NEW YORK, United States — Following the astronomical success of the low-calorie, low-sugar, high-protein ice cream brand Halo Top, Unilever US is introducing a new player into the frozen dessert market with a probiotic ice cream called Culture Republick.
The move represents efforts by Unilever to claw back the 1.5 share points lost to Halo Top, the fastest-selling food brand of 2017, boasting sales of $342.2 million, according to a report by Food Business News.
It also signifies a clear strategy by the consumer goods giant to appeal to the health-conscious consumer.
The launch of Culture Republick also highlights Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), which underpins the company’s strategy and commitment to “help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being by 2020”.
“Globally, the company’s sustainable living brands are growing 50% faster than the rest of the business and delivered more than 60% of the company’s growth in 2016,” according to the company.
On the surface, the decision to include probiotics appears to be a shrewd one. According to a Global Markets Insights report released in 2016, the probiotics category is expected to grow to $64 billion by 2023.
At the same time, the GWI reports that the Healthy Eating, Nutrition and Weight Loss sector grew by an annual 4.1% between 2015 and 2017 to over $700 billion, half a percentage point faster than global economic growth.
It also mirrors a more health-conscious strategy from Nestlé, the Swiss company known for the iconic KitKat bar, who this year sold off its US candy business, bought Canadian dietary supplement maker Atrium and launched an ambitious health program that uses DNA testing and artificial intelligence to create personalised diet plans.
However, Unilever could risk facing a backlash concerning the physiological and psychological implications of “healthifying” one of the world’s favourite treats, which are yet to be fully understood.
A recent investigation by UK magazine Elle into the booming “healthy” ice cream market found that although the ingredients – swapping out sugar for artificial sweeteners such as Stevia and fat for polydextrose – are for the most part safe, suggesting these products can be consumed “guilt-free” is not.
Professor Alan Mackie from the school of food science and nutrition at the University of Leeds believes the marketing of these products could, in fact, advocate binge eating.
“It’s a very poor message, to encourage people to eat the whole thing,” he said, in the article. “One of the major problems that drives obesity is portion size, which is up significantly in the past 20 years. If we’re selling the idea that you can eat as much as you want of this ice cream, we’re distorting what we think of as normal.
“It is inevitable that we will see more of these products on the market but I think we’d be better off having smaller quantities of good quality ice cream,” he added.
A pint-sized tub of Culture Republick contains three billion live active cultures, 400-500 calories, 16-18g of protein, 11-12g of fibre and no artificial sweeteners. By comparison, one tub of Halo Top vanilla bean flavour ice cream is 280 calories, with 5.8g of sugar per serving. A tub of Breyers vanilla – also owned by Unilever – is 290 calories. That’s approximately 50% fewer calories and 50% less sugar per 100g than similar ice cream products.
It remains to be seen if Halo Top’s remarkable 2017 success was an outlier or if the “healthy” ice cream market is indeed a guaranteed cash cow.
However, beyond having live probiotic cultures in the ice cream, the new brand also aims to support culture within the US — 10 percent of the brand’s profits will support the arts in local communities.