Unilever CEO Paul Polman has said the world’s largest ice-cream maker is “prepared” for further competition from US upstart Halo Top as the two companies look set to do battle in the UK.

Fledgling business Halo Top, which touts the low-calorie, protein-enhanced nature of its ice cream, ate into Unilever’s share of the US ice-cream market during 2017, although the FMCG giant said it had had some success with its response, the autumn launch Stateside of Breyers Delights.

Last month, Halo Top entered the UK market, while Unilever rolled out Breyers Delights to the market.

Speaking after Unilever announced its 2017 financial results yesterday, Polman said: “The success of the low-calorie ice cream has surprised us in the US. We have introduced Breyers Delight, which seems to be more preferred by the consumer than alternatives.

“And we’ve also taken the precaution to also launch these variants in the UK. We need to see if it is going to be a success or not, if people really prefer low-cal ice cream because there are some compromises that come with that, but we want to be prepared.”

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By GlobalData

Earlier this week, Halo Top announced its entry into Canada.

Halo Top is owned by US business Eden Creamery, set up in 2012 by a former lawyer, Justin Woolverton and now the company’s CEO. In August, Reuters reported Eden Creamery had hired banking advisers to prepare a process to sell the business.

Last month, US newspaper The New York Post claimed Unilever had conducted due diligence on Halo Top and was close to buying the business before walking away.

A Unilever spokesperson said yesterday the company “does not comment on market speculation”.

Polman, meanwhile, also yesterday sought to highlight the performance of Unilever’s overall ice-cream business last year, even if it faced a new competitive threat in the US.

“Let me just remind everybody last year our total refreshment unit grew about 5%. Our ice cream within that refreshment unit grew even faster. It has been a phenomenal year for our ice cream and not just because of one brand or one ice cream. It was across the board. Things like Magnum Pints are a tremendous success,” Polman said.

Looking ahead, he added: “We want to continue to accelerate the growth of wonderful brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Grom – which we are rolling out across Europe, a wonderful, metro, premium brand – and the enormous success of Magnum, which has more or less tripled its turnover over the last ten years.”