Volume sales of ice cream tubs defied wet weather but widespread promotions took their toll on value sales of many brands

Recalling, a little wistfully, the Met Office promises of a barbecue summer this year, Asda frozen foods general manager Mark Pym admits: “It wasn’t the red hot summer everyone planned for, but it was OK.”

The sunny weather seemed to peter out just in time for the key July and August holiday periods, which were “unusually’ wet, but Unilever ice cream category director Peter Harbour believes “enough momentum had been built up in April and May to sustain the market”.

Widespread and sometimes deep promotion meant that, although tub volumes rose 3.7%, retail sales values were up only 1.2%, with sales of some leading brands either static or – in the case of Wall’s and Green & Black’s – falling.

The main exception was Ben & Jerry’s, where promotions were accompanied by new product development, including additions to the frozen yoghurt range and the launch of 150ml pots known as ‘shorties’. As a result sales overtook fellow Unilever brand Carte d’Or.

Also driving the market, following its acquisition by R&R Ice Cream, was the national rollout of Kelly’s of Cornwall. With increased interest in retro brands, R&R also breathed new life into Lyons Maid, with the launch of the ice cream brick, sandwich and Arctic Roll in September.

Retro was also a big theme in handheld ice creams, with screwballs and rocket lollies as well as Feast, Flake and Twister all proving popular, says Pym. But, as a whole, the more seasonal – and more impulse-driven – handheld market disappointed, with volumes falling 1.9%, although sales were up 5.4% to £437.3m.

Market-leading brand Magnum received a £5m sales boost from the launch of Magnum Temptation in February and had “driven the premium tier”, according to Harbour, adding that the core Magnum range is in slight growth and Magnum Minis now account for £19.5m in sales.

Top launch: Phish Food frozen yoghurt, Ben & Jerry’s
While the biggest event in the frozen desserts market was the return (and £5m sales to date) of Birds Eye Arctic Roll, for genuine new product development Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food frozen yoghurt stands out.

In the year the brand overtook its tired sibling Carte d’Or, and with frozen yoghurt playing a big part in its success, this reworking of an old favourite is particularly rare: it tastes as good as the original.

Top Products Survey 2009