- As the free-from food trend expands, indulgences are also getting cleaner labels. Vegan ice cream – often made with coconut or almond milk -- now makes up 4% of new launches, according to a BBC article.
- Major manufacturers and small companies alike are launching varieties without dairy. Haagen-Dazs has non-dairy ice creams, and Incredible Foods just launched three new varieties of the dessert that are free from the top eight allergens – dairy, wheat, soy, gluten, tree nuts, peanuts, eggs and seafood – according to a company statement.
- Despite increases in consumer health concerns, people have not lost their appetite for indulgent frozen desserts. Research from Mintel shows the ice cream and frozen dairy dessert market has grown 7% between 2014 and 2016, and retail sales of frozen yogurt and non-dairy ice cream have fallen 10% during that time frame.
While ice cream is not really getting healthier, it is adapting with current trends to become more accessible to people with food allergies and intolerances. Which makes sense, considering up to 15 million Americans have at least one food allergy, including 5.9 million children, according to Food Allergy Resource and Education. And the the National Institute of Health estimates 65% of people have some difficulty digesting the lactose commonly found in milk.
But food intolerances and allergies aside, many consumers are trying to embrace the non-dairy diet — at least in some form. A Mintel study last year showed non-dairy milk sales grew 9% in 2015, while dairy milk sales fell 7% during the same time. In a survey by plant-based dairy company Califia Farms conducted last year with BerryCart, more than half of omnivores reported consuming plant-based alternative dairy beverages several times a week. In addition, non-dairy ice creams are finally coming into the spotlight, with major manufacturers like Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's manufacturing dairy-free lines.
However, savvy ice cream manufacturers are wise to limit these offerings. While dairy-free varieties are important to a certain population that is unable to enjoy ice cream otherwise, most consumers without these restrictions are still interested in traditional, cream-heavy, sugary ice cream. According to Mintel's ice cream study, about 11% of Americans cut back on ice cream or frozen treats because of health concerns. Almost the same amount of people actively avoid "healthy" frozen treats because they are “meant to be treats.” And a full 27% of people who buy ice cream think the treats are unhealthy, but buy them anyway.
It will be interesting to see if these figures change when Mintel does its next annual study of the ice cream market, considering this year's explosion of popular low-calorie, high-protein pints such as Halo Top and copied by other manufacturers, large and small. However, considering lackluster taste tests, indulgent ice cream may end up winning out again.