National brands no doubt have an edge in the ice cream aisle, but regional selections are holding their own.
The limited distribution of a regional ice cream can work in its favor because it provides an alternative for consumers, some retailers said.
"Customers seem to like having the option of buying a local product," said Susan Pieter, spokeswoman for Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine.
Regional brands of ice cream carried in Hannaford's stores include Deering and Friendly's, plus Maola in the Southeast and Borden in New York, Pieter said.
"All the brands are popular. Our customers seem to like the variety. Regional brands are given space about equal to that of the national brands," she said.
At Pay Less Supermarkets, Anderson, Ind., regional ice cream brands account for more than one-half of ice cream sales, according to Rod Boni, grocery merchandiser.
"Regional brands are very strong. They are represented in almost every category of ice cream," Boni said. "They have a following."
Regional brands carried in Pay Less stores include Home Made, Blue Bunny, Maplehurst, Dairy Charm, Old Time, Prairie Farms and Old Recipe, he said.
"Regional brands of ice cream are very important to us and to our customers. They provide us with more marketing opportunities. They give customers a choice, offering a wider variety, from value to middle range to premium," Boni said.
Lou Scaduto Jr., frozens and dairy supervisor at Food Circus, Middletown, N.J., pointed out that some regional ice cream brands outperform their national counterparts.
Customers know the regional brands by name, and they have good reputations for quality, he said.
"Customers like the fact they are not mass-produced. Welsh Farms is made with a heavy solid content and is considered a good value," Scaduto said.
Regional brands carried include Turkey Hill, Welsh Farms, Friendly's and Dolly Madison.
Food Circus, which operates 12 Foodtown supermarkets, allocates about 17 doors (five shelves per door) of freezer case to ice cream. Each regional brand represents roughly 3.5% of total ice cream space, he said.
"Turkey Hill is our No. 1 selling ice cream at regular retail. Welsh Farms is very strong at regular retail," he said.
The everyday price of the regional brands tends to be lower than that of the national brands, he added.
Sales performance of a specific regional brand varies by location, Scaduto said. For example, Welsh Farms sells particularly well in the Southern half of the company's marketing area, he said.
At Hy-Vee Food Stores, West Des Moines, Iowa, regional ice cream brands seem to get the most shelf space and perform the strongest in the stores operating closest to the ice cream supplier's headquarters city, according to Mark McQuistan, vice president of sales and purchasing at Perishable Distributors of Iowa, a Hy-Vee subsidiary that distributes perishables to the stores. Regional brands available to the stores include Kemp's, Andrew Erickson, Wells Blue Bunny, Meadow Gold, Borden, Robert's and Bel Fonte.
"The Hy-Vee stores operate in a seven-state area. The Kemp's plant is in Minnesota, so our Minnesota stores carry a lot of Kemp's ice cream," McQuistan said.
BelFonte is carried by the Hy-Vee stores in the Iowa market area, though some Des Moines stores may not carry it at all. Anderson Erickson ice cream is carried in stores within a 100-mile radius of Des Moines, he said.
"We didn't carry Robert's brand a year ago. But now we are handling it through our warehouse. This gives all our stores the opportunity to carry it," McQuistan said.
Regional brands have had a presence in the Midwest for a long time and generate strong sales.
"Some of the national brands have found better brokers and now are getting better penetration into the cases. Hy-Vee is expanding ice cream in its newest outlets. The new stores are larger and devote more space to the category," McQuistan said.
At Roth IGA Foodliners, Salem, Ore., regional brands carried include Deluxe Quality Checked, Dutch Girl and Umpqua, according to Bob Pitzer, retail merchandiser.
"Deluxe gets more case space than the national brands because we promote that and our private label more heavily, probably once or twice a month," Pitzer said.
"Dutch Girl does better than most of its competitors in light ice cream and frozen yogurt varieties," he added.
Umpqua is comparable to the national brands in space allocation, but usually sells better than the national brands, Pitzer said. He said Umpqua has high quality and very competitive prices, usually 50 to 80 cents below the national brand on everyday price. But the national brands are often priced lower on promotion.
In general, the regional brands tend to be priced lower than the national brands, but promotion frequency is about equal for most of the regional and national brands (excluding Deluxe), Pitzer said.
Regional brands of ice cream carried by Magruders, Rockville, Md., include Green, Pen Supreme, Friendly's and Jack & Jill, said Mark Polsky, senior vice president.
The regional brands get about equal space vs. national brands, but are promoted much more often, he said.
"We feature the regional brands a lot. People like them. All four are good sellers. At least one is promoted every week of the year, sometimes more than one," Polsky said.
A typical promotion of a premium-quality regional brand of ice cream features a price of two for $5, he said.
It is not unusual for Food Circus to feature ice cream at a hot price, such as $2.49 for the half-gallon, plus provide a coupon that brings the price down to $1.99, Scaduto said.
Ice cream brands carried in the warehouse tend to be promoted more frequently than brands that are direct-store-delivered, which seems to be the objective of the local cooperative, he said.
A warehoused brand of ice cream may be featured every other week, while a DSD ice cream may get one ad per month, he said. "In this market, consumers don't have to buy ice cream at a regular price," Scaduto said.