Hot Topics and Trends in Ice Cream Technology

Double coated sticks… Co-extruded ice cream mochis… Nitrogen-frozen ice cream pearls… Innovation in ice cream never ceases to amaze us. Beyond branding and product development, technologies are a key driver in delivering innovative products to consumers. This is especially true if you are looking at a breakthrough innovation that can redefine the market and create a brand-new segment, one which will not cannibalise sales, but rather build additional growth for the category as a whole. Hence our wish, at INNODELICE, to get in touch with the key players in ice cream technology to better understand what the future will be made of.


Gram Equipment is one of these leading players in the world of ice cream technology & equipment. Headquartered in Denmark, Gram Equipment delivers a large number of new ice cream production lines across the world every year. As a total solutions provider that helps customers convert ice cream ideas into technology, they believe that better understanding the technology and equipment available to you can help you innovate faster.


We spoke with Anders TORBENSEN, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Gram Equipment to learn more about:

  • The new requirements in ice cream technology that will become common features within the next 5 years.

  • His point of view on the key trends in ice cream, and how Gram Equipment work to address those in terms of technologies.

  • And lastly, how the COVID pandemic disrupted their model.



4 Emerging Ice Cream Technology Trends


Upon speaking with Anders from Gram Equipment, he told us about the four key trends in ice cream and the subsequent ice cream technology that is becoming more prevalent in the industry today which, according to Anders, will continue to increase in importance over the next five years.



1. Ice Cream Becomes Bite Sized


Ice cream consumption overall is growing but Gram Equipment have seen a noticeable increase in the amount of requests for snack-sized and portion control formats in new innovations. These bite-sized novelties can be challenging from an equipment perspective because they are often created outside the traditional ice cream machine formats, so the technology used by brands may often have to be adapted or changed in order to maintain efficient production levels.



This is why it is important to plan ahead in the product development phase. Considering what your format needs may be in the future can help you avoid or minimise technology or equipment adjustments. As an example, Gram Equipment makes sure your extrusion line is flexible enough to produce sticks, but with minimal change-over, you could also manufacture bites or other extruded stickless formats.



2. Traceability from Farm to Spoon


Traceability is becoming hugely important across the entire mainstream food industry and has now also moved into ice cream and frozen desserts. Consumers are more appreciative of a brand’s transparency and ability to keep track of their raw materials and ingredients all the way from farm to spoon.


Technology-wise, Gram Equipment is now offering the option of printing digital QR codes which, thanks to full integration opportunities with the client’s MRP system, will allow the final consumer to find all relevant information regarding the traceability of their ice cream.


“We make a stronger link between the customer and the traceability of a brand’s individual product. We are expecting to see much more of this in the near future as consumers become more careful about what they are actually consuming.”

This traceability system works due to each individual product, as well as its external packaging, having its own QR code, with customised information about the origin of the key ingredients (which is as transparent and detailed as the client’s information system can provide). For ice cream, this might look like showing which farm the cows that made the milk came from, or which country the chocolate inclusion / coating was imported from. This is not just a concept on paper, the equipment is already readily available!



3. Consume Less for a Better Planet


Another trend that has been growing across the food industry and becoming fundamental in ice cream as well is the sustainability piece which Gram Equipment expects to grow immensely over the next 12 months.


“Technology has a big role to play in the sustainability of the ice cream industry. In the last couple of years, we have made various achievements in actually reducing the energy. At a high level, there are basically three different ways of manufacturing ice cream; extrusion, moulding, and filling. On extrusion, we have managed to achieve more than 10% energy reduction, and in moulding, we have achieved more than 12% reduction in energy.”

Reducing waste is another profitable sustainability goal that businesses can work towards. Helping brands achieve this reduction in waste can be carried out by ensuring that the equipment they use is designed to be less dependent on operators and more capable of self-monitoring. For example, a machine designed to reduce spillage or overflow will require fewer ingredients to create the same end-product.


“No ‘good food’ waste is a concept that many of our customers are moving towards, meaning that if the food is good, it should not be wasted”.


4. From Plastic to Paper-based


In order to better align with the movement to create less plastic pollution, ice cream brands are looking for ways to minimise or avoid plastic in their products. This change in the industry is another challenge for ice cream equipment manufacturers who have to adjust to the new outputs required. Luckily, for brands moving away from plastic and towards paper-based packaging, the investment and changes required are, in most cases, very minimal and can be easily adapted to suit existing technology needs.



