Other than being tastier and creamier, fastevolving consumer tastes and preference in ice cream have led to the premiumization of the product by adding innovative flavours and more advanced constructions to deliver new sensations and a deluxe eating experience.

Ice cream: two words with the power to send consumers’ taste buds into an overdrive. This frozen and creamy treat is nearly irresistible by many as it provides a moment of luxury, bliss and decadent treat to be savoured down to the last drop.

Other than being tastier and creamier, fast-evolving consumer tastes and preference in ice cream have led to the premiumization of the product by adding innovative flavours and more advanced constructions to deliver new sensations and a deluxe eating experience.

In the Asia-Pacific region, 29% of consumers perceive ice cream to be premium and innovative when cheesecake or cheese pieces are added, according to the IPSOS survey of consumers in Indonesia, India and China. In Latin America, inclusions such as candies and cookies can help position ice cream as premium, while most European consumers (79%) are looking for natural and authentic ingredients. Creating ice creams with extras such as inclusions, layers and toppings turn a standard product into a premium one. This has led to ice cream manufacturers to roll their sleeves and come up with a generous helping of “Wow!”

Flavour options

Just a few years back, ice cream wasn’t hip as the offerings were the same almost everywhere such as chocolate, vanilla or strawberry flavour. However, the narrative has changed and there are hundreds of flavours that have recently graced the ice-cream aisles. While some consumers prefer the staples, others in many areas are cooling down with fun new flavours.

Sophisticated flavours

Ice-cream processors have begun pairing sophisticated ice cream flavours with familiar favourites for a premium flavour experience. Some of these flavors might include ethnic, alcohol, tea or spicy tastes. The brand Humphry Slocombe does this well by offering Turmeric-infused Honey Milk ice cream with Chocolate Chip Gingerbread and Candied Ginger. Asia’s leading dairy products producer, Yili Group, unveiled a wider range of new ice-cream flavours in 2019 to include mint, blueberry and sweet-corn flavour, with durian and mango flavour.

In a bid to cater to the older consumer group, processors have introduced liquor ice cream which is gaining popularity across developed regions such as North America and Europe. The products contain less than 0.5% alcohol, and therefore, are widely retailed in grocery and specialty stores. For instance, Häagen-Dazs launched spirit-infused ice cream with a flavor of five traditional pints made with Irish cream, rum, bourbon, and stout. Back in 2015, Australian ice cream firm Bulla Dairy partnered with global spirits company Diageo to launch a range of ice creams flavoured with the Irish cream liqueur, Bailey’s.

To satisfy consumers’ demands, ice cream brands are incorporating more inspired-by-nature and heath halo ingredients and flavours into their products.

Bitter-sweet taste

Further pushing the boundaries and keeping up with the adventurous consumers, savoury flavours have infiltrated the ice cream category. In Kenya, Glacier Products offers salt and caramel ice-cream under its Dairyland brand. Recently, Cleveland-based Pierre’s Ice Cream Co. created a new ice cream line to honor everyone who has adapted, struggled, sacrificed and persevered during this challenging time dubbed Virtual Hugs – a caramel ice cream with sea salt caramel truffles.

According to research company Innova Market Insights, salted caramel is an indulgent flavour that has exploded into the mainstream in recent years. It was ranked as the fifth most popular taste within launch activity in 2019, up 10 places since 2015. However, it is even more popular in helping to deliver an indulgent image to guilt-free products, taking fourth place in non-dairy ice cream launches, third place in low fat ice cream and second place in low sugar category.

Nostalgic flavours

Ice-cream makers have delved deeper into the craft and in pursuit of attaining real connection with consumers have turned familiar tastes into the sweet treats. Ice cream already fits in the comfort food category, and by offering nostalgic flavours, brands are delivering a double dose of TLC.

