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Will NutraSweet come to the rescue of melting frozen novelty market?

Will NutraSweet Come to the Rescue Of Melting Frozen Novelty Market?

Consumers are starting to give frozen novelties the cold shoulder, but maybe a new generation of sugar-free frozen desserts will gain their favor.

Frozen novelty sales in the United States fell off by 1.2% last year, to $1.75 billion, after nine years of growth averaging more than 15% and heady predictions of more of the same through 1990.

But now ice cream substitutes with NutraSweet are on their way to the marketplace. "Diet Bluebell," which an industry analyst characterizes as "a very clever way of not calling it anything," is the first, from Bluebell Ice Cream Co.

It is Baskin-Robbins, which has a nationwide chain of ice cream parlors, that has the best chance of creating a mass market for a NutraSweet, low-fat ice cream substitute. At press time, the company hadn't revealed any details about its product, or marketing plans for same.

Ice cream substitutes were authorized a year ago, when the Food and Drug Administration gave permission for NutraSweet (generic name: aspartame) to be used in wet food products as well as drinks and dry foods. It was too late in the season for ice cream companies to gear up for new products, however.

Private label yogurt from Kroger, introduced last summer, was actually the first wet product to use NutraSweet, and branded sugar-free yogurts have since come onto the market. "Several" dairies besides Bluebell and Baskin-Robbins are reportedly working on NutraSweet ice cream substitutes, which could obviously involve novelties.

Last year's slump in frozen novelty sales in widely attributed to a 50% cut in advertising budgets. Out of sight, out of mind, seems to be the principle involved. But rather than get back into promotion, United Brands has dropped out of the novelty market entirely, while General Mills has put its Vroman Foods frozen novelty operation up for sale. General Foods and Ocean Spray have pulled their fruit bar lines, and Coca Cola has sold its Minute Maid Juicee line.

Besides curtailment of advertising budgets, which novelty makers complain they can't afford, escalating slotting costs for novelties are blamed for the slump. Some supermarket chains make manufacturers pay high fees for space in freezer cabinets, because that space is so limited.

One exception to the sales slump is low-calorie items such as Crystal Light bars, which are breaking with TV commercials next month. Mars, Inc., is coming out with Dove Light, a version of its successful DoveBar with 40% less fat and 33% fewer calories. Weight Watchers has a low-cal Peanut Butter Fudge Bar ready to roll.

Eskimo Pie Corp. proves that a name really counts when it comes to launching a sugar-free ice cream substitute. It can't call its new sugar-free dessert bars, introduced at the Eastern Frosted Foods Association show April 5, "ice cream," but it can and does call them Eskimo Pie. "Vanilla frozen dairy dessert" appears only in small print.
COPYRIGHT 1989 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1989
Words:490
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