Blurred Lines in Ice Cream

May 18, 2018
Dessert Ingredients Dairy Confectionery
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When it comes to ice cream, consumers have the power – giving ice cream makers the opportunity. Ice cream is nearly universal (with a 94% purchase rate) and consumers are fully empowered to demand it all: Healthy yet indulgent. Loyalty-worthy yet adventurous. Traditional yet exciting. What may seem like contradictions come with clear themes. One thing is clear in the world of ice cream: the product developers that win will be the ones that refuse to “stay in their own lane.”

Fast Facts:

• 94% consumers say they purchase ice cream & frozen novelties

• Modest dollar sales growth of 3%, 2016-17

• 15% expected increase in dollar sales 2017-22

• Those aged 18-44 & parents are top purchasers


Tried & True

More than a quarter of new launches 2013-2017 were either chocolate or vanilla, indicating that core flavors still reign. Interestingly, if “salted caramel” and “sea salt caramel” varieties are combined, the taste becomes the third most popular flavor, displacing strawberry.
A Closer Look at Vanilla

Usage of the flavor grew by 38% 2016-2017 despite record high prices and an upheaval in the bourbon vanilla market. Some ice cream producers are calling out the country of origin as a way to elevate the traditional taste. Some examples:

• Naja Madagascar Vanilla Gelato

• Three Twins Ice Cream Wafer Madagascar Vanilla

• Culinary Tours Tahitian Vanilla Bean Gelato

• Haagen-Dazs Trio Ice Cream with Belgian chocolate

New & Different

New flavors continue to be influenced by cake, pie, tart, tea, coffee and espresso. Fun and fruity flavors captured attention at this year’s annual Innovative Ice Cream Flavor Competition, sponsored by the International Dairy Foods Association. Winners included Signature Reserve Brazilian Guava Cheesecake Ice Cream, a sweet-and-sour, super-premium cheesecake ice cream balanced with ribbons of tart guava puree and bits of cheesecake crust pieces, from Albertsons Co.; and Pomegranate Sweet Potato Medley Bar, made with real fruit and vegetable juice, from Perry’s Ice Cream Co.

Most Daring / Creative Flavors in Ice Cream Company Lines

1. Sweet and Salty

2. Dreamsicle Orange

3. Lavender Coconut

4. Salted Caramel Chocolate Truffle

5. Fireball / Red Hot Cinnamon

6. Elvis / Banana Peanut Butter

7. Caramel Apple

8. Black Raspberry
Source: Dairy Foods / IDFA


Consumers want healthy. They want indulgence. And they feel fully empowered to demand both. Ice cream with a “healthy halo” is finding a clear path to growth. Consider that for many consumers, health equates with nutrition. Health, for many consumers, goes hand in hand with “free-from” claims or clean label ingredients and a perception of “naturalness.” Let’s take a look at products giving consumers permission to indulge.

In the past, ice cream companies created no-sugar-added and low-fat formulations, but healthy and guilt-free frozen treats struggle to deliver on taste and indulgence. Ice cream makers are now adding ingredients like protein in response to consumer demand.

“I think that consumers are becoming more educated about what it means to eat healthy and the effects of things like calories, sugar and protein. The challenge is that most consumers do not want to sacrifice on taste,” said Doug Bouton, president and COO of Halo Top Creamery
Functional claims are growing. High/added fiber grew 300% 2016-17 and high/added protein grew 60%

Regret-free Ice Cream

Halo Top has overtaken market share by proving that consumers can have it all – taste, indulgence and health. “Healthy indulgence” Halo Top had the best-selling ice cream pints last summer, grabbing 6 percent market share with a nearly 700 percent sales change in a year. The low-calorie ice cream adds protein sweetened with a blend of erythritol, organic cane sugar and organic stevia leaf extract.

Better-for-you products aren’t a new idea in the ice cream category, but Halo Top changed the way consumers may look at indulgent products. With calorie counts ranging from 280 to 360 calories for the whole pint, Halo Top gives consumers permission and a guilt-free pass to finish the container.
Halo-Top isn’t the only “healthy-ish” game in Ice Cream town. lists these ice creams as “healthy”:

Enlightened ice creams feature skim milk, milk protein isolate and monk fruit extract. They come in pints and bars and feature flavors like birthday cake, bananas foster, frozen hot chocolate and strawberry cheesecake

So Delicious are vegan-friendly and come in dairy-free bases like coconut, soy, almond and cashew milks. Flavors include Cherry Amaretto, Chocolate Brownie Almond, Green Tea and Pomegranate Chip.

Julie’s Organic Ice Cream are non-GMO, organic and interesting taste profiles. (Blackberries & Cream includes blackberries, egg yolks and lemon juice.)

Pro & Con: Real Consumers Weigh In

Consumers give their perception of Halo Top ice cream:
“Light ice cream is not worth eating. Eat the real stuff or no ice cream.” - Male, Northeast, 55+

“Looks yummy I love caramel and the fat content is great. I'd buy this.” - Female, West, 55+

Kids & Teens As A Consumer Group

Kids are avid ice cream fans – 94% of kids ages 6-11 eat ice cream (88% of teens.) – and influence their parents’ purchases. And parents who often use indulgences as a reward or bribe are a strong target for ice cream.

Innovation and international flair are gaining appeal among kids and teens because they don’t share ice cream’s nostalgic backstory with their parents. Kids prefer toppings but teens experiment with more complex formats like multiple flavors or indulgent mix-ins.

Younger adults are often experimental with their foods, flavor combinations and dessert-inspirations. Brands with indulgent yet unique hybrid options, with complementary or contrasting flavors or textures, stand out.

Products of Note

• A product like Breyers 2in1s may satisfy multiple cravings with Oreos and Chips Ahoy! cookies, Reese’s and Reese’s Pieces candy, Snickers and M&M’s candy and Heath and waffle cone.

• Midwestern grocer Hy-Vee Inc.’s brand Til the Cows Come Home features cleverly named ice cream flavors like Dough-Mo Arigato Mr. Roboto, A Kick In the Peanut Butter, No Fudgin’ Way, Play That Chunky Music White Cow and Say Cheese, Cheesecake.

• And this summer, Walmart offers the exclusive Dreyer’s Sour Patch Kids Ice Cream

The Takeaways

Universally beloved, ice cream gets a lot of attention. Consumers know exactly what they want, and the lines in the category have become blurred. No longer are indulgence and health mutually exclusive. Consumers know that they can have both – which gives product developers a mandate: bring the taste, and bring the fun. Regardless of where your product development lands, taste performance matters. It is far and away the most important drive for consumers. Prioritize taste and provide a “wow” factor and your ice cream is sure to dazzle.

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Sources in full report