Multinational food Ingredients company Kerry indicates that the resurgence of nostalgia has been on the rise across all food and beverage categories, as consumers look for comforting foods and flavours during the pandemic. For instance, comforting and nostalgic breakfast-inspired flavors such as buttered French toast, pancake and everything bagel are now available in ice cream form. Ample Hills Creamery has an oatmeal cookie-based ice cream as well as flavors that incorporate marshmallow, cereal, pretzels and chips. Taking consumer’s momentarily down memory lane, Jeni’s has an ice-cream line of the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with roasted peanut butter and fluffernutter flavour.

“During this time when lives are disrupted, consumers are reaching for food and flavours that provide emotional comfort, make them feel pampered and remind them of childhood,” Normunds Staņēvičs, CEO of Food Union Group said in an interview with Dairy Reporter.

However, the trend was prior the pandemic period, as Froneri-owned ice cream brand Kelly’s of Cornwall launched a new sticky gingerbread flavour ice cream in the UK in 2018 ahead of Christmas, bringing in the festive mood.

Explorative flavours

With COVID-19 still limiting travel for most people, ice-cream flavours inspired by global cuisines have gone main-stream as consumers are now travelling the world through their taste buds.

According to a 2020 study by Innova Market Insights, 64% of U.S. consumers want to discover flavours from other cultures. Majorly, consumers are interested in Mexican-inspired flavours, with offerings such as dulce de leche, mango salsa, mango chili and churro all popping up on foodservice ice cream menus.

Ice creams inspired by South Asian beverages are also trending such as the chai-flavoured ice cream from Northeast-based Ample Hills Creamery. Thai tea and matcha have made their way into California-based Coolhaus ice creams, and New York’s Noona’s Toasted Rice ice cream was inspired by noo-roong, a traditional Korean snack that comes from the caramelized layer of crunchy rice that forms on the bottom of a pan of cooked rice.

Loaded Indulgence

With pleasure still being the driving force behind ice cream purchases, indulgence is the name of the game. Some argue that because ice cream rarely qualifies as “healthy”, the calories must be worth it. To this end, ice-cream brand owners are loading all the good stuff on the frozen novelty. The market has seen a shift from just a mixture of two or more flavours in one tub to loading of different delights in the product.

“Mimicking foodservice-inspired desserts by incorporating mix-ins and toppings into frozen treats is an opportunity to strengthen retail value propositions,” notes Kaitlin Kamp, consumer insights analyst on the Food and Drink Reports team at Mintel.

Brands offering fully-loaded decadent packaged ice cream options include Ben & Jerry’s, who introduced its ‘Topped’ product line in 2021, which it calls “an ice cream sundae in a pint. It’s made up of seven different ice cream flavours that are each covered with a velvety layer of chocolate ganache with chunks of other goodies. In South Africa, premium food processor, In2food, recently launched Choc Brownie Ice Cream in partnership with Froneri Dairymaid’s Gelato Roma Brand. The decadent gelato is made with chocolate sauce and brownie pieces to create the perfect balance of soft chewy texture at a frozen temperature. Cruising to West Africa, Cold Stone Creamery launched Baby Cakes, a strawberry ice-cream layered with yellow cake and topped with a crunchy coconut shaving.

The mix and mash up renditions can be also achieved through bringing multiple brands together like the Breyers 2-in-1 products. Adding layers in the product creates a new taste experience, where with every inch the teeth dig into the ice-cream new flavours unravel to the delight of the consumer. Under this category, Magnum ice-cream entices consumers with its double cherry truffle with a dark chocolate ganache swirl dipped in a chocolaty coating, luscious cherry sauce, and milk chocolate. My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream unveiled a new range of triple layered Mochi ice cream in 2019, consisting of the traditional mochi dough exterior which covers the ice cream, with an additional central layer which adds an extra flavour.

The inclusion of food pieces such as chocolate, candy, nut and cake particles are also becoming a fast-growing premium trend.

