Transforming a guilty indulgence into a healthy treat – that’s the dream for many in the food industry. A dream that ice cream maverick Halo Top has made a reality. The company only started in 2012 with just five employees, but earlier this year they snatched the crown of best-selling ice cream pint in the United States. And now they’re eyeing up Britain, with suggestions that we’ll be seeing pots of the stuff in supermarkets by January – just in time to capture the repentant Christmas and New Year revellers.
Nice ice, baby
So what’s the big deal? What are these people doing to their ice cream that has made it such a darling of the US consumer? No need to call in Sherlock, it’s all quite elementary: Halo Top boasts that you won’t get fat off gorging on the stuff.
In its own words: “Halo Top is low-calorie, high-protein and low-sugar.” Made using “only the best all-natural ingredients,” ‘organic’ pops up repeatedly on the labels, with stevia propping up cane sugar to sweeten the deal. In a half-cup serving, Halo Top claims its 25 flavours contain less than 25% of the calories compared to traditional versions.
Did we mention that most varieties are gluten-free? How about that there are also seven non-dairy, vegan options? Well, we don’t really need to, because the packaging makes all the positive spin very clear – undoubtedly one of the reasons it’s been flying off shelves. In fact, the number of calories in a tub (240-360, depending on flavour) is in a larger font than the name of the brand itself. Right beneath that, the word ‘protein’ blares out, so that even a casual passer-by cannot help but take in that Halo Top is a good source of the much-sought-after nutrient.
Hitting the sweet spot
Established kingpins of the frozen trade Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs probably aren’t pleased by this upstart. In fact Unilever, which owns Wall’s as well as Ben & Jerry’s, recently blamed Halo Top for the underperformance of its ice cream portfolio in the third quarter of 2017. That’s despite the fact that Unilever attempted to reproduce Halo Top’s success by launching a new line through brand Breyers to directly compete.
Other independent businesses have made their own attempt at low-calorie options. In American supermarkets, Enlightened, Arctic Zero and Edy’s have all gone toe to toe with Halo Top, but failed to match the success. Partly, this may be due to failing to capture ice cream texture (specifically in the case of dairy-free Arctic Zero) or less exciting ingredient choices. The biggest factor, however, is marketing, according to Halo Top. And when we say marketing, we mean carefully planned usage of social media. Think gorgeous Instagram pictures and disruptive adverts placed on digital channels.
Is the UK missing an angel?
While Halo Top’s position in the US seems pretty solid, how will it fare elsewhere? In the UK, Alpro, Perfect World and Oppo are independents already targeting a similar market. Tesco, Waitrose and Whole Foods all stock one or both of these brands. And the bigger players are wise to Halo Top’s game now, meaning they may attempt to pre-emptively squeeze it out of the market before it can make an impact.
‘Low-calorie ice cream,’ the title itself feels like an oxymoron. I can see why it would grow in popularity with the health-conscious crowd. However, most people buy ice cream as an indulgence, so the nutritional label might be less important than in other cases.
We have seen that with the growth of health trends there has also been a significant growth in the premium indulgence market. It is interesting to see that while the clear focus is on healthy eating right now, there are some consumers who either outright reject the movement or, when they take a break from that healthy diet, want pure indulgent foods.
Going back to the product, because of this split market, I think it is quite hard to tell exactly how well it will do. But it will be interesting to monitor it and see how other products may fare in the future.
Update: Tesco and Ocado will stock Halo Top from January 2, according to The Grocer.