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Frozen desserts such as ice cream, gelato, sorbet, and frozen yoghurt are universally enjoyed treats, especially as the temperature rises and blue skies emerge.
According to Ruper Ashby, CEO of the British Frozen Food Federation, the value of ice cream sales has outstripped almost all other frozen categories, with an impressive value and volume growth of 23.4% and 3.1% respectively between 2019 and 2022.
“Whilst we can likely attribute the growth of ice cream sales to some much-needed comfort during the lockdowns of the Coronavirus pandemic and the very hot summer of last year, we should not overlook the innovation of ice cream producers which has helped to drive market growth in recent years”, he explains.
In fact, the industry has evolved over the past few years as social and economic factors boosted innovation and the need for indulgence. While the Covid-19 pandemic showcased the importance of maintaining a healthy diet, it also validated an indulgent relationship with food. Therefore, like many categories, ice cream and frozen desserts thrived during this time, with many of us turning to them for comfort.
What’s more, according to Mintel’s A Year of Innovation in Ice Cream Report for 2022, while ice cream is inherently indulgent, brands have been experimenting with mix-ins and toppings to make their products seem more of a treat for comfort-seeking shoppers.
We explore how independent retailers can cash in on this taste for indulgence in 2023.
An evolving industry
According to Felix Baudenbacher, founder of vegan ice cream sandwich brand NEED, “Ice cream has been going from strength to strength, with retailers devoting significantly more freezer space to it in the past couple of years.
“As for why I can only guess, but maybe ice cream is, in a time of economic uncertainty and cost of living crisis, an affordable little ‘luxury’ to which we like to treat ourselves more often.”
As a treat product, quality is increasingly important to consumers. But for Lucia Bly, retail director at Salcombe Dairy, it’s a bit more complicated. “I think ice cream quality is becoming more polarised”, she tells Speciality Food. “There are a few artisan producers out there like us such as Purbeck and Roskilly’s who are producing ice cream at a very high-quality level, then there are a whole host of mediocre tasting products on the market, some of which are just skimmed milk powder and air.”
Another key factor in the evolution of ice cream is the recent growth in veganism and the free-from market, which has led to an increase in demand for vegan and dairy-free ice creams. “There are an awful lot of products out there trying to tick that box, so the industry is very competitive” Matt Gilding, managing director of Booja Booja, explains. “But quantity isn’t the same as quality and there are a lot of products out there that are, at best, mediocre.
“Increasingly and quite rightly, consumers want really good premium options. This is where the real growth potential is and where independent fine food retailers can play their part, with premium free-from ranges like Booja Booja.”
What consumers want
Most of all, consumers are looking for flavour in their ice cream and desserts in 2023. According to Matt, “Consumers want ice cream that tastes amazing and those that want or need it to be vegan, dairy-free or gluten-free still want it to taste great. We’ve been making dairy-free ice cream for 16 years (and won 48 awards along the way) but this is our best-ever range, by a long way. These are pots that non-dairy and dairy eaters can share together – they’re that good!”
This high quality is particularly important in fine food retail, as discerning customers are looking for something special. Lucia tells Speciality Food, “As with all purchases, consumers are happy when they get what they pay for – and choosing ice cream made with fresh, local dairy milk and cream, together with the very best fruit and (in our case) bean-to-bar chocolate, ensures the ice cream is as it should be – bursting with flavour, indulgent and 100% natural.”
When it comes to best-selling flavours and varieties of great-tasting ice cream, according to Rubert, “innovative combinations or flavours that are popular in other categories are sure to pique interest.
“The salted caramel trend is a great example. Born in a French patisserie in the 1970s, it has permeated every category from desserts to shower gel. The next step we expect to see is the pairing of salted caramel with other flavours like banana, popcorn and coffee. This can be applied to frozen desserts and luxury ice cream alike.”
While it is wise to take advantage of trending flavours, indies would do well to remember that economic crisis causes shoppers to revert to childhood favourites. As Rupert explains, “In uncertain and troubling times, consumers look for comfort in traditional flavours that remind them of simpler times. Frozen desserts like rhubarb and custard, apple pie and sticky toffee pudding are likely to do well in 2023.”
Felix adds, “Ice cream is highly emotive and has the capacity to transport us back to carefree summers in our childhoods. I think people love to connect with that feeling, and we try to help them do that by making high-quality versions of classic ice cream flavours with a bit of a fun twist.”
One brand that is certainly creative with its frozen treat offering is Doughlicious. “Our frozen collection consists of our ready to bake cookie dough in six amazing flavours and our new DoughChi (a twist on Japanese Mochi balls) that is beyond innovative. We offer vegan and non-vegan options and traditional flavours such as Chocolate Truffle and Chocolate Chip as well as the more unique Churro, Blueberry Frozen Yoghurt and Birthday Cake”, explains founder Kathryn Bricken.