Neale’s Sweet ‘n Nice adds vibrancy to the ice cream aisle

The Caribbean-inspired brand adjusted promotion plans for its national expansion.

sweet-n-nice-ice-cream

Canada’s ice cream market is heating up.

Originating in the 1940s in Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean ice cream brand Neale’s Sweet ‘n Nice was first relaunched regionally in Canada in 2013, but is now available nationwide.

The now Oshawa-based ice cream maker is also expanding beyond its mango and coconut flavours to offer coconut, rum and raisin, pineapple coconut, guava passionfruit and mango across major grocery banners.

According to Andrew McBarnett, who co-founded the brand with Stafford Attzs, Neale’s Sweet ‘n Nice reflects demand for all-natural, premiumize products, fewer “crazier ingredients they cannot read” and for those that just want to enjoy something different. But it is also relevant to trends around package sizes: in addition to the standard 500 ml size, it has an on-trend 100 ml snack-size, as well as a “super-size” 5.7 L tub to give it an entry into food service as the economy reopens over the summer.

“There has been an increase in ethnic products as well,” McBarnett says. “We fit in well in terms of trends, both from the ice cream perspective, and also in terms of typical food trends we have seen in last couple of years.”

As a small brand doing battle with the likes of Nestle and Unilever, which own subsidiaries Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s, Sweet ‘n Nice is relying on organic media and PR opportunities, as it doesn’t have the same big TV buys. It is also doing heavy social media, having just launched a TikTok account that is “seeing lots of engagement,” McBarnett says, both with the Black community and more broadly. He says the social approach includes a lot of giveaways and influencer work, such as with Black Foodie, whose handle is “food and culture through a Black lens,” and highlights the best of African, Caribbean and Southern cuisine.

The brand has previously done in-store demos and events, like partnering with Sobeys in 2018 as the grocer was hightlighting local products. It also supported outdoor barbecues and charitable events, something the brand prides itself on. Experientially, it has sponsored event galas and competition showcases during Toronto’s Caribana festival (the main parade has been cancelled this year due to the pandemic, though the festival is looking to hold smaller events and celebrations). It has also done smaller partnerships, like one with Ottawa’s Bananas Beach Grill and Rum Shack, where it has run a pop-up shop on the east Ottawa beach.

“We had big plans for demos, especially as we launched in No Frills and Metro banners. We had to pivot our marketing strategy,” McBarnett says. There are now more calls to action in terms of digital coupons, and he says the brand is working with grocery banners on their digital and offline flyers. There are also in-store coupons at FreshCo and Sobeys, with a short blurb about the brand directly on freezer doors.

sweet-nice

McBarnett says the brand has tried to push into DTC, but could not meet demand, so instead kept its focus on retail and working with grocers like Sobeys on their own delivery services.

McBarnett says the core messaging has not changed all that much since it Neale’s Sweet ‘n Nice was founded: it’s always been family-focused, all about tradition and “staying as close to granddad’s home recipe.” The branding and packaging is heavily influenced by the Caribbean’s colourful geography, relaxing vibe, beaches, and festivals.

“We tie back the vibrancy of our colours back to our roots. Bright pink for passion or yellow for pineapple coconut to tie back to the islands, but also to the fruits there,” McBarnett says.

In a month or two, however, it is coming out with a rebranding created by agency Juniper Park\TBWA that will help refresh its core design while still profiling the fun and flavour of the Caribbean brand that was inspired by the story of founder Charles Neale and his entrepreneurial spirit.

McBarnett says the brand has seen a bigger following and more engagement as the Black Lives Matter movement has extended to new heights in recent weeks, as it’s one of the few black-owned ice cream brands. “It’s a tough time for the community and hopefully change will come of it,” he says. “We recognize and appreciate the support we are getting.”