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by DietWrite, Diet.com's Diet and Fitness News Reporter

 
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Americans clearly love the cold treat. In 2005, total U.S. sales of ice cream and frozen desserts reached $21.6 billion, including $13.5 billion spent at scoop shops, stands, and restaurants, and $8.2 billion on consumption at home, according to the 2006 Dairy Facts/International Ice Cream Association.

While ice cream is notoriously a dangerous food to dieters, manufacturers have focused on creating lighter versions to keep business up. Reduced-fat, light, low-fat and nonfat ice cream account for 23.5 percent of the frozen dessert market, followed by frozen yogurt at 4.3 percent, water ice at 4.3 percent and sherbet at 3.6 percent, according to the USDA's 2005 U.S. production figures.

In the past 20 years, researchers have developed healthier frozen treats that taste as good as full fat versions. Experts say that popularity is growing for nutritious ice cream alternatives.

"We're lucky," says Melissa Mattilio, consumer marketing manager for Turkey Hill Dairy. "We're living in an age where products are good for you and taste pretty good too. You don't have to settle for them anymore."

Lynda Utterback, executive director of the National Ice Cream Retailers Association, says the gelato business is on the rise. The Italian treat often contains less butterfat than American ice creams and is being sold in neighborhoods around the country. In January, Turkey Hill Dairy introduced Italian-inspired Duetto, which is half vanilla soft-serve and half fruity Venice ice.

Frozen yogurt is gaining popularity in the health community, as many new products contain bacteria-fighting probiotics. Yogen Früz, currently is available in 30 countries, is entering the U.S. market this year with probiotic-packed non-fat and low-fat frozen yogurt products. Craig, director of business development for Yogen Früz, said the step makes sense because there's more awareness of and demand in the U.S. for healthy frozen desserts.

"People know that if they move toward healthier snacks in between main meals, it's a move in the right direction," says Craig.

TCBY has had smoothies on the menu for years, but recently created a healthier formula for consumers. Ten new flavors of the Beriyo smoothie, a mix of 96 percent fat-free frozen yogurt and fruit, will be introduced in July. Brand manager Steve Willes says the product is a healthy option for consumers and an opportunity for stores to increase their daytime sales, since smoothies are popular in the morning and afternoon.

After changing its frozen yogurt production process, within six months Dreyer's/Edy's Slow Churned watched a double-digit decline in frozen yogurt sales transform into double-digit growth, says Suzanne Ginestro, senior brand manager for Dreyer's and Edy's Slow Churned ice cream. The brand’s new slow-churn method allows fat to disperse better throughout the product, making the yogurt feel richer and creamier. A similar change also boosted the brand's light ice cream sales.

Weight Watchers offers portion-controlled products such as giant chocolate cookies and cream ice cream bars, as well as 6-ounce, two-pack ice cream cups that only look like dieting disasters. By making smaller serving sizes and using healthy ingredients, the products are low in fat and calories.

"When people are watching what they eat they still want those flavors and tastes they get when they're not," says Adam Baumgartner, marketing manager for Wells' Dairy. "The more intense, the better received the product is by consumers. It emulates what they can't get."

-- Diet.com News

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@ 2:56pm ET on May 29, 2007
I love ice cream. A lot. My problem is that most ice creams and frozen yogurts have trans fats. I always manage to find one or two that don't but I hate the fact that I can't eat every flavour and type.

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