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Ice cream’s resurgence through flavor, better-for-you innovation

As the ice cream industry embraces indulgence, health, sustainability and new formats, innovation and adaptability will guide its flavorful future.

4 min read

Consumer InsightsFood

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While the ice cream market has experienced a decrease in volume in recent years, it is expected to emerge at pre-pandemic levels with the help of flavor and format innovations. The category is expected to globally grow by a compound annual growth rate of 4.2% through 2030, according to Grand View Research data

“Cargill has identified the ice cream category as a prime growth opportunity, and we’re excited to help our customers succeed in this dynamic space,” said Mark Fahlin, business development manager at Cargill. “One challenge is simply keeping up with consumers’ evolving preferences. Cargill’s proprietary consumer research, spanning ingredient perceptions, package claim preferences and food and beverage trends, can help brands keep pace. “

One of the brands working to create products that reflect consumer trends – at both retail and foodservice – is Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

“By staying true to our values and continuously innovating through collaborations and unique flavors, we remain a leader in the ice cream industry,” said Jeni’s CEO Stacy Peterson. “In terms of innovation, we invest in research and development to create unique and exciting flavor combinations that captivate our customers’ palates. We also pay close attention to customer feedback and market research to adapt to changing preferences swiftly.”

Indulgence reigns supreme

A major trend across many food categories is indulgence, and Cargill has identified uber-indulgence as the flavor profile that ice cream brands should focus on in order to capture customers’ attention and drive further growth.

“Consumers are drawn toward decadent flavors that signal premiumization, from double chocolate fudge to sea salt caramel brownie, eager to try combinations that promise to delight the senses,” explained Fahlin. “Rich, creamy textures, often interspersed with decadent inclusions, add to the overall experience, yielding a multi-sensorial experience that today’s consumers find impossible to resist.”

Jeni’s is a flavor-first company, shared Peterson, adding that while the brand is focused on bringing unique varieties to consumers that meet what they are seeking, following trends isn’t necessarily Jeni’s primary concern. The brand’s offerings include one-of-a-kind flavors such as Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, nostalgic dessert-inspired ice creams, sweet and spicy combinations and even savory flavors like Sweet Potato Marshmallow Brulee and Everything Bagel.

“As a brand, we are always creating flavors that push the boundaries of what you might expect from ice cream,” Peterson added. “Our customers want to come in and try something they haven’t had in ice cream before. … I think customers are craving familiar, indulgent flavors in new ways.” 

Fun, indulgent ice cream formats are trending alongside indulgent flavors.

“When we think ice cream, we often focus on the scoopable space, but there’s plenty of growth and creativity happening with novelties and handhelds,” said Fahlin. “These convenient treats make ice cream indulgence portable – what’s not to love!”

This popularity of a handheld ice cream format has created opportunities for groceries and foodservice businesses to offer novelties in new placements to encourage impulse purchases, Fahlin added.

Peterson echoed those thoughts, sharing that she also expects the ice cream novelty category to grow significantly in the coming years. Jeni’s debuted its ice cream sandwiches exclusively in Whole Foods in 3 indulgent flavors with plans to add a fourth in 2024.

Healthier, sustainable ice cream options

However, amidst this penchant for extravagance, another segment of consumers seeks more than decadence. Fahlin highlights the rise of health-conscious shoppers craving “permissible indulgences,” spurring interest in ice creams fortified with nutritional value.

“Ice creams infused with health-supportive functional ingredients might well be the next evolution of this trend,” he added.

The Go!Drop fat technology, Puris 2.0 pea protein ingredient and stevia-based portfolio of products are among Cargill’s solutions for ice cream products that allow its customers to offer better-for-you options that still meet the quality standards of traditional ice creams – mouthfeel, creaminess, structure and freezing points. Ice cream manufacturers can still deliver tasty, even indulgent flavors that are plant-based, low-fat and/or low-sugar. 

Moreover, Fahlin sheds light on the industry-wide spotlight on sustainability, a concern reaching across food and beverage segments. 

“It’s a priority for us, too, which is why Cargill is investing across our supply chains, developing programs, tools and services that give our customers confidence that their products and ingredients are sourced responsibly and help them meet their sustainability goals, too,” he shared.

As the ice cream industry embraces indulgence, health, sustainability and new formats, innovation and adaptability will guide its flavorful future.

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