Innovation Investigation: Consumer, Market, and Flavor Trends in Ice Cream

by | Feb 9, 2023

Walking down the ice cream aisle without grabbing your favorite classic taste or a new flavor you have yet to try is a challenge. Let’s face it; almost everyone loves ice cream. And based on launch data, North Americans really love ice cream. According to Innova, North America holds a 14% share of the global desserts and ice cream market and 39% of non-dairy ice cream and frozen yogurt launches.

Join us as we explore ice cream trends and recently launched products from Mintel’s Global New Products Database to understand what’s driving new product innovation.

Product Spotlight: Launch Trends in Dairy and Non-Dairy Frozen Desserts

Recent launches can be a strong indicator of upcoming trends. Over the past year, many creative ice cream concepts have hit the shelves. From brand collaborations to breakfast-inspired treats, ice cream innovation abounds. 

couple preparing healthy food

Breakfast inspired : Blue Bell capitalizes on consumer love for breakfast foods and the allure of limited-time offers with their latest launch, ‘I Heart Cereal Ice Cream.’ Carl Breed, Blue Bell’s general sales manager, says the ice cream is a “mixture of vanilla ice cream to represent the milk and fruity cereal pieces.”

Brand Collaborations: Established ice cream brand Hudsonville partners with snack favorite Little Debbie to deliver bakery-inspired tastes in the frozen space. The limited-edition collaboration has featured many fan favorites, such as Swiss Rolls and Cosmic Brownies.

Free-From Frozen Desserts: Gluten-Free. Allergen-Free. Dairy-Free. The classic pint-sized ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s reinvigorates the traditional tastes of oatmeal in this bakery-inspired delight. The new flavor comes as a collaboration with cookie brand, Partake and reflects a desire to deliver treats to children with allergies.

‘Permissible Indulgence’ in Frozen Desserts

Across most food and beverage categories – even the most indulgent—health and wellness positionings and claims are increasingly featured on the packaging. Ice cream manufacturers recognize that although frozen desserts aren’t traditionally associated with healthfulness, people who want a ‘permissible indulgence’ can now have their cake and eat it, too.

Four of the top 10 ice cream claims from launches in the past five years represent ‘free-from’ positionings.

Top 10 Claims in Ice Cream Launches (Last Five Years. North America. Mintel)

    • Kosher
    • Low/No/Reduced Allergen
    • Gluten-Free
    • GMO-Free
    • Dairy Free
    • No Additives/Preservatives
    • Premium
    • Hormone Free
    • Free from Added/Artificial Flavorings
    • Vegan/No Animal Ingredients

The same four free-from declarations are also among the fastest-growing claims in the past five years, with allergen claims showing the highest growth. As these trends in ice cream become more mainstream, we believe they will continue to grow in prominence on the shelf. And with 54% of US adults agreeing that indulgent foods can benefit overall health/wellbeing, consumers will follow with purchase (Mintel).

Seasonal Launches and LTOs

According to Innova, ‘seasonal’ claims on dairy-based ice cream and frozen yogurts are among the fastest-growing on-pack callouts. Limited-time-offers are exciting for several reasons, including:

    • In-season flavors create buzz and elevate the taste experience.
    • Seasonal flavors draw in new customers and keep your brand top of mind.
    • LTOs present opportunities to trial new flavors and combinations.
    • Seasonal LTOs support retailers and encourage shopper engagement.

Our insights team recently reviewed trending flavors by season in the ice cream category to understand what people reach for based on the time of year. Summer launches favor brighter tastes, with fruit flavors like mango and berry popping up. Unsurprisingly, the warm, popular tastes of fall and winter, such as peppermint and pumpkin, lend themselves to seasonal launches in frozen desserts. It’s never too cold to eat ice cream!

Spring & Summer (Last Five Years. North America. Mintel)

    • Salted Caramel
    • Chocolate & Cookie
    • Strawberry
    • Mango
    • Rocky Road

Fall & Winter (Last Five Years. North America. Mintel)

    • Peppermint
    • Chocolate
    • Egg Nog
    • Pumpkin Pie
    • Vanilla

Flavor Trends in Dairy Frozen Desserts

For dairy-based ice creams (and plant-based, too), classic flavors remain king. Many traditional tastes (like chocolate, vanilla, cookies & cream) top the charts for launched flavors, with provenance often part of the vanilla flavor profile.

Top Flavors in Dairy Frozen Desserts (Last Three Years. North America. Mintel)

    • Chocolate
    • Vanilla/Bourbon/Madagascar
    • Cookies & Cream
    • Chocolate & Mint
    • Chocolate & Peanut Butter

The overlap between the top launches and fastest-growing flavors in ice cream reiterates the value of familiarity for ice cream. Profiles like chocolate and mint top both charts. Other quickly emerging tastes that bring additional indulgence to frozen treats include bakery-inspired profiles, such as cookie dough, cake, and brownie.

Top Growing Flavors in Dairy Frozen Desserts (Last Year. North America. Mintel)

    • Chocolate & Cookie Dough (+250%)
    • Chocolate & Mint (+100%)
    • Cake/Pie/Tart (+100%)
    • Neapolitan (Three Layers) (+100%)
    • Brownie (+100%)

Flavor Trends in Plant-Based Frozen Dessert

Innovation rates in plant-based frozen desserts show the segment is keeping pace with dairy NPD. According to Innova, from April 2021 to March 2022, North America ranks second for non-dairy ice cream and frozen yogurt launches. Flavor trends—by launch volume and growth—show the relevance of classics with plant bases. For instance, cookies & cream is becoming a popular and more frequent pairing! More novel flavors like pistachio that complement nutty plant bases are also growing.

Top Flavors in Plant-Based Frozen Desserts (Last Three Years. North America. Mintel)

    • Vanilla/Vanilla Bourbon/Vanilla Madagascar
    • Chocolate
    • Cookies & Cream
    • Chocolate & Peanut Butter
    • Strawberry

Top Growing Flavors in Plant-Based Frozen Desserts (Last Year. North America. Mintel)

    • Cookies & Cream (+300%)
    • Vanilla Bean (+300%)
    • Mint (+100%)
    • Pistachio (+100%)
    • Cookie Dough (+100%)

Beyond the flavors on the leader board, Innova notes that trendier tastes like black tea, Madagascan vanilla and matcha are emerging.

Flavor innovation and base exploration represent two innovation pathways, but formulators have additional tactics for boosting the appeal of plant-based frozen desserts. Innova notes that high fructose corn syrup free, no added sugar, and low/no/reduced calorie are among the fastest growing claims for the segment.

Innovate in Ice Cream with FlavorSum

Whether you’re crafting a classic indulgence or creating a new free-from favorite, flavor solutions can help you deliver delicious taste. As you explore your ice cream innovation opportunities, connect with the FlavorSum team. A partnership with our flavor experts can help you navigate development hurdles and speed time to market. We’re here to find solutions that help you deliver indulgent treats that keep people coming back for more!