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Counterfeit Magnum Ice Cream Rattles Unilever

by Alice

In a recent television advertisement airing in the UK, Magnum unveils a scenario where a woman is disheartened to discover her partner has brought home a knockoff version of the beloved chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick. The scene unfolds with a mix of amusement and irony as the woman realizes several other elements in their home are also counterfeit, including her partner’s mustache.

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The advertisement’s ironic undertone reflects a stark reality for Unilever’s premium ice cream brand. Discount supermarket Aldi, for instance, offers “Gianni’s Milk Chocolate Ice Creams” bearing striking resemblance to Magnum packaging but at a fraction of the price per volume. While perhaps lacking in quality, these imitations pose as convenient and cost-effective alternatives, contributing to deflationary pressures.

Ironically, even Unilever strays from its own “stick to the original” mantra. The consumer goods giant recently announced plans to divest its ice cream business, home to Magnum, Ben & Jerry’s, and Wall’s, among others. Ice cream sales have trailed behind other Unilever brands like Dove, Sunsilk, Knorr, and Hellmann’s mayonnaise.

Several factors contribute to this underperformance, including adverse weather conditions last year and the inherent expense of premium ice cream production. Rising costs of key ingredients such as milk, sugar, and cocoa, coupled with increased energy expenses for refrigeration, further compound the challenge. Unlike ambient foods that can share transport with non-food items like shampoo, ice cream necessitates dedicated transportation.

Despite these challenges, ice cream maintains its allure as an occasional indulgence, characterized by its delightful flavors and textures. Yet, what was once a simple pleasure symbolized by the jingles of ice cream vans has evolved into a complex landscape. Unilever finds itself ensnared in its own success, as competitors encroach upon its market share, capitalizing on the popularity of brands like Magnum.

This scenario reflects a broader trend in the consumer goods sector of the 21st century. Established brands confront threats from multiple fronts: discounters offering cheaper alternatives with diluted brand value, and niche startups catering to preferences for healthier, natural, and premium options. The proliferation of choices extends beyond food items to encompass household products like washing powders.

Ben & Jerry’s, for instance, known for its advocacy efforts, pioneered a more authentic approach to ice cream production. However, luxury ice cream enthusiasts now have an array of alternatives, from Adirondack Creamery and Van Leeuwen in the US to Hackney Gelato in the UK, showcasing the diversity of offerings in today’s freezer aisles.

Unilever’s legacy ice cream brand, Wall’s, established in 1922 in London, faces stiff competition in the budget segment. While its Cornettos are priced higher than supermarket own-label substitutes, they lag behind Ben & Jerry’s and Magnum in quality, comprising ingredients like reconstituted milk, coconut fat, and emulsifiers, placing them in the realm of ultra-processed foods.

This poses a dilemma for Unilever, which emphasizes nutrition and aims to be a “world-class force for good in food.” The incongruity between Wall’s Cornettos and this vision underscores the complexity of balancing indulgence with nutritional integrity.

In response, Unilever opts for simplicity by parting ways with its ice cream division, akin to Nestlé’s move to fold its brands, including Häagen-Dazs, into a joint venture named Froneri with private equity firm PAI. This low-profile approach shields manufacturers from shareholder pressure to prioritize health-centric product offerings.

Nevertheless, Unilever, and its forthcoming ice cream entity, need not dwell on regrets. Ice cream production remains a noble craft, albeit one facing evolving consumer demands. While homemade alternatives may offer superior health benefits, the convenience and enjoyment derived from occasional indulgence in a Magnum or Cornetto endure.

The pertinent question revolves around who will meet this demand. Holding a significant stake in the global ice cream market, Unilever faces challenges in maintaining its position. Despite innovative extensions like Ruby Chocolate and Double Gold Caramel Billionaire, the debacle surrounding “Fake Magnum” serves as a cautionary tale, prompting a reevaluation of brand strategies and market dynamics.

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