3 Key Ice Cream Trends and their Impact on Technology


1. Non-Dairy Desserts Disrupt


Non-dairy frozen desserts are on the rise globally and the equipment required to handle the needs of a non-dairy frozen dessert brand is disruptive because non-dairy ice cream freezes differently due to the fat content. However, consumers still want their non-dairy ice cream to have a similar texture to dairy ice cream, so manufacturers need to consider the use of new equipment in order to satisfy this consumer need.


While this is usually not a concern for companies that exclusively produce plant-based or non-dairy frozen desserts, traditional ice cream brands looking to expand their portfolio to include non-dairy products may be wondering how they can do so in the most seamless and affordable way possible.


Gram Equipment is working on this and currently work with a piece of equipment that can be easily installed to existing assets like traditional freezers so that brands can switch from dairy to non-dairy production processes almost instantaneously, thanks to the kit’s ability to be installed and uninstalled within a matter of hours.



2. Increased Indulgence and Co-Branding Creations


Whether it comes from more indulgent ice cream (multi-textures, multi-layers, larger inclusions) or from co-branding creations, ice cream manufacturers are looking for more diverse ingredients than just milk, cream, sugar and variegates. Challenges can arise from this sudden need for manufacturers to handle those new products or ingredients, often from other categories. For example, if an ice cream brand wants to include a Kit Kat bar in their pint, the manufacturer needs to be able to adjust their equipment to cater for the new ingredient, which can lead to hefty investments or time-consuming changes in the manufacturing process.


“From a technology point of view, this challenges us as we need to have the right equipment to handle the addition of these new ingredients that we have traditionally not handled before in the ice cream industry.”

The trend for ice cream indulgence innovation and open collaborations means that this will likely be a more common challenge in the future and there should be a solution to allow both small and large manufacturers the option to cater to this growing need through the use of more adaptive technology. Gram Equipment claims to stay ahead of the curve in this aspect by keeping an eye on other industry and category solutions.


“We like to look to other industries, like bakery, to better understand how they are handling this, and then think about how we can convert these methods into solutions for the ice cream industry.”


3. Allergen-Free Equipment


The rise in brands making more inclusive and accessible ice cream products has had a knock-on effect on the equipment required to cater to these needs. The design of allergen-free equipment and technology needs to be differentiated for safety purposes and the challenge lies in figuring out how to switch between equipment for products with and without allergens in a way that remains efficient and effective for brands (i.e. minimal cleaning time, full assurance of allergen-free…).


Exemple of a highly automated ice cream extrusion line

COVID has been an accelerator for digitalisation, including the installation of new production lines.


Markets where out-of-home ice cream consumption encompasses a large part of their sales, such as Asia and the Middle East, are the ones that have suffered the most during the pandemic period due to business closures in this space. On the other hand, European and North American markets saw ice cream sales rise during Covid given their preference for at-home ice cream consumption. Apart from this slowed consumption rate in some countries, which is now beginning to level out again, the ice cream industry as a whole has remained relatively successful throughout the pandemic period.


Thinking positively, companies like Gram Equipment have realised their ability to achieve things they did not think possible pre-Covid. For example, during the past year, they have been able to successfully install and commission digital production lines in spaces outside of their HQ in Denmark all thanks to the use of virtual reality (VR) glasses which allow them to virtually manage and instruct foreign office teams on-site! Impressive!


“From our HQ in Denmark, we were able to digitally commission a production line through the use of virtual reality which has granted us an immensely positive impact on our future flexibility in international markets.”

Ice cream has also become more prevalent in the eCommerce and online delivery world since the pandemic began. Customers now have the option of ordering ice cream online and having it delivered to their location almost immediately. This is a trend we noticed Magnum in Europe capitalising on in our July What’s New article, but it is a trend that all brands should be taking into consideration as the global ice cream industry scales towards even faster and more immediate innovation opportunities.


The future of ice cream tech may also involve more minimalist or contained production spaces. Solutions like this could be helpful in coping with the extremely fast growth rate of ice cream sales in certain countries, like India, where consumption is rising in double digit figures but they also experience a lack of cold chain distribution channels.



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ABOUT INNODELICE

Founded by former executives in the Ice Cream industry, INNODELICE aims to create a worldwide ecosystem of solutions within the frozen dessert industry. Thanks to the relationships fostered by INNODELICE, manufacturers, brands, importers, distributors and suppliers can discover, buy and sell solutions to GROW their business. These solutions include co-manufactured and branded products as well as innovative and competitive ingredients, packaging and services. Our collaboration model generates lower costs and fewer risks for our participating partners while optimising their time to market. To learn more about INNODELICE, contact Nicolas MARIE (nicolas.marie@innodelice.com), Andrea MONTREUIL (andrea.montreuil@innodelice.com) or visit www.innodelice.com.

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