- Americans spent nearly $6.5 billion on ice cream in the 52 weeks ending May 28, a 2.5% increase since last year, according to recent Nielsen data.
- Segments like frozen custard and non-dairy ice cream posted the highest dollar sales growth rates in that time period — 134% and 43.7%, respectively. The largest sales declines came from frozen yogurt (-10.7%) and sherbet (-7.6%).
- More than one-third of Americans who purchase ice cream (36%) prefer buying local brands, while 31% prefer global brands.
July is National Ice Cream Month, and the summer treat is getting new focus from manufacturers. Ice cream has been a source of both innovation and sales growth for Unilever, parent company of brands like Breyers, Magnum, Ben & Jerry's and Talenti.
The steady increase in ice cream sales in recent years juxtaposes the decline in milk sales. Conventional dairy manufacturers have felt the impact of the growth of the alternative dairy segment, but Nielsen's data proves that consumers aren't necessarily abandoning conventional dairy altogether. Like with milk, premium ice cream brands have brought growth for manufacturers.
Dean Foods aims to offset declines in milk volumes by focusing on developing its branded milk and ice cream portfolio. Most recently, that included announcing its acquisition of the manufacturing and retail ice cream business of Friendly's Ice Cream from Friendly's Restaurants in May.
Unilever's refreshments category, which includes ice cream, saw sales increase 3.8% in the most recently reported quarter, which drove the overall 1.9% sales growth the company reported for its food business. Last year, Unilever's refreshments segment posted 8.5% sales growth for the summer quarter, and ice cream sales could maintain that level of growth this year.
Innovation has been central to that growth, particularly for the Ben & Jerry's brand. It launched a new line of Wich ice cream sandwiches to capitalize on consumers' demand for convenience and snack-friendly foods, as well as a line of non-dairy ice creams.
Using better-for-you ingredients has also been a popular strategy. Breyers stopped using dairy products that contain artificial growth hormones last year. Nestle announced in April that it would make ingredients changes to more than 100 products across six of its brands. The changes vary from product to product but include the removal of artificial colors and flavors, high fructose corn syrup, and GMO ingredients.