Halo Top is making the biggest change to the recipe of its low-calorie ice cream in its history as the pioneering better-for-you brand in the category works to regain its footing amid a sharp decline in sales.
The frozen offering is switching to ultra-filtered milk with concentrated protein to create a creamier texture while maintaining the same taste and low calorie and sugar attributes that thrust it into prominence and helped it wrestle away market share from industry stalwarts such as Breyers and Ben & Jerry's. Previously, Halo Top used skim milk and added in the protein solids later.
A frequent criticism levied against better-for-you ice creams, Halo Top said, is that they are not as creamy in texture as regular ice cream.
Wells Enterprises, which owns Blue Bunny ice cream and other frozen treats, "started tinkering and thinking" about how to improve the texture of the low-calorie snack shortly after buying it in 2019, according to Ryan Roznowski, senior brand manager for Halo Top.
During the next two and a half years, Wells created hundreds of different iterations of the ice cream before selecting the new recipe and replacements for its 21 different flavors. Wells had fans of the brand try the new varieties.
"We were very, very careful that we were strictly improving and that we weren't doing anything to a product that so many people love out there and that it was going to be detrimental," Roznowski said. "All the testing shows, this is the one."
The first flavor to incorporate Halo Top’s creamier texture is its new Chocolate Cake Batter — a chocolatey cake batter flavored ice cream with colored sprinkles — that is debuting just in time to celebrate the brand’s 10th birthday. Most of Halo Top's other flavors with the new recipe will be available in grocery stores nationwide later this spring.
After launching in 2012 in a Los Angeles garage, Halo Top skyrocketed from zero to market dominance within five years through its then-novel approach of posting the ice cream's calorie count prominently on the front of its packaging and touting its high protein and low sugar content. It quickly rose to become the No. 1 selling pint of ice cream in the U.S.
After sales soared a staggering 680% to $373 million as recently as 2017, Halo Top has seen declines each of the past four calendar years, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. In 2021, sales of the low-calorie ice cream totaled nearly $211 million, a decline of 43% from 2017. Halo Top was the 16th most popular ice cream and frozen dessert brand in the U.S. based on retail sales in 2019 compared to 21st last year, according to Euromonitor.
But there were signs of a turnaround for the brand even before the switch to ultrafiltered milk. Halo Top, which has the No. 1 dollar share in the better-for-you pint segment, according to Nielsen data provided by the company, has seen household penetration rise 14% during the past year. In the last 52 weeks ending March 20, dollar sales have stabilized — likely the result of a 10-cent increase in the average price — though unit sales have continued to slip, IRI data showed.
The decline for Halo Top in recent years is the result of robust competition as big brands, enamored with the upstart's success, debuted their own offerings.
Unilever's Breyers brand responded by launching a low-calorie, high-protein line called Breyers Delights featuring labeling and packaging similar to Halo Top. The company followed up with low-fat, low-calorie products from its Ben & Jerry's brand and with its Culture Republick line of probiotic ice cream. Even retail giant Target rolled out its own Halo Top-esque ice cream from in-house brand Archer Farms. Other upstart brands have since entered the market with their own offerings.
"You've got a lot of competitors out there that kind of tried to take our formula and make it their own and it's a more competitive market," Roznowski said. "We hope that as we continue improving the core behind the Halo Top product that fans will continue to vote with their bellies. We thought that improved texture might really move the needle."
In recent years, Halo Top has expanded its reach in frozen treats with sorbets, bars and frozen fruit pops. Roznowski said Halo Top is planning to bring the brand into other categories during the next few years, which could include its first foray beyond frozen. He declined to discuss what new products are being considered.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see Halo Top continue to branch out further and further," he said. "Wells is a frozen treats company, right? That's obviously the bread and butter of what we'll continue to do and it's where all of our business is today, but never say never."