CREAM: THE STIFFCHALLENGE Outside of the Christmas trading period, it's proving hard to whip up interest in cream. Sheila Eggleston reports Breaking out of the commodity trap is a hard slog for any dairy producer. But cream is probably the most challenging category in which to do it. Worth £149.2m, it's not a declining market but it is fairly static, up just 2% year on year [52 w/e Feb 27 2000 ­ Information Resources]. And it has an image problem which hasn't gone unnoticed by manufacturers. A Unigate spokesperson for cream and organic milk says consumers view the fixture as dull, confusing and unappealing.Cream is also out of step with today's healthier lifestyles because of its fat content and indulgent image. "What the category needs is more brands, and what consumers want is innovation and added value," says the company. Unigate has plans to liven up the category, but says these ideas aren't achieveable yet, and the merger with Dairy Crest may further delay product development. Whether Dairy Crest will be a partner to the project is a tantalising question, but the company will only say the Dairy Crest merger provides lots more branding opportunities'. Double cream continues to be the best seller, but one of the fastest growing areas is organic cream. Though still a very small market, demand is increasing rapidly. Leading brands include Yeo Valley, which supplies an organic extra thick cream, while Loseley recently launched an organic double cream. Another top performer is crème fraîche, a slightly acidified product with a a sharp, distinctive flavour and longer life span than standard cream. Brand leader Isigny UK says the crème fraîche market is increasing 15% in volume year on year, with its own performance growing at the same pace. As well as brand, it supplies own label to Tesco and Sainsbury. Isigny UK director Pierre Brunot says low fat accounts for 60% of sales, the remainder going to full fat. "The main use is for cooking because of its versatility. What's driving growth is its endorsement by celebrity chefs, like Delia Smith, and cookery programmes and magazines which feature it in recipes." Crème fraîche's popularity is con- firmed by Wait- rose central dairy buyer David Jones."We massively over-trade in it because that's our kind of customer," says Jones. "Other indulgence products, like Cornish clotted cream also go very well." Decommoditising cream could be seen as an uphill battle in a market led by own label, but manufacturers are bullish about their brands. St Ivel's marketing manager for cream and butter, Jeremy Shea, says: "What goes on a shopping list is cream, so consumers go to the fixture, get what they want and are on their way. People don't spend a lot of time at the fixture. It's difficult to make something new stand out." St Ivel launched Keith Floyd Tipsy cream with brandy in time for last Christmas, and have been trialling a Cointreau variant in Tesco since Easter to encourage summer users. "What we've learnt is that there is major consumer education needed to raise the awareness of these products outside the Christmas period and also show how to use them," says Shea. Both variants will be on offer at Christmas with plans to boost the brand in summer next year. There is virtually no multi media advertising for cream. Most promotional activity is done at point of sale with Easter, Wimbledon, summer holidays and, of course, Christmas, being the most profitable sales periods. Extra promotional activity is, however, driving the growth of the £16.7m chilled aerosol category which is growing 2.7% in value, according to New Zealand Milk UK. The company uses character licences, such as The Rugrats, plus limited editions. Marketing director Ros Davis says: "Shoppers easily get bored. We've lifted the boredom by introducing new flavours every three months. It's moving the brand forward rather than just sticking to extensions." The company has launched its summer variant, strawberry cream ­ available until September ­ and it is already rolling out its Christmas programme. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}