|Trends presented in this article has been recognized and described by Mintel|
New forms of mini ice creams – think bites and balls – are booming, but getting the format and messaging right is key to engaging consumers. We look at three crucial aspects of this new global trend.
Consumers have long been tempted by inexpensive indulgences, seeking solace in treats like ice cream. Such comfort snacking really took off following the global economic crisis of the late 2000s, and this consumer behaviour has not only endured but, post Covid-19, is once again on the rise (nearly a quarter – 23% – of US ice cream consumers are buying ice cream more frequently1.
But consumer buying decisions are also increasingly driven by health and finances – affordability appeals to the value-conscious, while smaller portions offer the health-conscious greater control over calories. “Fewer calories per portion allows you to still have a snack, but not feel too guilty,” says Elsebeth Baungaard, an Ice Cream Portfolio Manager at Tetra Pak
As such, ice cream is shrinking, shifting from mini – often defined as around 40 to 60 ml/g – to smaller bites and chunks, usually around 25ml/g. Such bite-sized treats gained prominence several years ago with mochi ice cream balls, and it’s clear that brands are once again exploring smaller formats – the so-called micro bite grazing trend, so popular in the savoury snack market, is gaining traction with big global brands such as Ben & Jerry and Magnum.
Indeed, the marketing around the latter’s Bites perfectly encapsulates other reasons behind this trend – they are, it is claimed, “ideal for sharing” and “the perfect balance of cracking chocolate and velvety vanilla ice cream.” “Small products often have a premium appearance,” says Baungaard, “and they are easy to share with your friends. Both are key drivers behind shrinking ice creams.”
With smaller formats, consumers may wish to limit their calories, but there’s no desire to skimp on taste or quality. In fact, the perceived “indulgence” is the very point; one such product is billed as “the perfect treat to indulge your evening craving.”
Now, more than three in five – 62% - of US consumers prefer a smaller, more indulgent ice cream to a more low-calorie version2, a statistic that Baungaard says producers would be wise to heed. “Use more premium ingredients and launch it as a snack you are ‘allowed’ to enjoy,” she advises.
Furthermore, brands should be wary of making any explicit health claims and make clear the number of calories per individual portion, not in the entire pack. This aids shoppers in their buying choices, and can help promote the idea that ice cream needn’t always be considered an unhealthy, sugar-rich extravagance (half of Canadian ice cream consumers said that smaller portions make them feel better about eating ice cream3).
More counterintuitive advice concerns brand loyalty, and how sticking with a trusted mark might not be the savviest move when it comes to shrinking ice cream. While some brands have enjoyed success by simply making a known, beloved product smaller – Baungaard counsels against this approach. “Don’t just scale or shrink existing products,” she says, “especially if it isn’t a premium product. Producers need to be careful here.”
Besides, with many product extensions under existing brand umbrellas having a price ceiling, brand-new smaller products have the advantage that consumers cannot compare pricing in the same way they can with full and mini-sized versions of the same item.
Like regular ice cream products, small bites and balls are consumed in a variety of different usage occasions – they can be a tasty on-the-go treat, eaten with a coffee or after lunch as a dessert, or shared at parties or special events. Brands should take advantage of this by creating different products for each scenario and carefully considering how they are packaged (73% of Chinese consumers who buy snacks prefer buying spontaneously instead of bulk buying in advance4).
For example, on-the-go consumption, with the bite or ball packaged as a smaller, cheaper, single unit – often eaten in one bite – is a growing trend. So too are small ice cream bites and other frozen treats served alongside tea, coffee, or after lunch. In the UK, 31% of consumers who frequent coffee shops are interested in buying frozen desserts with their drinks; with 16- to 24-year-olds, that rises to 45%5. As such, brands are beginning to partner directly with tea and coffee shops.
Similarly, following the success of sweet sharing tubs such as Mars’ Celebrations and Cadbury’s Heroes, ice cream brands have been developing frozen versions using well-known brands, such as Oppo’s Ice Cream Balls. But, says Baungaard, care must be taken when adapting or developing products for new consumption models – flavours, texture, richness or fat content, and the drip/melt rate are all important factors.
“As the ice cream amount decreases, the cooling capacity in the product also decreases. So be aware if the product should be dipped or enrobed in warm chocolate,” she says. “And similarly, if a swirl is added to the ice cream – caramel, ripple, or compound – it’s imperative that it doesn’t melt the ice cream.”
There are other, practical production considerations too, especially if you’re simply shrinking an existing product. “When the volume decreases, it’s important to know that production equipment will need to run even more accurately than normal to obtain the same low variation,” adds Baungaard. “Even a very small deviation in the flow will be very easy to see when filling mini cones of only 12 ml.”
Clearly, the mini-trend in frozen treats is here to stay for the foreseeable future, but for brands looking to take the lead and achieve real success, innovation is key. Simply shrinking beloved products is no longer enough – creating new, smaller formats, engaging and compelling messaging, and really focusing on how and where consumers are indulging are now prerequisites for anyone looking to enter the market. Of course, consumers remain happy to purchase treats, but brands must find new ways to engage with those mindful of financial and health constraints while still delivering the indulgence that ice cream promises.
(1), (2), (3), (4), (5) Mintel: Shrinking ice creams appeal to consumers