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What’s trending for ice cream?

Ice cream consumers are gravitating toward offerings that focus on indulgence, unusual flavors and vegan ingredients.

5 min read

Consumer Insights

What’s trending for ice cream?

Van Leeuwen

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Sweet frozen treats have always been and likely will always be a favorite food for people to enjoy at nearly any occasion, but ice cream was particularly popular while consumers have had to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Ice cream has exemplified some of the major food and beverage trends that have emerged and proved strong over the past 18 months. More consumers are seeking out these treats with 59% of consumers reporting they have bought frozen desserts as a snack and 38% saying they are snacking on them more than they were pre-pandemic, according to Mintel research.

Indulgent, comfort food

Mintel also found that roughly half of consumers are snacking on frozen desserts as a form of treating themselves as well as a feeling of comfort.

“Permissible indulgence is growing in demand, and substantial opportunities exist for frozen snacks to fill the void,” Paris Hogan, a senior consultant at Mintel, said to FoodNavigator.

As consumers have experienced the challenges of the pandemic, they continue to purchase foods that provide satisfaction and familiar tastes. Ice cream company Van Leeuwen experienced this effect when consumers flocked to their products and stores to find comfort.

“When it comes to eating, this led them to go for more indulgent foods that made them happy,” said co-founder Ben Van Leeuwen. “It actually goes well with our taglines ‘happiness is healthiness’, and ‘a life without anything good is bad.’”

In times of uncertainty, the stability of classic, delicious ice cream flavors can help reassure and even soothe the customer.

“We have found the eat-ability for ice cream is achieved by creating something that’s first and foremost familiar and understandable to people,” said Van Leeuwen. 

Unexpected flavors

Unusual flavors for product categories have been trending across the food and beverage industry — Mtn Dew Flamin’ Hot, Sour Patch Kids Candy Pop Popcorn and Peeps Pepsi, for example. Ice cream has been no exception to this phenomenon. Van Leeuwen collaborated with Kraft Heinz earlier this year to create a limited-time Macaroni & Cheese flavor, which was available in both packaged form as well as at Van Leeuwen shops.

Van Leeuwen

“We loved the idea of partnering with an iconic American food product,” said Van Leeuwen. “The reason we went through with the partnership is because, to our surprise and delight, Kraft Mac & Cheese had a clean ingredient label which is in line with our product quality ethos. We also knew that the flavor would be not only surprising and shocking but really really yummy. The color is beautiful, and that cultured dairy gives you an awesome umami taste.”

He shared that the product sold out in 15 minutes online and within hours in stores, prompting the company to launch a second limited run added after the success. And, Van Leeuwen isn’t stopping the innovative flavor creation there; the company is developing an oolong tea flavor that features jasmine flower essence.

“With everything we do, the objective is yummy-ness, we will never make a flavor for the sake of being weird or different,” he said. “Sometimes a different and cutting edge flavor is result of the quest for deliciousness, but deliciousness is always the main objective.”

Non-dairy category

Adding and improving vegan offerings is yet another food and beverage trend that has been well-represented in ice cream products. According to Innova Market Insights’ Non-Dairy Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt in North America analysis, the continent holds the majority market share of non-dairy launches and vegan labeling is the top positioning for ice cream launches in the US for the subcategory. 

Ben Van Leeuwen reports that the Van Leeuwen brand, which already offers many vegan frozen dessert options using cashew and oat milk, is continuing to develop even more non-dairy varieties to “experiment with whole ingredients and explore fermentation processes that can give the vegan ice cream that incredible depth of flavor that is hard to find outside of dairy.”

In the US and Canada, milk chocolate, chocolate chip and vanilla are the top non-dairy ice cream flavors, according to the Innova report, with other trending flavors including salted caramel, coffee, strawberry and banana.

“We want to continue making good ice cream that makes you feel good, to us this means using great ingredients and obsessing over our formulation and process,” said Van Leeuwen. “I think when it comes down to it people love ice cream and the pandemic brought them closer to their true desires.”

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