The ice cream and dessert trends to know this year

03 April 2024, 07:00 AM
  • In a world that revolves around fast-moving innovation, when it comes to pudding consumers want a fix of tradition
The ice cream and dessert trends to know this year

Retro. Traditional. Old-fashioned. Nostalgic.

It doesn’t matter how many times trendsetters bang the drum about ‘the next big thing’ in flavours – what the average consumer really craves is comfort.

And it’s rather ironic that what’s ‘trending’ right now across many categories of food and drink is time-honoured treats. Since the peak of the Covid pandemic, retailers and insight analysts have repeatedly cited familiarity as a key sales driver.

Riding on the wings of this ‘new wave’ of interest in the classics are ice cream and desserts. Kantar reported a growth of 10% in the market during the 12 months to November 26, 2023, with the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) attributing this largely to the re-emerging trend of the ‘big night in’ as people continue to spend more on entertaining within the home, reserving trips to restaurants for special occasions.

What are the current trends in ice cream?

BFFF CEO Rupert Ashby says sales are additionally being driven by changing consumer tastes, rising demand for dietary-friendly and functional products, and increasing innovation.

“There has been much innovation and diversification in the ice cream and sorbets sector,” he explains. “The breadth of variety appeals to all consumers, with both new flavour combinations and comforting classics available.”

A key trend, he says, is the rise of vegan, gluten free, lactose free, low calorie and sugar free options. “These products cater to the growing number of consumers who are looking for ice creams that fit in with their dietary needs and lifestyle choices, without compromising on taste and indulgence. As reported by Statista, 28% of UK ice cream consumers said they would be interested in trying vegan ice creams, and 26% said they would be interested in trying reduced sugar ice creams.”

Artisan and small batch ice creams continue to be highly sought after – offering consumers a premium and authentic experience.

This appetite for better ice cream chimes with Simply Ice Cream founder Sally Newall, who says the business moved to a new site in 2022 to meet growing demand, while steering into the own label arena.

Simply Ice Cream’s main focus is the independent sector, which is important, Sally says, for preserving the art of crafting real ice cream. It is the farm shops, delis and food halls which should be flying the flag for premium products – and in most cases they are the only places where consumers can get their hands on artisan-made ice cream. “Obviously the supermarkets always try to do local,” she adds, “and there is a presence of local ice cream in some supermarkets but they are, I think, focussing more on own label now, and taking the market share from the likes of Ben & Jerry’s. I think that’s going to continue.”

Gelato is rising in significance in the UK too. Paolo Pomposi, founder of Badiani Gelato, says sales in his business alone increased by 23.7% between 2022 and 2023. He attributes this to customers seeking products made with natural ingredients.

“The growth in sales reflects not only a trend towards frozen desserts, but also an increasing consumer preference for artisanal, high-quality gelato,” says Paolo. “It underscores our commitment to authenticity and quality, which resonates deeply with British consumers looking for an exceptional dessert experience.”

Gelato, Paolo adds, is distinct from ice cream, offering something a little bit different to those seeking a frozen treat. “Made with a higher proportion of whole milk and less cream, gelato contains less air and fat than traditional ice cream, resulting in a creamier texture and a more direct delivery of flavours to the palate. The use of natural ingredients, including fresh fruits, nuts and chocolates, enhances the overall taste and appeal, aligning with the growing consumer preference for real, wholesome foods.”

Keeping it real absolutely matters, agrees Sally, who thinks a huge part of premium artisan ice cream’s appeal is its lack of ultra-processed ingredients, as the presence of UPFs continues to turn off customers. “We’re all starting to look more closely at what we are ingesting,” she says. “More of us are acutely aware of what is going into our food, and retailers have a duty to be looking at that too. There are some really scary statistics about ultra-processed food, and the fact we are eating so much rubbish in our diets is detrimental.”

From the beginning Simply Ice Cream has, like Badiani, been as natural as possible. “Ice cream shouldn’t need additives! A lot don’t have real dairy – it’s skimmed milk powder and fillers,” Sally says.

By choosing to work with premium artisan brands, Sally believes retailers can show “they are thinking about where food is coming from. And in return we can be more flexible in terms of flavours and creating bespoke, seasonal and one-off products.”

The UK’s best selling ice cream flavours

While there will always be consumers chasing the latest ‘it’ flavour, it’s childhood favourites that continue to win hearts on the freezer aisle. Mintel puts this down to the desire for reassurance during the cost-of-living crisis, and an ongoing draw towards nostalgia. Its research found 64% of UK adults are looking for premium ice cream in classic flavours such as vanilla.

