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Ben & Jerry's is to ice cream what Godiva is to chocolate-a symbol of the richest.

But it's also among the fattiest, and now that consumers are paying more attention to the Nutrition Facts labels on all food packages, high-fat products like Ben & Jerry ice cream are vulnerable.

Sales of superpremium ice creams in general slowed last year, growing just 1.8% compared with 8.4% in 1993, according to International Ice Cream Association. But at Ben & Jerry's Homemade, sales dropped 9.6% to $103.5 million for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 29, 1995, according to Information Resources Inc.

Sales at another premium player, Pillsbury's Haagen-Dazs Co., were also down for the period, declining 6.7% to $138 million.

Ben & Jerry's admits fat consciousness may be leading more consumers to read the nutrition labels, resulting in them choosing frozen desserts lower in fat. But fat consciousness is nothing new.

The company's first low-fat yogurt was introduced in 1992, and just last month Ben & Jerry's introduced another product aimed at the svelte-at-heart: Ben & Jerry's no-fat frozen yogurt.

The Nutrition Facts labels "have affected Ben & Jerry's superindulgent products especially," says Steve Galbraith, a food analyst with Sanford C. Berstein & Co. "Basically, it's a heart attack in a pint."

Peanut butter, which ranges at about 16 grams of fat per serving, is another category Mr. Galbraith believes is getting hit hard by the label-reading trend. Sales of smooth and chunky peanut butter combined were down 4% in 1994 to $736 million, according to IRI. Category leader Jif, from Procter & Gamble Co., with $231 million in sales last year, saw its sales slide 7% for the smooth variety and 15% for chunk variety.

Interestingly, while superpremium ice cream sales flag, premium ice cream brands are up. According to the International Ice Cream Association, premium brand sales climbed 5.9% in '94.

One premium marketer trying to use Nutrition Facts labels to its advantage is Thomas J. Lipton Inc.'s Good Humor-Breyer's unit.

The company is focusing on ingredients labels in its new advertising for Breyer's all-natural ice cream. TV spots that broke last month show two children comparing ice cream ingredient lists. For the child reading the Breyer's label, the list is simple: milk, cream, sugar, vanilla. But her friend has a much more difficult time deciphering the multisyllabic ingredients on her box's label.

The spot, created by Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, uses the tagline: "Moms who read labels choose Breyer's All-Natural ice cream in the black pack."

"People are paying more attention to both ingredients lists and nutrition content of various foods," says Dick Newman, VP-marketing at Good Humor-Breyer's.

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