The Rise in Vegan Ice Cream
In 2016, DANONE acquired WHITEWAVE, a leader in plant-based nutrition with brands such as Alpro, Silk and So Delicious. This was a bold move for a company which had been promoting the benefits of milk for decades and building a huge part of its business on the functionalities of dairy (i.e. probiotics, gut well-being…). But, consumer habits are changing… and all major dairy companies have since followed suit, investing in dairy-free companies, or launching their own dairy-alternative range, the goal of which for many of them being to offset their stable, if not declining, sales in dairy products.
Plant-based yogurts, dairy-free ice cream, animal-free milk, and non-dairy cheese are now a typical part of the grocery assortment in stores, and the vegan food market has tallied worldwide sales of 12.69 Bn USD in 2018, with an expectation to grow at 9.8% per year over the next decade. Even more interesting is the fact that more than 40% of the vegan market is made up of dairy-alternatives, even more so than meat or egg alternatives, suggesting that the consumers are not easily willing to give up their cheese, ice cream or yogurts just yet, they merely want them without dairy!
THE RISE of THE FLEXITARIAN CONSUMER
Why are consumers turning towards a more flexitarian diet approach and re-balancing their diet to include more plant sources instead of moving to a 100% plant-based diet? There are several reasons:
CONSTRAINED DIET: Historically, lactose-intolerance or allergies to milk have led families to move away from dairy (when one person in a household is allergic, it is generally the whole family who adopts the new diet).
HEALTH: Traditionally considered healthy and necessary, according to national nutritional guidelines, animal-sourced products have since been identified by some studies as possible sources of cardio-vascular disease or some types of cancer. As an example of this trend, in 2019, Canada removed the dairy category as a required segment within its widely-distributed food guide, focusing on protein foods instead, but with dairy products being included here.
ENVIRONMENT: with the world facing global warming, animals (cows especially) have been targeted as a major source of CO2 emissions, leading new generations of consumers away from animal products and towards more sustainable sources of food.
ANIMAL WELFARE: widely reported cases of animal cruelty in the food industry have triggered consumers to look for alternative products.
THE VEGAN FROZEN DESSERTS SUB-SEGMENTS
Linking the words vegan or dairy-free with ice cream seems contradictory, as cream, like milk, strongly relates to dairy. Regulations are trying to keep pace with the evolution of the food industry, and while the use of the word ice cream or milk has been strongly regulated in some places, other countries have not been as strict with its use. For example, do not be surprised to find mentions of plant-based ice cream in India or plant-based frozen desserts in the USA in our previous articles.
Nevertheless, we can still make some clear distinctions within the vegan frozen dessert segment:
SORBET: vegan “ice cream” is not a new concept. Sorbet (which mixes fruit, water and sugar as key ingredients) is a longstanding dairy-free treat (unlike sherbet) which has experienced a revival thanks to this vegan trend. From 625 Mn USD in 2020, the global sorbet market is expected to experience a growth of 7.55% a year to double by 2030.
The market as a whole is experiencing a new wave of innovations. Check out how HALO TOP launched a new range of low sugar / low calories range of fruit popsicles in April 2021. Even more recently, in May 2021, YASSO launched JÜVE POPS, a functional fruit popsicle which contains vitamins and electrolytes to provide a hydrating frozen dessert. It is the first product to emerge from Yasso’s internal incubator.
PLANT-BASED: the buzzword of the moment. The plant-based ice cream market was estimated at 1.89 Bn USD in 2018, with an 9.10% annual growth expected for the 2020-2025 period. Almost all brands in the industry now have their own plant-based range. Have a look here at our matrix of the major plant-based launches over the past 12 months to get an idea of the regular stream of innovations. The segment continues to innovate with most producers focusing on finding the best plant to match the texture and creaminess of dairy while being the most environment friendly option possible. So, what are the options?
- SOY: the original dairy alternative, the use of soy milk has been declining for the last 5 years, with concerns primarily focusing on the sourcing of GMO-free soy, a necessity for the EU market.
- ALMOND: while very water-intensive in its production, almond is still used in new formulations. Ben & Jerry’s continue to use almond milk for its extensive plant-based range, to which they recently added 5 new flavours. Not to mention Almond Dream, owned by Hain Celestial Group and one of the pioneer in plant-based ice cream.
- OAT is becoming more and more popular with many brands reformulating to oat in order to benefit from its improved environmental footprint and/or a texture which is more similar to dairy. Check out how MY MOCHIS, recently moved from cashews to oat, or again, HALO TOP which moved its dairy-free range away from coconut to use oat. SNÖ in Canada is also offering a full range of oat-based ice cream, in various formats.
- COCONUT is losing ground, mostly due to it having a stronger flavour in ice cream, and concerns about deforestation in countries of origin. However, it still remains one of the TOP 5 options for plant-based ice cream formulations, as demonstrated in the recent launch of Cecily’s vegan bites.
- A few other plant-based formulations can now also be found on the market. CHICKPEA is receiving a lot of attention thanks to its nutritional properties and inexpensiveness. SWEETPEA became the 1st brand to introduce chickpea ice cream into the US. Additionally, OLIVE OIL with WILDGOOD is also replacing dairy in ice cream formulation. Finally, BANANA is also available with YELLOFRUIT launching banana-based dairy-free ice cream in Canada.
ANIMAL-FREE: this brand-new segment is somewhat tricky since we are talking about animal-free dairy ice cream. Yes, it is still dairy but it is animal-free dairy… and vegan in some cases! It is not clear whether all countries would validate such labelling, but the concept was developed in the US by PERFECT DAY, who recreate animal-free dairy proteins through fermentation, thus eliminating the environmental and animal welfare issue relating to traditional animal dairy products.
And it works! Brands such as GRAETER’s or NICK’s have used PERFECT DAY’s patented technology to launch their own vegan range, boasting a taste matching the creaminess of the animal dairy. Worth a try?
With so many innovations shaking up the ice cream industry at its roots, the next few years will be worth watching as new standards come into place. Dairy ice cream will without a doubt remain, but exactly how much of the market will move to vegan offerings? Will we see cannibalization or overall category growth? Which formulations will win out? One thing is for sure: most ice cream producers have ensured that they are ready for what’s to come.
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