group of friends eating ice cream

I Scream, You Scream: July is National Ice Cream Month

National Ice Cream Month is here again, giving Americans a chance to celebrate with friends and family and cool down with their favorite ice cream. This July, explore how ice cream began, along with the state of the industry today and growing trends.

The Origins of Ice Cream

While sweetened and flavored ice beverages were enjoyed in ancient times (including by King Solomon and Alexander the Great), it wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) that the shift from ices to ice creams occurred. This early ice cream was made by heating milk with flour, adding aromatic camphor, and lowering a container of the mixture into icy water until it froze.

However, ice cream as we know it wasn’t developed until much later, in the 17th century. This was a time of great culinary innovation in Italy and France that led to a variety of ice drinks being frozen to create desserts. The addition of milk and cream, plus new mixing techniques to create a lighter texture, were the final steps that gave us America’s favorite frozen treat.

The U.S. Ice Cream Market Today

Today ice cream is the most popular frozen dessert in the U.S. Last year the ice cream and frozen novelties market did especially well, growing 16.3% due to increased at-home ice cream consumption during the COVID lockdown.1 Sales are forecast to decline just slightly this year as the lockdown ends before returning to pre-COVID growth levels in 2022, according to Mintel.2

In exploring why consumers are buying ice cream and other frozen treats more often than before, Mintel’s research shows the top reasons are: being at home more often (53%), treating myself (49%), and for comfort (44%).3 To retain consumer engagement post-COVID, brands can look to some of the top trends in ice cream and tap into consumers’ growing interests in dairy alternatives, health benefits, and innovative flavors.

Drivers of Increased Frozen Treat Purchases During COVID-19

Reasons for purchasing frozen treats more often

% of U.S. Consumers
At home more often 53%
Treating myself 49%
For comfort 44%
Snacking on it more 42%
To relieve stress 33%
As a pick me up 29%
Boredom 27%
Using it to celebrate 20%
More dairy-free options available 16%
Source: Mintel, Ice Cream and Frozen Novelties – US, April 2021
woman eating ice cream

Ice Cream Trends

Non-Dairy Ice Creams

With 38% of U.S. consumers trying to add more plant-based foods to their diets,4 plant-based dairy alternatives are gaining traction across the board. In the ice cream segment, dairy-free claims grew 8.8% from 2019 to 2020,5 with a large and growing number of consumers interested in non-dairy ice creams.

For example, 45% of U.S. consumers have had almond milk ice cream, while 39% have tried coconut milk ice cream.6 However, the highest interest is in newer ingredients such as cashew milk, sunflower butter, and oat milk. Novel ingredients, along with plant-based claims around health and sustainability will be important for continued strong growth in the segment.

Non-Dairy Ice Cream Ingredients Consumers Have Tried or Want to Try

Ice Cream Ingredients % of U.S. Consumers Interested in Trying It
Almond Milk 18%
Coconut Milk 20%
Coconut Oil 21%
Soy Milk 16%
Oat Milk 28%
Cashew Milk 31%
Sunflower Butter 29%
Pea Protein 21%
Source: Mintel, Ice Cream and Frozen Novelties – US, April 2021

Balancing Health and Indulgence

While 64% of frozen treat consumers agree frozen treats can be part of a healthy diet, 52% indicate they would cut out frozen treats if they were trying to eat healthier.7 Understanding and addressing consumers’ needs for balancing health and indulgence is key to delivering products that will work for their lifestyles.

Simple ingredient lists, smaller product formats, and better-for-you claims can all appeal to consumers’ desire for balance. Mintel’s research, which looks at what would motivate consumers to try a new product, reveals a number of health and wellness drivers. U.S. consumers indicate they would be encouraged to buy a new frozen treat if it had nutritional benefits (e.g., antioxidants or probiotics) (34%), low/no claims (30%), high protein (29%), or emotional benefits (e.g., relaxing or energizing) (19%).8

ice cream

Inspired Flavors

Consumers have been turning to popular ice cream flavors like vanilla, chocolate, cookies n’ cream, and chocolate chip cookie dough for comfort during the pandemic. But looking ahead, it will be important for brands to innovate with flavor to excite and appeal to consumers once the lockdown is over. Consumers are showing high interest in internationally inspired ice cream flavors, in particular.

In Canada, for example, one in three consumers are interested in ice cream with internationally inspired ingredients or flavors, while one in two Italian consumers want to try more ice creams from other countries such as Middle Eastern booza or Japanese mochi ice cream.9 Japan’s ice cream industry—known globally for its innovative flavors that range from sesame to wasabi to hojicha—can serve as inspiration for brands looking to push the boundaries of flavor.

Happy National Ice Cream Month!

Here at Glanbia Nutritionals, we hope you and your consumers enjoy National Ice Cream Month as much as we do. As a global leader in dairy, we carry ingredients to help elevate your ice cream products so your consumers crave ice cream all year long. Contact us to learn about using our plant-based and dairy proteins, flavors, and EdiSparklz® edible glitter in your next ice cream product.

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References

1-3. Mintel, Ice Cream and Frozen Novelties – US, April 2021.
4. Mintel, The Future of Ice Cream: 2021, February 2021.
5-8. Mintel, Ice Cream and Frozen Novelties – US, April 2021.
9. Mintel, The Future of Ice Cream: 2021, February 2021.

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