All About the Base: Trends in Plant-Based Frozen Desserts

by | Juin 24, 2021

From coconut milk yogurt to almond milk creamer and oat milk frozen desserts, consumers are showing an appetite for exploring plant-based dairy offerings. The demand for sweet frozen plant-based treats is leading producers to launch diverse options featuring soy, coconut, almond, oats, cashews, and pea protein. 

We explored some consumer expectations around plant-based dairy products and some possible formulation opportunities with flavor and texture in a previous post. In this article, we focus more on plant-based frozen desserts and how different bases and flavors can help satisfy customer expectations and build market share across the dairy aisles.

Looking at Plant-Based Milk Trends for Insights

Since plant-based milk is the foundation of dairy alternatives, market trends often reveal helpful consumer insights about the plant-based frozen desserts subcategory.

Plant-based milk is on a fast growth track. 

  • Currently representing about 2% of global milk sales, forecasted growth for dairy milk alternatives is three times the anticipated gain in traditional dairy milk (Green Circle Capital Advisors).
  • Acceptance is wider in North America, where plant-based milk represents about 20% of total milk sales (Research and Markets).

Making way for up-and-coming plant bases.

  • Most of the world relies on soy milks in the non-dairy space, reflecting availability and preference in Asian countries (Green Circle Capital Advisors).
  • Almond milk remains the most popular and widely available plant-based option for both the U.S. and Canada (Research and Markets).  
  • Alternatives like coconut milk and oat milk are gaining traction in North America (Research and Markets). 

Popular bases vary by subcategory. 

  • Plant-based launches in the frozen and dairy aisles were up 27% in 2019 (Mintel,).
  • While almond milk was the mainstay of plant-based beverages, oat milk took the lead in 2020 launches (Mintel,).
  • Coconut is driving plant-based spoonable yogurt launches, with almond a close second (Mintel,).

Frozen dessert producers’ go-to base has been coconut, followed by almond. However, oat milk launches are gaining traction, making up 30% of launches in 2020 (Mintel,).

Top Reasons Consumers Purchase Plant-Based Dairy

Trends in plant-based dairy indicate a lasting shift in behavior as customers become more aware of options and the associated health and environmental benefits. As we mentioned in a previous post, the top two motivations for purchasing non-dairy products are the perceived health and environmental benefits. 

Nearly three-quarters of shoppers interested in dairy alternatives who participated in a FlavorSum study consider plant-based dairy because these products are “healthier than similar foods made out of traditional dairy.” Over half said plant-based dairy products are “better for the environment.” 

Findings from the survey also seemed to indicate that dietary requirements do not play a significant role in the decision to buy plant-based dairy. When asked about diets, 59% said they follow a standard diet, 20% were flexitarians, 7% were pescatarians, and 7% were vegetarians.

Decision Criteria for Plant-Based Frozen Desserts

If health and environmental concerns are the primary motives for purchasing plant-based dairy products, what characteristics influence the purchase decision for consumers pursuing the frozen dessert section?

Base

According to our survey, 65% of respondents said flavor was the first characteristic they looked for in a frozen dessert. However, for non-dairy shoppers, only 26% said flavor was the first characteristic they considered. 74% said they looked at plant-base before considering flavor options.

Arôme +

Flavor still plays a significant role in the purchase decision. When asked to clarify which was more important, 57% of respondents said that flavor was “somewhat or much more important” than the base.

Labeling

As mentioned above, choosing a healthier option is one of the two main reasons consumers choose to purchase plant-based dairy. 70% named ‘natural ingredients as ‘very or somewhat important’ to their decision. Additional influences mentioned by at least 50% of consumers include: 

  • Offering a functional benefit (like protein)
  • Having no/low sugar
  • And no/low fat

Consumer Associations & Concerns by Base

Gaining meaningful market share in plant-based frozen desserts will require a thoughtful balance between base and flavor. New products should incorporate a plant base that will meet customers’ expectations for health and environmental concerns while also delivering outstanding taste and texture experiences. Below are common health and environmental perceptions for the four major plant bases in North America alongside consumer flavor and sensory associations. (For a more detailed breakdown of top flavor choices, please see our previous post.)

Almond Milk

Almond milk is the number one base in both the U.S. and Canada, representing 63% of the plant-based milk market. Although it is the most widely available, almond milk is losing some ground to alternatives like soy milk, rice milk, and oat milk.

Consumer associations:

  • Dairy-like texture
  • Creamy
  • Fits with simple sweet, indulgent, and berry flavor profiles

Potential concerns:

  • Less sustainable (high water usage and erosion of bee population)
  • Less indulgent
  • Low protein
  • Not aligned with dietary needs
  • Base declining in Canada

Soy Milk

Although soy milk dominates the global plant-based dairy market, it is the second most popular base in North America. Soy was embroiled in a “non-milk” milk controversy when reports misleadingly linked it to hormonal imbalances. Soy milk is declining slightly in the U.S. and Canada.

Consumer associations:

  • Dairy-like texture
  • Vegan/organic
  • Low carb
  • Pairs with fun, simple sweet, and indulgent flavor profiles 

Potential concerns:

  • Allergen perceptions
  • Not thick enough
  • Low protein 
  • Base declining in North America

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is the number three base in North America. While coconut milk frozen dessert launches increased from 2016 to 2019, launches declined in 2020 (Mintel,).  

Consumer associations:

  • Dairy-like texture
  • Creamy
  • Aligns with simple sweet, indulgent, and tropical flavor profiles

Potential concerns:

  • Less sustainable (deforestation and worker exploitation)
  • High in sugar/low in protein
  • Not Vegan
  • Base declining in Canada

Oat Milk

Oat milk is steadily gaining traction in North America across plant-based beverage, yogurt, and frozen dessert categories. Consumers see oat milk as an environmentally friendly option because it is less water-intensive to grow and produces less carbon dioxide emissions. They also perceive oat-based products favorably because of the nutritional profile and familiar, well-like taste of oats. 

Consumer associations:

  • Creamy/thick
  • Healthier
  • Organic/gluten-free
  • More sustainable
  • Has appeal with simple sweet, spice, and berry flavor profiles

Potential concerns:

  • Less dairy-like
  • Less traditional
  • Weaker on functional benefits

Sprout Success in Plant-Based Frozen Desserts

Download our e-book Sprout Success with Plant-Based Frozen Desserts for a more in-depth analysis of our consumer research about how to delight customers with innovative plant-based frozen treats. 

Achieving the right balance of flavor and texture profiles often requires partnership with experts in plant-based product development. If you’re facing challenges with your plant-based dairy product, contact the FlavorSum team, and we’ll explore solutions that achieve your goals!

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