In recent years, the majority of growth across the domestic ice cream sector has centered on premium, super-premium and luxury chocolate products targeted at the adult impulse market - an area traditionally dominated by larger food manufacturers such as Nestlé, Unilever and MasterFoods (Mars).
These impulse products can be found in branded freezer cabinets in stores up and down the country, but the nature of the market (focused on smaller high street outlets rather than major supermarkets) means that smaller players have found it hard to gain a foothold. Brand manufacturers insist that freezers they supply free of charge to smaller retailers remain stocked only with their products, and space constraints generally mean that stores can sell just a limited range of impulse items.
But advances in processing and packaging technology are now giving smaller retailers, and smaller ice cream manufacturers, the opportunity to gain market share in the fast-growing impulse sector.
A Kent-based company called One-Shot has created a new ice cream dispensing system which allows small stores to create high quality products at the point of sale without the need for large freezer cabinets or a substantial outlay.
The system involves a patented single serve container - available in both 160ml and 250ml formats - which comes with a star shaped extrusion nozzle. When the ice cream is required, the tab is removed and the container inserted into a small wall-mounted dispensing unit, which then squeezes the ice cream out of the nozzle.
The dispensing system also allows the incorporation of nuts, fruit, chocolate chips and multiple flavours - all of which were previously difficult to incorporate by using traditional dispensing solutions - thus enabling smaller ice cream producers to offer branded products with a level of sophistication to rival the major impulse brands.
One-Shot claims that its system, in addition to being simple and cost-effective, also takes up a relatively small amount of space, and can be installed by any novelty cabinet distributor, as well as being branded to suit.
Speaking to DairyReporter.com Shane McGill, managing director of One-Shot, said: "Soft ice cream and milkshakes have been produced for decades using equipment at the POS that is expensive to operate and requires complicated cleaning processes."
"Today, the industry is turning to higher quality products with total product integrity by supplying it in smart packaging suitable for dispensing or blending on simple and inexpensive equipment that requires no cleaning process, he added.
The company claims that its system has already enjoyed outstanding success in the Japanese market - with in excess of 30,000 One-Shot dispensers currently installed, and with sales growth exceeding 1,000 a month.
One-Shot hopes it will be able to emulate the popularity of its products in the UK market by cashing in on the increasing demand for hand-held products marketed towards the impulse-buy market.
According to a market research report from analysts Mintel, UK ice-cream sales in 2003 were valued at £1.3 million, seeing a 4.4 per cent increase over the five years from 1999 to 2003.