Whatever happened to? Wall's Ice Cream

In the long hot summer of 1976 every corner shop is an oasis of bright yellow Wall's ice-cream, while Tonibel or the more worryingly named Mr Softee ice-cream vans tinkle and meander their way through hot suburban streets, dispensing a white, spiralling mixture in a cone. In November, Roy Hattersley, Prices and Consumer Protection Minister, pronounces Wall's frozen foods a monopoly, though a "fair" one.

Then along comes 1989 and the new ice age. Haagen-Dazs, a New York-based specialist manufacturer using a soft scoop but a hard sell, brings sexy advertising to change the cosy, fluffy ice-cream industry for ever. Compare the ingredients - fresh cream, egg yolk, fresh skimmed milk, sugar, crushed vanilla beans from Madagascar - with Wall's Blue Ribbon Vanilla Soft Scoop: skimmed milk, dextrose, sugar, vegetable fat, whey solids, glucose syrup, emulsifier E471, stabilisers (sodium alginate, carob gum, guar gum), natural colours (curcumine, anatto), flavouring. Haagen-Dazs starts to win the cold war, gaining 8 per cent - from nothing - of the market in 1989.

Wall's fights back with its Twister lolly, a strawberry and vanilla ice- cream made using "rotating extrusion nozzle technology". But they've got the wrong end of the stick: in their new factory in Gloucester. with 32,000 litres an hour, they're producing quantity rather than quality. Times have changed. "With totally natural colours it is harder to create eye appeal," claims their general development manager. But there's also taste appeal ...

Profits for Unilever, the multinational owner of Wall's, plunge for the third quarter of 1992. Then in May 1994 another American brand pokes its icy toe into the British market. Ben & Jerry's, a tiny company founded from a renovated petrol station in Burlington, Vermont, launches its eco- conscious Rainforest Crunch to win the once-hippy, baby-boomer vote.

Unilever licks its wounds. Profits fall by pounds 64m for 1995, the hottest summer on record, although the UK ice-cream market has risen by 62 per cent in the Nineties.

You can still get Wall's vanilla ice-cream. But Unilever's Vaseline is probably a tastier product to market.

James Aufenast

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