Plant-based ice cream trends: Textures and exotic flavours lead the way

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Vegan ice cream starts to gain market share as it now accounts for 7% of all new products in the category that hit the market in the past 12 months, a new Mintel research has revealed
Plant-based ice cream with pistachio chips on top, served on a table

Consumers around the world are going wild for plant-based innovation, and ice cream is no exception. According to the latest research from Mintel’s global new product database, vegan ice cream accounts for an increasing proportion of global ice cream launches, making up 7% of all new products that hit the market in the past 12 months, more than double its 3% of five years ago.

Mintel monitored global launches of ice cream in the 12 months period to May 2020 and compared data in the same period for the past five years.

Kate Vlietstra, a global food and drink analyst at Mintel, said: “The recent buzz around veganism has made its mark on the ice cream category. Interest in vegan ice cream isn’t restricted to those following a vegan diet.”

For Vlietstra, players in the plant-based ice cream space have learnt from their dairy counterparts, moving beyond the basic flavours to offer indulgent options.

“Texture is playing a prominent part in vegan new product development with chunkier varieties on offer, ” she said. “Brands are demonstrating that vegan offerings can be premium with an array of luxury flavour combinations and packaging.”

Within the sector, vegan ice creams with a chunky texture such as nuts, cookie pieces, toffee pieces and cookie dough chunks have surged from 2% to 13% of launches over the past four years.

Adapting to this trend is likely to appeal to the 73% of UK ice cream consumers who said that they like ice cream with different textures.

Chocolate, accounting for 26% of innovation over the past 12 months, vanilla (11%) and coconut (9%) remain the most popular in terms of plant-based flavour innovation.

These preferences come as 12% of UK adults agree that the Covid-19 outbreak has made a vegan diet more appealing, almost doubling among under-25s (23%).

Urgent Company Brave Robot ice cream brand product range
Dairy-free ice cream brand Braverobot entered the market in April

Vlietstra commented: “The makeup of plant-based ice cream will evolve, incorporating new ingredients from the world of plant milk such as quinoa and other seeds. Oats are expected to feature in more dairy-free ice creams, following on from the popularity of oats in plant-based drinks.”

Plant-based ice cream is big in Japan

Mintel’s research reveals that Japan is now the world’s number one global ice cream innovator, commanding the highest share of ice cream launches.

Over the past five years, Japan’s ice cream innovation has gone from strength to strength. In 2015/16 Japan accounted for 7% of launches globally, but since then its innovation has been coming thick and fast, and Japan is now behind one in ten (10%) product launches, overtaking the US in pole position. The US now accounts for 9% of new products launches over the past 12 months.

With a 6% share of global ice cream innovation, Germany is Europe’s number one ice cream innovator and third globally. The UK has a 4% share.

Portrait photo of Kate Vlietstra
Kate Vlietstra, global food and drink analyst at Mintel

For Vlietstra ice cream innovation in Japan has surged in recent years following a push to drive year-round consumption. She explained: “Quirky flavours and exciting formats are putting Japanese ice cream at the forefront of food innovation while providing ample inspiration for ice cream launches outside of Japan. The growing popularity of Japanese cuisine paves the way for ice cream brands to utilise traditional Japanese flavours such as hojicha and yuzu. Quirky combinations, unique flavours and unusual ice cream cones are all well-positioned to appeal to consumers globally.”

Vlietstra said that the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, now due to take place in summer 2021, will offer a global platform on which Japanese-inspired food and drink can shine. “Ice cream brands tapping into Japanese flavours are likely to fare well, particularly during the hot summer months.”

Protein potential

Protein has gained importance with consumers; over the past five years, food and drink launches featuring high or added protein claims have doubled from 2% to 4% of total food and drink. Meanwhile, high or added protein ice cream claims have increased from under 1% to more than 2% in the past four years.

While the added-protein is a feature relatively small in number, the Mintel research suggests that opportunities for ice cream with added protein are high. The study shows that one-in-six British (16%) consumers would eat more ice cream if it had added protein.

“Ice cream is a treat food; a smaller amount of protein will satisfy the consumer demand for healthier options while allowing brands to explore different protein options,” said Vlietstra. “Plant protein from legumes, grain and seeds can offer a high-protein alternative to dairy protein. With sustainability ever the topic of discussion, the ice cream category will need to demonstrate its ethical credentials to continue to win favour with consumers, and plant proteins can appeal due to their lower carbon footprint than dairy proteins,” she concluded.

In the UK, Perfect World Ice Cream is a prime example of challenger brands tapping into the alternative ice cream space. The company boast a portfolio of exotic flavours such as caramel pecan and sweet expresso, and products are made with a recipe free from sugar and added vitamins. Perfect World Ice Cream raised $332,000 in a crowdfunding campaign on Seeders as it prepares to expand in Europe.

About the author

Murielle Gonzalez
Editor of NutritionInvestor at Investor Publishing | Website

Murielle Gonzalez is the editor of NutritionInvestor. She is an experienced journalist with 20 years in the media industry, including work at b2b magazines in the UK and Latin America. Murielle holds a Master in Journalism from the University of Westminster and flair for all things online and multimedia storytelling.

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