Consumers of superpremium ice cream in pints are looking for quality. Almost everyone else is looking for price when they buy ice cream in half-gallons.
The preoccupation with price is a big factor in consumers' purchasing choices for branded half-gallons, said buyers, and it's a shot in the arm for private-label packages.
"In the half-gallon segment, whatever is on sale is what the customer will take home," said Gina Lindsey, perishables merchandiser for Bi-Lo, Mauldin, S.C. "We've done some buy-one-get-one-free sales with Breyers and Sealtest, and we've had some incredible sales. Our private label also always does well. Our private-label sales are great."
Bi-Lo's experience is not uncommon. According to Nielsen Marketing Research, Northbrook, Ill., sales of controlled brands of bulk ice cream were more than $600 million for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 11, 1993. Although down 0.5% from the previous 52-week period, that still accounts for more than 28% of all bulk ice cream sales.
"We sell more nonpremium ice cream than the superpremiums," said Lonnie Johnson, pricing manager for Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. "Our private label is our best seller. It's made by Highland Dairy. And our second-best seller is the Highland Dairy brand."
"We just ran our private label at 99 cents per half-gallon," said Michael Kennedy, vice president of operations for Super Place Supermarkets, Mansfield, Mass. "Obviously, our numbers go way up with those types of prices."
"The rise in sales of superpremiums hasn't hurt other sales," said Jerry Graham, vice president of grocery for Dan's Food Stores, Salt Lake City. "Our own label does better than any of the others."
"What's moving well for us is what's always moved well -- your $1.49 controlled-brand ice cream that you run on special for 99 cents," said a buyer at a North Carolina-based chain. "We run it on sale about twice a quarter, but it generally does well even without being on sale. The 5-quart plastic container does well, also."
"Whatever's in the ad is what sells," said Gerald Elder, general manager and buyer for Lawrence Bros., Sweetwater, Texas. "Blue Bell is always a strong seller," he added. Nielsen numbers back that up. For the period mentioned above, Blue Bell was second only to Breyers in sales volume, although the brand is only available in eight states.
"They have a good premium ice cream," Elder said. "They do a good job of advertising and they take care of their vendors. They don't push any bad products."
Dave Menke, buyer and director of marketing for No-Frills Supermarkets, Omaha, Neb., also has a local manufacturer with whom he's happy. "Well's Blue Bunny is a local manufacturer. Their products do well. Our private label is also manufactured by them. Kemps from Minnesota has just come into our market and they seem to be doing well. They're just starting to get a foothold here," he added.
Several retailers also mentioned novelties as a segment that responds especially well to price promotions. Roger Cooper, buyer for Yokes Washington Foods, Spokane, Wash., said value-priced novelties are doing well.
"The novelty business is where the excitement is," he said. "Prices like $3 or $3.49 for six-packs or eight-packs of novelties get people excited. We're working with a dairy on a 99-cent six-pack of ice cream sandwiches that have done well for us."