Health boosting treats

Pleasure is still the driving force behind ice cream purchases, however, in the contemporary consumer environment the balance between health and indulgence is increasingly important and a new report from Innova Market Insights highlights the ice cream category’s growing focus on delivering pleasure without the guilt. To this end, development of better-for-you recipes is already on many producers’ strategic radar. The challenge is to create products that are healthier without compromising on ice cream’s beloved taste and texture.

To satisfy consumers’ demands, ice cream brands are incorporating more inspired-by-nature and heath halo ingredients and flavours into their products. For example, Cloud Creamery launched a blueberry-ginger-sage sorbet and New York’s Hay Rosie Craft Ice Cream Company has a Sage Chocolate Chip flavor. Carmela Ice Cream, in California, offers flavours including Lemon Basil Sorbet and Rosemary with Toasted Pine Nuts. Also, in 2020, Dairy Day launched Dairy Day Plus, a range of ice creams with immunity-boosting ingredients such as turmeric, pepper and honey.

Fruit is also becoming staples in the ice cream category, while other brands are branching out into vegetable-inspired flavors. For example, Arizona’s Sweet Republic ice cream shops have offered an avocado jalapeno ice cream while San Francisco’s Mitchell’s Ice Cream has an ube (purple yam) flavor.

The processors are creating pints that have fewer calories, less sugar or low fat. A great example of this trend is the immensely successful brand Halo Top, with calorie count appearing boldly on the front of the package, which saw a 462% compound annual growth rate 2013- 2018.

Riding on the low fat tagline, Ben & Jerry’s launched an ice cream with 60-70% less fat and 35% fewer calories than its traditional ice creams in 2018. In the sugar reduction font, sweetener blends are key, and attention is shifting to new-generation sweeteners. Mammoth Creameries recently released three new flavors of its keto-friendly, diabetic-conscious frozen custard, including Butter Coffee, Strawberry and Butter Pecan.

According to netherlands-based food colours and ingredients provider, gnt group, ice-cream purchase decisions of one third of consumers worldwide is influenced by the colour of the product

Broader reformulations are also seeing the incorporation of functional ingredients such probiotics, more protein, fiber and CBD. One interesting example is Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream’s Vegan Couch Potato which contains approximately 5 milligrams of CBD in each scoop. Meanwhile, with increasing consumer adoption of probiotics to enhance overall wellbeing and most importantly gut health, food manufacturing giant Unilever is deemed to have launched the first premium ice cream containing probiotics in 2018. Dubbed Culture Republick, each pint tub contains three billion live active cultures, between 400 and 500 calories, 16-18 grams of protein, 11-12 grams of fibre and no artificial sweeteners.

Ice-cream processors have also become intertwined in the complexities of mixing and crafting the perfect mix of ingredients to deliver surprisingly high levels of key nutrients like protein into ice cream. Laden with a mixture of whey protein concentrate and other high-quality ingredients, every scoop of high-protein ice-cream is a guilt free pleasure. In 2019, the family-owned dairy company, Graham the Family Dairy launched a new line of high-protein ice cream known as Goodness Ice Cream. Halo Top, which promotes itself as “ice-cream you can feel good about eating”, flags its protein content of 18 g or 20 g on each 472g tub – numbers that are likely to catch the eye of protein-hunters.

Ingredient specific ice-creams

Shifting focus to the primary ingredients and processing techniques, it brings to the fore the dairy alternative, organic and clean label product segments.

The changing consumer preference towards non-dairy and plant-based products due to reasons such as health, sustainability and animal welfare have driven some ice-cream manufacturers to replace animal sourced milk with coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk or oat milk.

For example, My/Mochi Ice Cream recently launched My/Mochi Oat Milk Frozen Dessert, a non-dairy, vegan line of My/Mochi with gluten-free, non-GMO and allergen-friendly ingredients. Baskin-Robbins’ also unveiled an oat milk-based, vegan-friendly flavor: “Non-Dairy Strawberry Streusel.” Nick’s ice cream and animal-free dairy company Perfect Day have also partnered to launch a line of vegan dairy ice creams.

