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Milanesi Scream for Ice Cream

September 2011

By Claudia Franco, Milan

I am a self-professed ice cream addict. When a craving strikes, I run to one of Milan's RivaReno shops for an unctuously decadent “Alice” or to Grom for a goblet of fresh strawberry ice cream topped with fresh whipped cream, well aware of the fact that my craving will force me to face an inevitable queue. “Ice cream mania” has indeed swept Milano down to the last health-conscious, figure-watching Milanese.

Fifty percent of ice cream consumed in Italy is now “homemade-style,” created with natural ingredients and designed to cater to health gurus and gourmands alike as most brands come signed and sealed by dieticians and nutritionists. There are now more than 500 “homemade-style” ice cream shops in Milano alone, with brands and chains cropping up like mushrooms in Italy—and beyond. Amongst these ice cream makers, brands are differentiating themselves in two distinctive ways, promoting themselves as “healthy” and natural or basing their branding on the glorious Italian tradition and heritage of gelato.

Pro-health brands are promoting ice cream as a real step towards wellness rather than as a sin of gluttony. The notion that food is medicinal is as, after all, old as Hippocrates, the very “Father of Medicine.” Valsoia has, for years, used the motto “deliciously healthy” and Grom’s changing organic menu boasts seasonal flavors that contain no artificial ingredients, colorings, or additives. Grom plans to create a whole menu of fruit sorbets suitable for diabetics and it currently collaborates with the Italian Celiac Association, providing a variety of gluten-free options, in addition to a choice of flavors that are friendly to specific diets, food allergies, and intolerances.

Yet another brand caught the attention of the media this summer with a novel idea: "beauty ice cream." Promoting three products—each with its own distinctive flavor, nutrients, and healthful properties—Lato G features Acai (containing antioxidant-rich Acai berries to prevent signs of aging), Guava (a powerhouse fruit ripe with Vitamin A to enhance a golden tan), and Greek yogurt (to renew the skin's elasticity and promote general health thanks to probiotics).

Within the “traditional” camp, Grom focuses its branding and associated packaging and design on old-school gelato. It also draws inspiration from the Italian “experience,” using local ingredients like strawberries (grown in the Grom's bio farm, Mura Mura), pistachios from Bronte, and lemons from Amalfi to formulate its flavors. RivaReno’s marketing focuses on the extra-fresh high-quality ingredients (including milk from the Piedmont Mountains), traditional methods, and state-of-the-art technology it uses to carefully craft its ice cream.

Some ice cream brands have also recently been exploring other methods of differentiating themselves from their competitors. Grom has ventured into the green sphere: its ongoing project, “Grom Loves World,” promotes the use of green packaging instead of plastics. In a different vein, RivaReno now hosts computer and art exhibitions in its shops.

The competition to lure Milanese consumers not only revolves around the originality of the combination and variety of flavors, but it also taps into both nostalgia and the emotional experiences we Italians enjoy while savoring our gelato. Facebook has also become a source of information and promotional platform for ice cream brands and consumers alike.

In Milano, an ice cream can be found for everyone; just expect to queue for it!

Health & Fitness
Food & Drink

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