Forecasting trends and servicing the needs of customers drives both manufacturers’ and retailers’ business. Tastes are always changing, and staying ahead of the curve is important. To be successful in meeting the needs of customers and retailers’ bottom line, manufacturers must hit four key points.

First, the retailer category buyers are looking to the manufacturers as trend-spotters. It is the manufacturers’ responsibility to look across all retail categories, as well as foodservice, and make recommendations that delight the consumer and fulfill the retailers’ requirements for profit and volume movement. Companies must remain nimble enough to constantly review what’s happening in their core marketing areas as well as other marketing areas nationwide. As far as the ice cream industry goes, sometimes it is as simple as ordering dessert in a restaurant and combining flavors and mouthfeel.

Next, to bring a concept to fruition, you must have a solid partnership with ingredient suppliers, the retail broker and manufacturing team. Go for a reality check with your team before taking a run at something. It is easy to say something cannot be done, but those leading the categories always look to see how they can turn an obstacle into an opportunity.

Once the product is ready, finding out how the consumer will respond is very important. All too often a new item will look like a winner from like-category measurement to growth trend to foodservice acceptance, but when the product hits the shelves, it just doesn’t sell. Be innovative in your approach to avoiding this—using flavor testers, for instance. Flavor testers are a select group of consumers that test products for taste analyses. Ask one simple question: Would they buy it? Once you get positive feedback, move to making the product.

None of this matters unless a consumer walks into a retail outlet and finds that what he/she wants is already on the shelf, available for purchase. Without the ability to get product to the shelf and keep it on the shelf, nothing else matters. As a service-oriented company, it’s critical to take a hands-on approach to managing a production forecast, shipping enough inventory and keeping enough inventory in stock. Having solid business relationships in place allows manufacturers to properly forecast and build inventories, thus driving warehouse distributors to supply retailers. In the end, it comes down to having the product available when and where the consumer wants it.

How quality product drives retailers’ bottom line
Consumers want high-quality goods, and are willing to pay a reasonable price for them. Develop a unique super-premium ingredients and consistent manufacturing process, where suppliers are reviewed and inspected on a regular basis and held to very high standards. Super-premium as a segment is determined by quality of ingredients, butterfat content and the amount of overrun (air) in the product. Super-premium brands must continue to source the right combination of ingredients, such as superior local milk and cream, and must produce to very high standards. Price is secondary to a focus on consistent high quality and as many local ingredients as possible. By doing this, opportunity is created for retailers to deliver on customers’ expectations, which drives the category.

Managing regulations unique to the ice cream industry
There are standards in identification for ice cream and frozen yogurt, however several sub-segments in the category in which the government has been vague relate to identification. For example, gelato. Currently there is not an American standard for gelato. In Europe however, there is a firm identification relative to butterfat levels and over-run.

An issue not unique to ice cream but important just the same is the matter of processing cocoa with alkali. The alkali process, or “ditching,” is utilized to gain a level of consistency in flavor profile, color and tone of the chocolate. The process reduces bitterness and improves the taste.

The concern over processing with alkali is that it is done with potash, a naturally occurring result of burning certain types of trees. If naturally created potash is utilized, then it leaves no residue. Issues arise when companies develop a chemical substitute, undermining its all-natural state, therefore producing no differentiation in the labeling. The FDA has not stepped in to assert their authority on the issue, even though European standards are more stringent and cocoa processed with alkali is standard there.

Taking a leading role in sustainability, energy efficiency
When major decisions are made, the question is asked, “How will this affect the next two generations?” Regardless of the company, as far as efficiency goes, all points in the distribution system are challenged to meet delivery effectiveness and cost-efficiency goals while doing what’s right for the planet. There is a regulatory trend toward reducing emissions and fuel consumption. To that end, many more companies are utilizing non-fossil fuels for their fleets. Though diesel is currently more cost-effective, consider the past as we plan for the future. It is in everyone’s best interest to have alternatives.

Ice cream itself has been a little bit slower to adopt the use of fair-trade and non-GMOcertifications. Do research on where products are coming from, the source of the ingredients. There are ingredients that are harvested and processed in ways that are not fair to the workers or the farmers. How much of what is paid for certifications actually makes it back to the farmers, and how much goes to the certifying company? These are important questions to consider.

There is a significant increase in the use of biodegradable packaging with a great number of the packaging types utilized in Europe migrating to American supermarkets. Though some changes in equipment are going to be required, some of the newer packaging types will create excitement with consumer.