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The scoop on plant-based frozen dessert

Plant-based frozen desserts* are booming in popularity as health-conscious consumers embrace new ice cream alternatives. Here we look at four current trends and what they mean for producers.

*Frozen dessert is a term for all kinds of desserts that are meant to be eaten in a frozen condition. They include ice creams, sherbets, sorbets, frozen yoghurts and non-dairy frozen desserts. Dairy ice cream is made with legally defined amounts of milk fat and non-fat milk solids that vary between countries according to national regulations. This must be checked in each case by the food producer. For the purposes of this page, references to plant-based ice cream could be read as synonymous with plant-based frozen dessert. 

1.    The plant-based boom is here to stay

Estimates vary on exactly how fast the global market for plant-based frozen dessert is growing. But one thing’s for sure, the market is booming and it’s here to stay.

International studies* project consumption growth of between 34 percent and 50 percent between 2020 and 2027, equal to a future world market value of around EUR 665 million.

And the market is truly global. The quest for alternatives to dairy ice cream unites consumers from North America to Europe, and from Asia to Oceania.

Alongside this regional diversity is the eclectic nature of the products and their ingredients. Vegan-style frozen dessert can be made from a very wide variety of natural sources. The most popular base materials are drinks derived from soy, coconut, cashew and rice. But new sources are constantly gaining traction. Oat, almond, pea and avocado are up-and-coming. Entering the radar are varieties originating from the likes of banana, potato, chia and chickpea.

* Data Bridge Market Research, “Global Vegan Ice-Cream Market – Industry Trends and Forecast to 2027”; Allied Market Research, “Vegan Ice Cream Market by Source, Flavour, Sales Type and Distribution Channel: Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2020–2027”

2.     Sustainability and ethics matter to consumers

Multiple factors are spurring consumer interest in plant-based frozen dessert. One is growing interest in vegan and vegetarian diets. Another is a growing awareness of climate change and an increasingly mainstream desire to embrace the virtues of plant-based options. For others it offers a way to scale back intake of animal protein.

The proportion of consumers adopting vegan diets remains niche. But vegetarian and flexitarian habits are increasingly popular as people seek out new options alongside conventional dairy-based products. Flexitarians follow a plant-based diet most of the time but still consume meat or fish on a limited basis, making them a prime demographic for non-dairy frozen desserts. 

Some consumers will go further by seeking “clean label” products and committing to local and organic ingredient sourcing, local production and eco-friendly packaging. Brands that have a commitment to these and other areas of sustainability have an opportunity to cater to this growing market by offering plant-based alternatives.

3.     Indulgence is a matter of taste

If sustainability consciousness is on the march, so is health awareness.

An estimated 15 percent of consumers globally are concerned about lactose intolerance.** The growing population of lactose-intolerant people is a primary driver for plant-based frozen dessert, especially in Asia where reduced lactose tolerance is prevalent.***

The protein contained in plant-based frozen dessert can also bolster its nutritional appeal, albeit one offering a welcome dose of sweetness. Recipes fortified, say, with vitamins and minerals can further increase their attractiveness to consumers.

Then there’s the innovation and ingenuity of producers in adding exotic flavours, fun ingredients and exciting blends to their plant-based frozen dessert portfolios.

All this opens the way for producers to hit the ultimate consumer sweet spot: combining a healthier option with an indulgent one too.

** Canadean's global consumer survey, 2014; https://www.barry-callebaut.com/en/manufacturers/trends-insights/consumers-appeal-to-vegan-and-dairy-free-products

*** https://apfoodonline.com/industry/unlocking-the-potential-of-lactose-free-dairy/; https://www.marketdataforecast.com/market-reports/plant-based-ice-creams-market

4.     Consumers are taste explorers and novelty lovers

Adventurous consumers love exploring new ingredients or different formats. For plant-based frozen dessert manufacturers, this creates a world of possibilities.

Brands can capitalise on the inherent flavours of their base ingredients – such as almond, rice or cashew – to raise consumers' flavour expectations. And they can also use additional flavouring ingredients to create unique flavour profiles to pique buyer interest.

Pea protein, oats and coconut ingredients are all gaining ground in plant-based product launches. The first plant-based frozen dessert made with avocado has been launched.

Consumers are eager to experiment with new flavours, together with striking colours that are social media friendly. The first churro-flavoured variety has appeared in the US – and new quirky flavours are certain to follow suit.

The message: difference delights the consumer. Fulfilling that desire is an odds-on way to success in plant-based frozen dessert.