Sponsorship is playing a major role in Unilever’s effort to become the dominant player in the U.S. ice cream market.

Looking to overtake category leader Nestlé, Unilever over the past two years has tapped its vast global product portfolio to introduce new single-serving products on U.S. shores.  

And sponsorship is serving as a launch pad for the new products.

Case in point: Unilever has partnered with Southern California’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival to promote Fruttare, a line of frozen fruit bars originally marketed in Pakistan. The consumer goods giant is slated to launch the product in May, the month after the April 12-21 music fest.

Unilever will use Coachella to generate a pre-launch buzz among celebrities and other influentials. Fruttare is targeted at Millennials, a demographic that prefers healthy snacks and eats 35 percent of meals as snacks, Alfie Vivian, vice president at Unilever Ice Cream & Beverages, told USA Today last month.

The Coachella sponsorship appears to replicate Unilever’s U.S launch strategy for the Magnum ice cream brand. The company in 2011 sponsored the Tribeca Film Festival as the launch pad for the super-premium single-serve ice cream bar.  

Unilever activated the film fest with designer Karl Lagerfeld, who directed three Magnum-inspired films starring actress Rachel Bilson. Unilever premiered the films at Tribeca and later posted the content on Magnum’s Facebook page.

Unilever also sampled the ice cream bars to festival attendees prior to the product’s official launch.

Magnum credits the sponsorship with generating 157,000 Facebook fans and more than 33,000 followers on the brand’s Twitter feed, earning the brand a PRWeek Award in the Best Use of Social Media/Digital category.

Unilever also generated 5 percent trial and 32.1 percent repeat, exceeding expectations for 3.5 percent and 30 percent, respectively, according to the publication.  

Not surprisingly, Magnum renewed the sponsorship for the 2012 festival.

Other Unilever ice cream brands include Ben & Jerry’s and Heartbrand, the latter of which includes the Cornetto, Solero, Vienetta and Carte d’Or brands.

The Top Ten Players In The U.S. Frozen Novelty Category
Company Dollar Sales Year-over-Year Dollar Sales Growth Dollar Share
Dreyers $1 billion (0.32%) 27.9%
Good Humor/Breyers $742 million (1.64%) 20.3%
Private Label $465 million 1.29% 12.77%
Wells Diary $415 million 5.22% 11.39%
Mars $165 million (1.55%) 4.54%
Unilever $127 million 45.73% 3.5%
Blue Bell Creameries $110 million 12.46% 3.03%
J&J Snack Foods $74 million 0.41% 2.04%
Ziegenfelder Ice Cream Co. $50 million 25.06% 1.39%
Prairie Farms $44 million (1.11%) 1.21%
Total U.S. sales in supermarkets, drugstores, mass market retailers, military commissaries and select club & dollar retail chains in the 52 weeks ending Feb. 5,  2013, per SymphonyIRIGroup, a Chicago-based market research firm.