Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group Unilever has announced plans for a major shake up of its €5 billion ice cream business, including increased investment in marketing and development.
The company is already the world's leading supplier of ice cream, but over the next three years plans to carve an even bigger chunk of the market for itself, and in particular for its Heart brand of ice cream (known in the Netherlands as Ola, as Wall's in the UK, Algida in Italy and Langnese in Germany).
The 20 per cent increase in marketing and development expenditure is part of Unilever's Path to Growth strategy, which over the last three years has seen the company refocus on its core operations such as spreads and sauces and hair and skincare products.
But now it is the turn of Unilever's ice cream business, which includes brands such as Magnum and Cornetto.
Unilever's joint chairman Antony Burgmans said: "We are starting from a position of significant strength having grown our ice cream business by 4 per cent last year. As the global market leader, we identified huge potential for growth within the ice cream industry. With a market share of 17 per cent there is plenty of room for profitable growth. We have the ambition, imagination and the confidence to back our plans with significant investment."
These sentiments were shared by Robert Polet, president of Unilever's global ice cream operations. "We are moving with the change in consumer lifestyles and trends. To achieve this we will present our Heart brand Ola [and all of its variant forms] in an entirely new way, creating a powerful brand that will unify our ice cream products. Unilever today sets out to offer consumers fun ice cream experiences that allow them to break away from hectic modern day life."
This new 'ice cream experience' will essentially involve a change in the packaging and point-of-sale materials for all the Heart brand variants later this summer in order to communicate the new brand to consumers. The various brand names will not change, however.
A pan-European marketing campaign has been developed around the Heart brand to further build its values and credentials among consumers. This will include a significant European TV advertising campaign that will build the new brand positioning and feature its well-known brands such as Cornetto, Magnum and Solero.
Another important element of the campaign is associating the Heart brand with music. Unilever has formed a partnership with MTV called Shakedown which will entail the launch of "the biggest dance talent competition there has ever been in Europe" as well as a variety of music events.
Even the humble ice cream van is to get a major makeover as part of the Unilever programme. A new prototype van, which includes a specialist DJ area, sound system and interactive plasma screens, will be touring Europe this summer.
Consumers will now also be able to serve themselves with van-style soft ice cream at home thanks to new Unilever dispensing technology, the company added.
Last month we reported on the launch of a new savoury ice cream product in the Philippines, and Unilever is keen to develop products in this vein - such as curry- or cheese-flavoured ice cream - to bring them a wider audience.
"Many of the new developments will feature in the newly launched ice cream bars, that build on consumer trends of 'freshly made' and 'customisation', where consumers will be able to have fun in creating their own ice cream," Unilever said. Over 90 heart-branded ice cream bars are about to open across Europe this year, it added.
Other initiatives unveiled by the Anglo-Dutch group include the presentation of a new clothing and accessories range, called The Heart Collection, which includes bikinis, leisure tops, men's shorts and bags and is available via the newly developed website.
Kees van der Graaf, president of Unilever's European ice cream business concluded: "The future of ice cream is all about offering the consumer relevant and exciting experiences that are delivering fun, choice and delicious taste."
Ice cream contributes 20 per cent to Unilever's food portfolio and 10 per cent to the total portfolio.