This lines up with Sally’s sales. She says the likes of strawberry, vanilla, chocolate and honeycomb aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, while salted caramel has become a ‘new classic’ and a bestseller. “I know the buyers don’t particularly like it,” she says, “but actually the public do. It’s been quite interesting. A lot of flavours come and go, but salted caramel has stayed a firm favourite – especially in our range. I think people are very much aware of lots of different flavours, and certainly there are people looking for new flavours all the time,” Sally adds, “but the majority of sales are always going to be in those simpler flavours.”

Paolo’s biggest seller is also as simple as it gets. Buontalenti combines milk, sugar, cream and eggs. Alongside its variations, including pistachio, or hazelnuts and hazelnut chocolate spread, it accounts for 55% of his company’s sales by volume. “This preference,” Paolo says, “underscores a broader trend in the market where consumers are increasingly leaning towards flavours that offer the balance of tradition and innovation, melding classic tastes with novel twists.”

If you are going to go ‘off piste’ it’s tropical flavours that are capturing more adventurous customers, says Rupert. “Giving consumers a taste of the exotic, more adventurous flavours, such as mango, black coconut, passion fruit, lychee, matcha, turmeric and ginger, is growing in popularity. These flavours reflect the influence of global cuisines and cultures, as well as the desire for new and exciting sensory experiences.”

Upping your ice cream and sorbet game, whether by increasing freezer space, or introducing an ice cream counter, could give your business a boost. This has certainly been the case for Denisa Rance of Mursley Farm Shop near Milton Keynes.

Denisa, who previously operated an ice cream shop in Buckingham, took on the barn and its flock of chickens three years ago, pivoting it into a destination farm shop, with a large cafe and ice cream cabinet filled with iced treats made by her mother using their own eggs, and local dairy.

Around 40 flavours are available, from raspberry ripple cheesecake, to the more unusual Marmite and vanilla. Visitors adore the shop, and attend in droves – particularly during the holidays. 

“It’s absolutely worth it,” she says of the investment. “Customers come here for ice cream all year. It’s a driver to the shop. Without that, or the coffee shop, I don’t think people would come here for their daily shop and I don’t think we would be surviving. We have everything under one roof. So they come for ice cream or coffee, and then pick up some eggs, vegetables or a card. It really works so well.”

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Pudding and dessert trends

Similarly to ice cream, desserts and puddings harking back to what our parents or grandparents might have whipped up on a Sunday afternoon remain bestsellers today. 

Chef David Grimwood of The Froize Inn in Chillesford, has been in hospitality for more than 50 years, and offers almost 20 homemade ‘sweets’ on his menu. “We applaud puddings, and adore puddings,” he says. “Over the years I’ve been making them the classics have always stood the test of time. The bread and butter pudding, steamed sponge pudding, sticky toffee pudding. Trends haven’t really changed.”

What makes a really good dessert, he adds, is quality, and portion size. “I think size is important for customers. It has to be a reasonably sized portion. But you’ve also got to please the eye. When someone has a pudding, it has to make them go ‘wow’!”

Premium frozen food leader, Fieldfare, sells a lot of croissants, pain au chocolat and other pastries – which are a key weekend fixture for many of their customers. The brand says it sees sales of its desserts rise substantially around holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and in advance of high spring it has launched a series of tempting new desserts, offering even more choice to the increasing number of people who are entertaining at home.

“When hosting a dinner party or preparing for a big family Sunday lunch, the pudding is often the one thing that many shoppers will buy in,” says Fieldfare’s Matt Whelan. “Keeping a good stock of classic desserts that the shopper can just pop in their basket and consider dessert as ‘done’, is a great way to increase spend.

“Equally, puddings are no longer the reserve of the Sunday lunch. Recently shoppers have been keen to treat themselves and their families to smaller, everyday treats, such as individual puddings or sweet pastries. By offering easy access to individually portioned items such as our loose frozen puddings and pastries, retailers may encourage impulse purchases that increase their shoppers’ basket size every time they visit.”

One of the main benefits of frozen desserts, Matt adds, is their shelf life, making them a low risk, minimal waste option – something of increasing importance to retailers and savvy customers during the cost-of-living crisis. Matt says these more frugal times have seen consumers cut back on big ticket items, while increasing purchases of more affordable, everyday pick-me-ups – a key driver for Fieldfare’s investment in its sweeter selection. 

“Smaller, single portion puddings are perfect for such little indulgences. Creating more individually portioned products also offers the opportunity for some truly great product innovation. While many cooks are very accomplished, some classics remain a challenge. The oozy-centered fondant, the perfect wobbly panna cotta, and the painstakingly sliced French apple tart. All our classics are a sure-fire success.”


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