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Unilever's Magnum: Brand Snapshot

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Magnum is the world's best-selling impulse ice cream, and the global jewel in the crown of Unilever Ice Cream. It is #1 in most of the 100 or so markets in which it is available, and the clear leader across Europe. Euromonitor estimated global sales of Magnum at $2.54bn in 2015, up 8% on the year before. The ice cream sector became increasingly competitive after 2000, as a result of Nestle's push to expand its global presence in ice cream through a series of acquisitions. However Magnum has remained the top-selling product for two decades.

Brands & Activities

As a result of Nestle's aggressive expansion, Unilever has sought to maintain its edge in most markets by positioning Magnum as an affordable luxury treat for adults (though of course enjoyed just as widely by younger consumers). Nestle responded with its own competitor under the Mega name, prompting Unilever to emphasize its dominance with a string of often highly imaginative promotions. With Magnum, Unilever remains the foremost innovator in the impulse segment, responsible almost single-handedly for pushing forward the boundaries of what variety of extravagant confectionery blends can be successfully packaged as an ice cream stick.

The Magnum product range is divided into numerous separate variants, which vary quite widely from country to country. The core item is the original Magnum Classic, vanilla ice cream on a stick wrapped in a rich chocolate coating, accompanied by variations with white chocolate or almond coatings. These have served as the springboard for a succession of other variant products. Magnum Temptation, introduced in 2009, is a more exotic confection, in which the ice cream inside the coating was supplemented by chocolate sauce and solid chunks. Magnum Gold, from 2010, comes with a gold syrup coating. Magnum Dark uses dark chocolate instead of milk, while Magnum Infinity has caramel mixed in with the ice cream and real cocoa.

The main range is supplemented by a shifting tide of less widely distributed variants, often restricted to individual countries. These have included include Magnum Mint and even Magnum Mochaccino. Coffee-flavoured Magnum Espresso launched in the UK, Australia and other countries in 2014/15. Germany offered a version of the Temptation with fruit pieces, and a Classic with frozen yogurt. France tested honey & nougat, pistachio and a Magnum Kisses range including apple tart and creme brulee. These were introduced in the UK during 2013. Australia trialled Magnum Strawberry White Crumble in 2013. Several countries including the UK have introduced choc-ice-style roll bars with soft centres as well as variations in which the chocolate is sourced from different regions (Ghana Cocoa or Ecuador Cocoa). Other countries have an ice cream sandwich (very similar to Nestle's Maxibon). In 2014, to celebrate the brand's 25th anniversary, a limited edition silver-coated Magnum was launched, flavored with Marc de Champagne liqueur.

Another variant, designed primarily for home consumption, is Magnum Minis, snack-sized miniature stick ice creams with different fillings. The latter are a revised formulation of Magnum Moments, an ice cream treat tested in 2005 and 2006. In 2013, the group began to introduce Magnum-branded take-home carton ice cream in several countries, positioned against the Haagen-Dazs brand. However, take-up was limited. Unilever also issued a license to UK chocolate manufacturer Kinnerton to launch a range of Magnum-branded chocolate treats. In 2017, the group upgraded its Magnum Tubs take-home range, encasing the ice cream inside a chocolate shell, and also launched a line of Magnum Bites ice cream sweets. There are also numerous other variants in different countries.

One of the few major markets where Magnum had not had a presence until recently was the US, where Unilever put its resources behind its already established, and lower-priced, Klondike and Good Humor brands instead. However, the profile of the premium ice cream sector in the US has changed in recent years, partly as a result of the popularity of Nestle's Haagen-Dazs ice cream bars. As a result, Magnum launched in the US for the first time in Spring 2011. It has quickly expanded its range to include the main international variants, as well as its own collection of local specials, not least Double Peanut Butter, launched in 2015. The brand launched in selected cities in India for the first time in 2013.

Magnum now dominates the handheld or novelty ice cream sector in virtually every market in which it is sold. In one of its oldest markets, the UK, IRI estimated retail sales of almost £150m in 2014, equivalent to virtually all other branded impulse ice creams combined.


First launched in 1989, the Magnum product was originally inspired by a decision by rival Mars to begin tests in Germany of Dove Bar, a US ice cream aimed at a more sophisticated audience, which Mars had acquired a few years earlier. Unilever had been considering a move into the adult market for several years, inspired in part by the crossover success of Haagen-Dazs, which had successfully established the idea of ice cream as being an indulgent treat for adults as well as children. Unilever's first attempt to tackle the adult market head-on was with Frac, a high quality ice cream test-marketed in Italy in 1988. That failed to take off, but in the mean time Unilever's German ice cream subsidiary Langnese had begun experimenting with a more sophisticated version of its children's handheld ice cream Nogger, originally introduced in the 1960s.

A key turning-point was a deal with Dutch chocolate manufacturer Callebaut to supply a real chocolate coating which could be frozen without damage. Previously, all coated choc bars had been made with imitation chocolate. Named Magnum and priced at around twice the price of other impulse ice creams, the new product was launched in Germany in 1989, and quickly expanded into Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Sweden and Switzerland. It proved a massive success. It arrived in the UK and other countries in 1990, and has since been rolled out to each of the group's numerous regional ice cream businesses [see Unilever Ice Cream for companies].

At the beginning of 2002, Unilever's Australian subsidiary Streets tested a new extension to the existing range. Reportedly the company was surprised to discover that almost two-thirds of Australian adults had never sampled a Magnum, even though it was the leading impulse brand in one of the world's most voracious ice cream markets. (Australians apparently eat more ice cream per head of population than any other country except America). Streets devised a new promotion, launching a range of limited edition Magnum ice creams using the seven deadly sins theme. Magnum Vanity, for example, featured vanilla and champagne-swirled ice cream covered in white chocolate topped with silver cake decorating balls. Sloth offered vanilla ice cream with a peanut butter chocolate coating. Customers who collected the sticks from all seven qualified for a free T-shirt.

The promotion worked extremely successfully, with the company claiming sales 400% higher than target. (Vanity proved the most popular variant). As a result, Unilever began rolling out Magnum 7 Deadly Sins in other countries. Sloth and Lust variants launched in Europe in February 2003, with the other flavours released strategically over the year. The limited editions went down well with the public, although church leaders in the Netherlands and Germany declared themselves unhappy about the connection drawn between ice cream and sin.

Australia was also the launch pad in 2003 for the Magnum "Sixties Nine" range, featuring nine flavours with 1960s-inspired names including John Lemon, Jami Hendrix and Cherry Guevara. However that range was not introduced elsewhere. In 2004, Magnum was the first of Unilever's brands to get its own "light" version. The next themed launch arrived in 2005 when selected countries began introducing the Magnum 5 Senses range, with Magnum Sound, Aroma, Touch, Vision and Taste. Among other experiments, the Magnum brand was extended into chocolate confectionery in Italy during 2004; and into heated desserts in Portugal with the introduction of Magnum Hot, a microwaveable ice cream which could be heated and consumed from a mug. Meanwhile Streets in Australia introduced a vodka-flavoured Magnum during 2004, under the name Illicit Vodka Cranberry Magnum Vice Cream. The company continues to experiment widely with different recipes and formulations.

Last full revision 30th April 2017

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