Another popular trend of healthy living is demand of the most natural and less processed food products with a simplified ingredient statement. The frozen foods isle is no exception, as ice-cream brands such as Haagen-Dazs contain only five ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and the characterizing flavour.

Going the organic way and less utilization of artificial additives, processors are substituting the use of chemical compounds such as emulsifiers with eggs to improve its stability. Chai Latte, Maple Cream, and Vanilla Fudge Swirl launched by Straus Family Creamery in 2019 are some of the organic ice-creams in the market.

Maintaining ice-cream’s integrity

Speaking of stability, consumers have become increasingly aware of their surrounding and want to avoid mess to protect their hygiene in this post-Covid-19 era.

A premium stick novelty ice cream that smears a smartphone screen, drips on clothes or spills chocolate on the car seat can quickly lose its appeal. The melting conundrum can be solved by the use of emulsifiers and stabilizers to create drip-free products. Palsgaard, a Danish specialist in the manufacture of emulsifiers and stabilizers, is enabling processors to live the ice-cream dream as it has innovated and launched a wide range of solutions aimed to face one of the product’s toughest opponents – The Heat Shock Effect.

Of all the frozen food types, ice cream is the most sensitive to temperature fluctuations and changes can occur anywhere between the factory and the dinner table. However, Palsgard notes that with the right blend of emulsifiers, stabilisers and know-how, the quality of ice cream can be helped to stay that way – and customer satisfaction maintained or even increased.

Other than improving heat shock stability in ice-creams, emulsifiers and stabilizers maintain the integrity of the product during production of decadents with less saturated fats, high-protein and low-fat. Creation of these products entails alternation of chemical bonds by removal, addition or replacement of different components which can alter its composition. The use of emulsifiers and stabilizers ensure the product’s quality and eating experience is maintained. For the clean labels, Palsgaard has developed a series of emulsifier and stabilizer blends for ice cream with reduced E-numbers from the common three to five to only one E-number.

Love at first sight

According to most ice-cream makers, having a perfectly crafted and formulated product is not just enough – presentation ensures the product is half-way to acceptability.

According to Netherlands-based food colours and ingredients provider, GNT Group, ice-cream purchase decisions of one third of consumers worldwide is influenced by the colour of the product, as the human brain connects certain colours to certain flavours: red for strawberry, light green for mint, purple for grape, brown for chocolate. Also, colour changes the way consumers enjoy the product, influencing perceptions of sweetness and flavour intensity. For instance, consumers assume that more intensely coloured foods are likely to be more intensely flavoured. However, should the colour not match the taste, then the result may well be a negative confirmation of expectation. Meanwhile, with rising demand of healthy treats, colour is crucial in ensuring these indulgent products look suitably appetizing.

To achieve the perfect hues, processors use both natural and artificial colour agents.

Driving growth in ice-cream industry

The global ice cream market size is projected to reach US$ 95.2 billion by 2027, from US$ 67.94 billion in 2020, growing at a CAGR of 4.9% during 2021-2027, according to research firm Valuates.

To further drive this growth, world’s leading food processing and packaging solutions company, Tetra Pak, recently launched an ice cream extrusion line aimed at improving product quality and volume flexibility for medium-capacity producers. The new line with a capacity range of 5,000 to 18,000 products per hour uses an independently controlled horizontal cutter to slice the ice cream as it emerges from the extruder. It also offers volume flexibility to the medium-sized producers, allowing them to increase or decrease output without compromising efficiency.

Also, the multinational company launched the Tetra Fino Aseptic 100 Ultra MiM in 2017, a new package that offers customers an opportunity to produce liquid dairy and juice drinks using their existing production processes, and market them as ice creams and frozen products. The new package allows dairy and juice drinks to be produced and distributed in small carton pouches at room temperature, and subsequently turned into frozen products in shops or in a consumer’s home. This means producers can tap into the multibillion-dollar ice cream market without the need for additional investments in production equipment and chilled distribution system.

This feature appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Food Business Africa. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE