Innovation Investigation: The Sweet Scoop About Ice Cream Trends in North America

by | Feb 1, 2024

It’s no secret that North Americans really love ice cream! Ice cream trends data reveal that North Americans spent more than $18 billion on ice cream in 2023. The U.S. ranked #3 globally for per capita consumption, with Canada making the top ten. According to Innova, North America holds a 17% share of the global desserts and ice cream market and 28% of non-dairy ice cream and frozen yogurt launches.

Join us as we explore ice cream trends in North America, how brands are bringing them to the shelf, and what you can do to innovate in the ice cream aisle.

Launch Trends in Dairy and Non-Dairy Frozen Desserts

Recent introductions provide helpful insight into how trends impact product innovation. We reviewed recently launched products from Mintel’s Global New Products Database to contextualize how brands address emerging ice cream trends.

INDULGENCE AND PREMIUM OPTIONS BOOST VALUE

Americans are particularly fond of ice cream, enjoying 18kg (about 40 pounds) annually per capita. Research shows that people in the U.S. are more likely to enjoy ice cream and frozen desserts because they want to indulge and treat themselves more than people in other nations (Innova Market Insights). Premium positionings add value by highlighting flavors, quality of ingredients, or packaging. National brand and private label ice cream producers are delivering indulgence in tubs and novelties.

Standout Statistics

    5

    Ice cream is a weekly treat for 52% of North Americans, with about 2 in 10 agreeing they eat more ice cream than last year (Innova Marketing Insights).

    5

    24% of Americans say they eat ice cream because they want something luxurious and special (Innova Marketing Insights).

    The Cheesecake Factory, U.S., March 2023

    This co-branded treat has premium strawberry cheesecake ice cream with a decadent strawberry swirl and dipped in delicious milk chocolatey and cookie crunch coating.

    S.E. Grocers Prestige French Quarter Praline Real Premium Ice, US, January 2024  Creamy caramel ice cream with rich caramel swirls and pecan praline pieces. No artificial colors & flavors. Made from milk with no artificial growth hormones. No high fructose corn syrup. Great-tasting quality at an affordable price.

    NON-DAIRY GOES MAINSTREAM AND GROWS SHARE OF NPD

    Have you noticed more plant-based ice cream options on the shelf? Although innovation slowed last year, plant-based frozen desserts made up 15% of new launches from 2019 to 2023. Food Navigator reports that growth may increase by 10% through 2033, even as the segment reaches maturity.

    Snö Dairy Free, US, January 2024

    Creamy caramel frozen plant-based dessert swirled with a salted caramel ribbon and a caramel center and topped with crunchy caramel bites.

    Sprout’s Farmers Market, US, October 2023

    An indulgent frozen dessert infused with rich coffee, laced with a luscious chocolate fudge swirl and topped with decadent chocolaty flakes.

    CLEAN LABEL CLAIMS STEP INTO THE SPOTLIGHT

    As we’ve covered in our 2024 predictions blog, quality is not something shoppers are willing to negotiate on, especially when it could impact their family’s health. Innova found that naturalness and real ingredients are the most influential on pack claims affecting the ice cream purchase decision. However, only 2% of ice cream NDP makes a natural claim, suggesting an opportunity for more clean-label ice creams.

    Metropolitan Market, US, January 2023

    Dark chocolate ice cream with peanut butter and crunchy Virginia peanuts. Both the lid and packaging emphasize “All-Natural.”

     

    Helados Mexico, US, April 2023

    Ice cream sandwiches made with real cream and real pieces of churro. “Made With REAL Ingredients” is called out with a special symbol to draw the eye.

    SUGAR IS OFF THE TABLE

    The desire for more natural ingredients includes sugar and artificial sweeteners. Research links too much sugar with type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) made headlines when it cautioned against using non-nutritive sweeteners to control body weight or reduce the risk of disease. Some recent ice cream launches emphasize “unrefined natural sugar,” “no added sugar,” or alternate (but still natural) sweeteners like honey and maple syrup.

    Water-based frozen desserts represent a pathway to meeting needs for permissibly indulgent frozen treats. NPD in water bases accounted for less than 6% of frozen dessert innovation, but brands are generating excitement with layering technology and inclusions.

    GoodPop, US, July 2023

    Cherry and lemonade flavored pops with 100% fruit juice and no added sugar. The packaging calls out “will never have HFCS, refined sugar or sugar alcohol sweeteners.”

    Green Girl, U.S., October 2023

    Dark Chocolate cookie plant-based ice cream sandwich featuring the bold flavors of cardamom and sweetened with maple syrup.

    Frozen Dessert Flavor Trends

    Flavor is the #1 consideration leading the ice cream purchase decision, followed by price and brand (Innova). While vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry remain at the top of the North American ice cream favorite flavor list, almost 1 in 4 agree they will try new flavors (FlavorSum proprietary research). Hundreds of flavors launch annually, providing developers with an extensive menu of options to consider for their innovations. Our team examined ice cream trends by flavor family to help identify the types of flavors that are most prominent and fast-growing in the category.

    DAIRY-BASED ICE CREAM FLAVOR FAMILIES

    Sweet flavors like chocolate, caramel, and maple are the most dominant in dairy-based ice cream, while herbs & spices (led by vanilla) are the second most common. Bakery flavors are gaining a share against the overall dairy CAGR.

    Flavor Families In Dairy-Based Ice Cream

    2019-2023

    Share of Launches

    CAGR

    Sweet (Chocolate/Caramel)

    57.4%

    -0.2%

    Herbs & Spices (Cinnamon/Mint)

    24.1%

    -1.0%

    Bakery (Cookie/Brownie)

    21.1%

    3.5%

    Fruit & Vegetable

    19.4%

    -2.9%

    Seeds & Nuts (Vanilla/Almond)

    16.5%

    -2.0%

    Beverage (Coffee/Tea/Lemonade)

    8.5%

    -0.9%

    Dairy (Butter/Cream)

    7.0%

    -9.3%

    Rice & Cereal (Granola)

    1.4%

    -4.4%

    Savory (Cheesecake)

    1.3%

    N/A*

    Flora (Lavender)

    0.6%

    N/A*

    Total Shares may add above 100% due to multiple flavor families in each product.
    *CAGR cannot be calculated due to zero launches in 2023

    PLANT-BASED ICE CREAM FLAVOR FAMILIES

    Bakery flavors experienced the highest growth in plant-based ice cream with offerings like chocolate chip cookie dough. Sweet flavors like chocolate and caramel lead in plant-based ice cream, showing the relevance of classics with plant bases. More novel flavors like pistachio that complement nutty plant bases are also growing.

    Flavor Families in Plant-Based Ice Cream

    2019-2023

    Share of Launches

    CAGR

    Sweet

    51.7%

    7.6%

    Fruit & Vegetable

    23.8%

    3.1%

    Seeds & Nuts

    23.5%

    0.0%

    Herbs & Spices

    23.1%

    -4.7%

    Bakery

    16.3%

    12.5%

    Beverage

    10.2%

    -11.1%

    Dairy

    1.7%

    N/A*

    Flora

    1.4%

    N/A*

    Savoury

    1.4%

    New

    Rice & Cereals

    1.0%

    N/A*

    Total Shares may add above 100% due to multiple flavor families in each product.
    *CAGR cannot be calculated due to zero launches in 2023

    WATER-BASED ICE LOLLIES, POPS, AND SORBETS

    Fruit flavors are a strong fit with water-based frozen treats. Caramel made the list of new flavors, along with fruity combinations using strawberry, watermelon, and Acai.

    Top Flavors Launched in North America (Mintel)

    5

    Strawberry

    5

    Mango

    5

    Raspberry

    5

    Lime

    5

    Grape

    5

    Cherry

    5

    Pineapple

    5

    Watermelon

    5

    Tangerine

    5

    Mango & Passionfruit

    5

    Lime & Blue Raspberry & Cherry

    New Flavors Spotted in 2023

    5

    Banana & Strawberry & Acai

    5

    Berry

    5

    Caramel & Vanilla

    5

    Cherry (Black)

    5

    Fruit

    5

    Lemonade

    5

    Lemonade & Strawberry

    5

    Orange & Strawberry

    5

    Orangeade

    5

    Strawberry & Watermelon & Blue Raspberry

    5

    Strawberry & Watermelon & Grape

    5

    Sweet & Bean (Red)

    Which Ice Cream Trends Fit Your Next Frozen Innovation?

    Whether you’re crafting a tried-and-true flavor or formulating a trendy limited edition, FlavorSum can help you explore your ice cream innovation opportunities. Our flavor experts are here to navigate development hurdles and speed time to market. Contact us to find solutions that deliver indulgent frozen treats that keep people coming back for more!

    Author

    Phil a’Becket

    Phil a’Becket is the Senior Consumer Insights Manager for FlavorSum. He has eight years of experience in food ingredient market research, focusing on both primary research and secondary data analysis. He earned his MBA from Clemson University, and joined FlavorSum in 2022.

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