Early forecasts from Spain's ice cream manufacturers' association (AEFH) suggest that the momentum gathered as a result of last year's heatwave has been largely maintained in 2004, although sales are unlikely to reach the same levels of growth.Volumes rose by 5.3 per cent to around 343 million litres, some 8 litres per capita. But this remains well below the European average, roughly in line with colder, northern European countries such as Belgium and Germany and well below the levels seen in France, Portugal and Greece. Consumers in Finland and Sweden, for example, eat around 12 litres per capita, while Irish per capita intake is around 9 litres.
Value sales, meanwhile, rose by 9.3 per cent last year to €1.7 billion, reflecting the fact that impulse products, the most likely to be lifted by hot weather, tend to be the most expensive, added-value products. The association said that Spain has more impulse ice cream outlets than any other European nation: some 400,000, or one for every 100 people, reflecting the importance of the impulse channel.
Indeed, while impulse sales account for around 35 per cent of total volumes, roughly the same as in most other countries, Spain differs from most of its European neighbours in that the take-home sector is far smaller - 34 per cent of sales, well below the EU average - and the horeca sector (hotels, restaurants, catering) is far larger, at 31 per cent.
The optimism about 2004 comes despite a poor start to the year, when sales were impacted by bad spring weather, and is based in part on a growing trend towards all-year-round consumption. Ice cream has tended to be viewed primarily as a summer product in Spain, but efforts by manufacturers and the industry association to promote it as a wholesome, flavoursome dessert for consumption at any time of year are beginning to pay off, with a steady increase in volumes through the (albeit lower margin) take-home segment.
Last year saw take-home sales increase by 12.9 per cent in volume and 14.6 per cent in value; in contrast, impulse sales rose 3.4 per cent in volume and 8.6 per cent in value.
Product launches should also keep the momentum going in 2004, AEFH said, with a raft of low-calorie products, snack variants of popular ice cream brands and new exotic flavours keeping consumer interest in the sector high.
The association said it had also worked hard to dispel some of the myths about ice cream - such as its fat content - and has focused much of its promotional material on how to include calcium-rich ice cream as part of a healthy balanced diet.