‘Healthy’ ice cream brand worth $2 billion
ICE cream is not the kind of food you'd expect to see an activewear-clad fitness blogger flogging on Instagram, but a new "healthy" brand has managed to turn the naughty dessert into a $2 billion wellness industry success story.
Halo Top ice cream was founded by Los Angeles lawyer Justin Woolverton in 2012 and launched in Australia in 2016.
Mr Woolverton, a self-described "ice cream afficiondo", wanted to eat low-calorie ice cream made with natural ingredients that still tasted good.
The brand's big selling point is that a whole tub of the low-sugar, low-fat dessert contains between 280 and 360 calories. That's about a third of the calories in other ice creams like Ben & Jerry's.
The calorie count is displayed in big font on the front of the tub, along with a note about its protein content.
Halo Top ice cream is now sold in Coles and Woolworths at $10 for a 473mL tub.
Most ice creams come in one or two litre tubs and cost the same amount, or slightly cheaper. Woolworths sells a one litre tub of Connoisseur Cookies & Cream for $10 - the same price as the smaller tub of Halo Top - while Bulla's Original Vanilla two litre tub costs $5.60.
Yet, both Coles and Woolworths told news.com.au Halo Top is one of their most popular ice cream products.
Halo Top's Australian CEO Mez Jamali says the company has benefited from the growing global consumer trend towards healthy eating.
"More and more people are choosing to buy healthier products. We spent a long time in the early days crafting an ice cream base and formula ... by using organic stevia as a sweetener," Mr Jamali told news.com.au.
"Everyone loves ice cream but before Halo Top they weren't able to incorporate it into a healthy lifestyle without feeling a little guilty," Mr Jamali said.
While Mr Jamali would not provide specific revenue figures, he said sales for the month of February - the same month that Halo Top launched in Coles - the company had "more sales than all of 2016 and the first half of 2017, combined".
In January, the New York Post reported that Unilever was close to buying Halo Top for a reported $US2 billion ($A2.6 billion), but "got cold feet". The US branch of the company generates $US400 million ($A518 million) in annual sales.
Unilever owns Ben & Jerry's, Magnum and Streets ice cream and The Post's source claimed Unilever is introducing its own low-calorie ice cream to compete with Halo Top.
Halo Top doesn't market itself using traditional channels. Instead, it "gifts" its products to online fitness influencers who post photos of themselves decked out in activewear, abs on show, holding a tub of ice cream.
"We started off really focused on digital and social, with more than 90 per cent of our efforts on Facebook and Instagram," Halo Top vice president of marketing Lenny Chase told Business Insider. "We're 100 per cent a digitally native brand."
According to a November 2017 report from IBIS World about Australia's ice cream market, healthy, more expensive tubs of ice cream are becoming increasingly popular with Aussie consumers.
"Ice cream manufacturers ... are likely to continue ramping up production of low-fat, low-sugar, soy and organic ice cream to appeal to a wider range of consumers," the report said.
The report said consumers are willing to fork out a lot of cash for a premium, "healthier" product.
"Affluent consumers with more income to spend on non-essential items such as ice cream are likely to make their purchase decisions according to quality and taste rather than price, which benefits premium ice cream manufacturers," the report states.
"This segment has been the fastest growing in the industry as operators have introduced new premium ice creams targeted at consumers with more disposable income," it says.
"Demand for this segment tends to be less sensitive to price changes. Although these products are expensive compared with other ice cream products, they are often considered affordable luxury items. This segment has grown as a proportion of industry revenue over the past five years."
But just how healthy can ice cream really be?
In 2016 science journalist Shane Snow lost 4.5kg after writing in GQ magazine about eating nothing but Halo Top for 10 days.
For the record, founder Mr Woolverton told the Financial Times: "We didn't even know that article was coming. We never would recommend anybody do that."
Nutritionist Susie Burrell said as far as ice cream goes, this is pretty healthy.
"Nutritionally, there's nothing wrong with them," she said. "They're lower in sugar and fat, they're very sound nutritionally. It allows people to have their tasty treat in a lower calorie format."
What you're paying for in that $10 is years of research and development.
"They are using the best of modern day food technology and ingredients to create products that have the same taste and flavours with significantly less calories," Ms Burrell said.
The best thing about the ice cream, she said, is that even if you do eat the whole tub, it won't be disastrous for your health.
"Because you're not getting those stimulants from the sugar, from a weight control perspective it won't impact your weight and trigger overeating," she said.
"It's good for portion control. The portion is limiting so you can't really overeat it."