Natural Foods Merchandiser

They scream for alternative creams

After a summer's day swimming or playing outside, few treats satisfy children the way ice cream and pop?sicles do. And, from the looks of sophisticated new ice cream flavors on the market, adults take their frozen treats seriously, too. But what about shoppers who limit their dairy intake due to health conditions or religious or philosophical reasons—or who prefer nondairy tastes? Fortunately, with those customers in mind, several manufacturers have explored the territory of nondairy frozen treats. And, if sales growth is an indicator, these soy-, rice- and hemp-based products are catching on.

The nondairy frozen category is a $25.3 million category within the naturals channel, according to Donna Iannucci, director of marketing for frozen brands at Melville, N.Y.-based Hain Celestial. Hain Celestial makes Rice Dream and Soy Dream frozen desserts. From pints and quarts to pops and sandwiches, these dairy-free alternatives fill a niche that pays. Through extensive research, development and testing, these companies have crafted products that please possibly the pickiest food critics—kids. "If children like it, you know you're in good shape," Lannucci says. "We love to get responses from customers that really bless us," says David Mintz, founder of Toffutti, a Cranford, N.J.-based maker of soy-based frozen desserts. "We get parents saying, 'Now my child can enjoy ice cream,'" Mintz says.

Dairy-free difficulties
Nondairy ice-cream makers use milk extracted from a plant, whether it's rice, soy or hemp, and then follow typical ice cream making procedures, with a few changes to account for the differences between plant milk and dairy milk. Susan Squidd, president of Hemp Sources Inc., Boulder, Colo.-based makers of Hemp I Scream products, says turning hemp protein into an ice-cream-like substance is a trial the company works on continually, but has had very positive feedback about. "It's challenging because [hemp protein] has a high-fiber, high-grit content," she says. "It has the potential to turn just about anything into a dog biscuit."

"The biggest challenge is that, when people think of dairy-free ice cream, they equate it to being inferior, not as good in taste and quality," says John Tucker, director of marketing for Turtle Mountain, the Eugene, Ore.-based maker of the So Delicious and Purely Decadent lines of nondairy frozen desserts and other novelties. But Tucker likes to refer to the "wow factor," which is when shoppers try the product for the first time and admit they had no idea how good it could taste.

Delicious, nutritious
Part of the success of these nondairy alternatives, aside from being safe for those with a dairy allergies or intolerance, could be due to their nutritional content. Turtle Mountain's products are generally lower in fat and calories than comparable dairy products, and cholesterol-free, Tucker says. Iannucci agrees that part of the appeal of Rice Dream and Soy Dream products is that they have no refined sugars, are made only with natural ingredients, and are cholesterol- and transfat-free. Soy- and hemp-based products are high in protein, and Squidd points out that hemp adds omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and is easier to digest. And, though it was added for textural reasons, Turtle Mountain products contain chicory root extract, a source of dietary fiber. In fact, Turtle Mountain's Web site compares its Purely Decadent Vanilla with an equivalent serving of natural, vanilla dairy ice cream, showing Purely Decadent as having half the fat, six times the fiber, a third fewer calories, and, of course, no cholesterol.

Novelties and newfangled flavors
Though frozen dessert companies say the basics, like vanilla and chocolate, are the strong sellers that are here to stay, the natural dairy-free companies are experimenting with more sophisticated flavors and novelty marketing. Alongside its pints of double-Dutch chocolate and mocha mint, Hemp I Scream has added Jasmine Flowers and Mango Love for more adventurous palates. The company is also working on an açai-flavored frozen dessert.

Rice Dream partnered with sister company Celestial Seasonings to produce Tea Dreams, a line of frozen desserts in tea flavors like vanilla ginger spice chai, white peach and cinnamon apple spice. The company is also planning to launch a line of more sophisticated flavors this spring. Tofutti has experimented with new flavors, like key lime pie, but specializes in the novelty area—the Cutie frozen dessert sandwich being Tofutti's No. 1 seller. But Tofutti doesn't stop with a vanilla or chocolate sandwich; the company released sandwiches with coffee, wild berry, blueberry and key lime pie flavors.

Turtle Mountain is preparing for a spring launch of a premium line including a pomegranate flavor and a coconut flavor, focusing on a creamy product packed with add-ins. Already, Peanut Butter Zig Zag and Cherry Nirvana, in the Purely Decadent line, are the company's best sellers.

Have your 'ice cream' and eat it, too
Beyond providing an increasing array of pleasures for dairy-free fans, several companies in the nondairy ice cream category are also taking the environment into account. Turtle Mountain, Tofutti and Hain Celestial make a point of sourcing non-genetically-modified ingredients. Turtle Mountain makes a line of organic nondairy deserts, and Hain Celestial is reformulating Rice Dream and Soy Dream packaging to better highlight its organic ingredients. Tofutti uses organic sugar to sweeten its products.

Hemp I Scream's new açai flavor is part of the company's sister project, researching açai pits as a renewable energy source in Brazil. Hemp I Scream also markets its hemp snacks at concerts and events to raise awareness about benefits of agricultural hemp.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 4/p. 22,24

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