BLOG: A Look at Ice Cream’s Healthy Future

ice cream

As summer reaches peak temperatures, Americans are celebrating National Ice Cream Month this July. In 1984 president Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation citing that ice cream was an important food to the American people and that the sweet frozen treat should be celebrated in July. He also designated July 15 as National Ice Cream day.

So, to mark the occasion, I will take a look at the latest trends in ice cream which are shaping the future of this category, as dictated by consumers worldwide.

Ice cream remains consumers’ favorite dessert, according to a Datassential study which included 2,531 participants. A staggering 90% choose this treat as their favorite indulgence, but Ice Cream Sandwich (83%) and Ice Cream Cake (76%) also made it to the top.

Ice cream has evolved from a simple mixture of ice and fruit juice, said to have been enjoyed by the Romans in the time of Nero, to the intricate desserts we see today. According to Zelica Carr, CEO of the Ice Cream Alliance (ICA), the scene for ice cream products is very positive at the moment, as consumers have become more discerning and demanding in terms of quality and choice leading to an explosion in the development of a variety of different premium flavors that include certain healthy attributes.

In the UK, there’s a massive rise in the consumption of vegan foods. In 2018, the UK launched more vegan products than any other country, according to Mintel. This trend is also reflected in ice cream, as the market witnessed several vegan launches from well-established brands. Alternatively, smaller artisan producers are also featuring vegan-based recipes and flavors.

Veganism is only part of the puzzle, as today’s consumers are seeking out healthy food with greater urgency. According to a Nielsen study dating back 2015, people’s mindset about healthy foods has shifted and so they have become more willing to pay more for products that claim to boost health. Which is why products labeled as organic are getting a lot of attention lately, and this includes ice cream.

Shedding the reputation of being a sugar-loaded, nutritional-void calorie bomb, organic ice cream has begun to gain traction, according to Global Market Insights. In a recent report, the research firm reveals the category reached USD850m in 2016 and is further projected to record over USD1.2bn growth by 2024.

Additionally, premium ice creams, with the presence of naturally processed preservatives and sweeteners, have become popular over the regular ice creams, among the health-conscious consumers. Costumers are also seen spending generously on high-quality ingredients, which is expected to propel organic ice cream growth over the coming years.

Health means different things to different people, however. For some, it is more about cutting calories, so they are seeking to reduce sugar or fat, while others want more added-value benefits such as containing high levels of particular nutrients, for instance calcium. Case in point, growth in lower sugar and sugar-free products and low-calorie options has also been observed by ICA.

Additionally, another health trend gaining traction in ice cream is the demand for lactose-free frozen desserts. This is driven by a combination of the side effects of lactose intolerance and a growing movement towards cleaner eating among Millennials which has led many consumers to view dairy products as unhealthy. The elevated growth hormones that are often found in factory farmed dairy cows are disconcerting to health-conscious customers who prefer to get their calcium and vitamin D requirements from fortified, plant-based sources.

While ice cream has traditionally been consumed as a more indulgence product, things are now changing, as manufacturers seek to play a role in the “permissible indulgence” space. By creating new formulations that reduce sugar or fat, or radically cut down on the calorie or lactose content, ice cream producers can now appeal to a new generation of more health-conscious consumers.

As the industry is highly dependent on consumer preferences, I believe ice cream market players will be driven to continue to tap the latest health trends to stay ahead of the game. For example, in the foreseeable future I expect that more and more companies will start incorporating things like CBD or oat milk into products, as well as become more open to embrace transparency and traceability.