The recession has sparked a sales resurgence of handheld chocolate ice creams, which are now significantly outpacing premium tubs.

After slumping 3.6% in 2008, sales of handheld chocolate ice creams which comprise stick formats and bars surged 12.7% in volume and 11.4% in value last year [Kantar Worldpanel 52w/e 27 December 2009]. Tubs grew 4% in value down from 5.2% growth in 2008.

Unilever was at the forefront of the resurgence of handheld, with market leader Magnum recording a value increase of 13.5% and volumes up 14.5% [IRI 52w/e 26 December]. This is a marked improvement on 2008, when value grew 10.6% on volume up 0.2%.

Unilever ice cream category manager Pete Harbour credited the performance on cash-strapped shoppers reacting to the recession. Unilever's Feast also had a bumper year with value sales growing 17.2% [IRI]. In a bid to capitalise on the trend, Unilever rolled out Magnum Gold last week (rsp: £1.50 per single). With a gold-coloured chocolate coating, the newcomer will benefit from a £3m ad push in April. Unilever unveiled the premium Cornetto Enigma range last month.

Mars' ice cream bar brands last year bucked the positive trend in handheld with a 5.7% value slump, and it announced this week that it would launch a limited-edition Snickers Dark Crunch and Galaxy Triple Chocolate in the spring.

This week General Mills rolled out its new Häagen-Dazs Chocolate, Pralines & Caramel premium tub, and a new recipe for its Choc Choc Chip tub.