Big scoop for vegan ice cream: Global plant-based ice cream new product development doubles in five years

Vegan ice cream accounts for an increasing proportion of global ice cream launches, making up 7% of all launches in the last 12 months, according to the latest research from Mintel Global New Product Database (GNPD).

Within the sector, the focus on the textural qualities of plant-based ice cream is increasing; vegan ice creams with a chucky texture such as nuts, cookie pieces, toffee pieces and cookie dough chunks have surged from 2% to 13% of launches over the last four years. Adapting to this trend is likely to appeal to the 73% of UK ice cream consumers who said that they like ice cream with different textures.

Chocolate, vanilla and coconut remain the most popular in terms of plant-based flavour innovation, accounting for 26%, 11% and 9% respectively. This comes as 12% of UK adults agree that the COVID-19 outbreak has made diet more appealing, almost doubling among under-25s at 23%.  

Kate Vlietstra, global food and drink analyst for Mintel, commented: “The recent buzz around veganism has made its mark on the ice cream category. Interest in vegan ice cream isn’t restricted to those following a vegan diet. Learning from their dairy counterparts, plant-based ice creams are moving beyond the classic flavours to offer indulgent options. Texture is playing a prominent part in vegan new product development (NPD) with chunkier varieties on offer. Brands are demonstrating that vegan offerings can be premium with an array of luxury flavour combinations and packaging.

“The makeup of plant-based ice cream will evolve, incorporating new ingredients from the world of plant milk such as quinoa and other seeds. Oats are expected to feature in more dairy-free ice creams, following on from the popularity of oats in plant-based drinks.”

Big in Japan: Japan scoops up top position for ice cream NPD
From matcha to mayonnaise and seaweed to soybean, there seems no limit to Japanese ice cream innovation as Mintel revealed that Japan has claimed the top position in ice cream innovation, commanding the highest share of ice cream launches.

Over the past five years, Japan’s ice cream innovation has gone from strength to strength. In 2015/16, Japan accounted for 7% of launches globally, but since then its innovation has been coming rapidly and Japan is now responsible for 10% product launches. Ranked second is the US, which accounts for 9% of new products launched.

With a 6% share of global ice cream innovation, Germany is Europe’s top ice cream innovator and third in terms of global innovation, meanwhile the UK has a 4% share.

Vlietstra continued: “Quirky flavours and exciting formats are putting Japanese ice cream at the forefront of food innovation, while providing ample inspiration for ice cream launches outside of Japan. The growing popularity of Japanese cuisine paves the way for ice cream brands to utilise traditional Japanese flavours such as hojicha and yuzu. Quirky combinations, unique flavours and unusual ice cream cones are all well-positioned to appeal to consumers globally.”

High added protein potential
Protein has gained importance with consumers. Over the last five years, food and drink launches featuring high and added protein claims have doubled from 2% to 4% of total food and drink. Meanwhile, high and added protein ice cream claims have increased from under 1% of ice creams to over 2% in the last four years. While relatively small in number, the opportunity for ice cream with added protein is highlighted by the fact that around 16% of British consumers would eat more ice cream if it had added protein.

“Ice cream is a treat food; a smaller amount of protein will satisfy the consumer demand for healthier options while allowing brands to explore different protein options. Plant proteins from legumes, grain and seeds can offer a high-protein alternative to dairy protein. With sustainability ever the topic of discussion, the ice cream category will need to demonstrate its ethical credentials to continue to win favour with consumers, and plant proteins can appeal due to their lower carbon footprint than dairy proteins,” she concluded.