands and constantly putting new ideas in front of them.

A prime example of innovation to meet those changing demands has been the work by beverage companies to develop the healthier products consumers want, while retaining the look and taste they want. Talk about a juggling act! Look at what Coke did: reformulated 22 of its products in just two years to meet that changing demand. Others such as Frucor Suntory have done similar work.

Chocolate makers have also been at the forefront of innovation in recent years, but by the very nature of their product they have to have vivid imaginations as well. Mix the two and you get flavours with names such as Mangawhai Sea Salt, Cayenne & Cinnamon, Beekeeper, Nelson Pear & Manuka Honey, Hibiscus Flower & Macadamia Nut, and Sheep Droppings. There’s often complex food science getting some combinations to be successful!

If there’s one sector that rivals chocolate for imagination and innovation, it’s ice cream.

Despite concerns around Kiwis’ sugar intake, this indulgent part of the food industry has never been so vibrant, with an explosion of new ranges and products. 

Kiwis have always been big consumers of ice cream and other edible ices. Last year we each ate an average of around 23 litres each on average. In doing that, we spent about $2.10 on ice cream for every $100 we spent on food. 

The explosion of products has been triggered in part by the arrival of newcomers into the market, including Ben and Jerry’s (Unilever) and Haagen-Dazs (General Mills), the move by Lewis Road Creamery into ice cream, and the formation of some smaller boutique brands. They all clearly see opportunities in our busy market.

Long-established brands such as Tip Top, Kapiti, New Zealand Natural and Movenpick have met the challenge with gusto, and that was no more evident than at this year’s Ice Cream Awards. Among the 385 entries, which included gelato and non-dairy entries, an amazing 91 were eligible for the New to Market Award.

And the names were there to match: Green Tea, Twisted Nut Peanut Butter, Greek Yoghurt Lemon Curd, Fig & Manuka Honey, Bad Boys and Berries, IceBQ, Kaffir Lime Coconut Gelato, to name but a few. Every taste catered for, it seems.

An interesting tactic has been the collaboration of brands with companies outside the ice cream industry to create something really different.

First there was Lewis Road Creamery teaming up with Pic’s Peanut Butter to create Peanut Butter ice cream. They then added Oob Organic Raspberries to the mix and came up with Peanut Butter & Jelly (watch out the US!).

And just last month, Tip Top got in on the act with Whittaker’s to design three flavours – Vanilla and Cashew Praline, Coffee and Cacao, and Chocolate and Pretzel.

I suspect we’ll be seeing more of these collaborations as our ice cream makers continue to innovate and compete for market share.

It’s an exciting time in the ice cream category … all in moderation of course.    

 (as published in Supermarket News, October)