- Lower calorie, higher protein, dairy-free, you name it, it's available, says Sally-Jayne Wright
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The UK ice cream market is estimated at £1.4bn, up 26% since 2013 (Mintel). Where once we relied on Planet Organic or went online for anything offbeat, there’s now a surprising array of styles at your local Waitrose or Asda.
WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT INNOVATION?
Ice creams for people watching their weight. The UK isn’t new to slimmers’ ice cream, but in January 2018 two game-changing ice creams were launched: Halo Top and Unilever-owned Breyers Delights. They had naughty flavours such as Choc Chip Cookie Dough and Peanut Butter Cup, 20 grams of protein per pint, and fewer than half the calories of Ben & Jerrys and Häagen-Dazs. So successful were they that, a year down the line, supermarkets including Aldi, Asda and Morrisons launched copycats.
ARE THEY HEALTHIER THAN ICE CREAMS MADE WITH SUGAR?
That’s debatable. They use alternative sweeteners including stevia, and the sugar alcohol, erythritol, which may stimulate appetite. Some consumers could get the idea it’s safe to eat them freely.
SURELY THE LOWER/NO SUGAR CATEGORY IS NOT THE ONLY REASON THE VALUE OF ICE CREAM SALES IS UP?
No, in the five years to 2017 the number of dairy-free ice cream launches more than doubled – up 166%. Ice cream makers can’t afford not to have a vegan offering.
DOES DAIRY-FREE ICE CREAM TASTE OKAY?
More than okay if Blue Skies’ Mango & Passion Fruit and Coconut Ice Cream are anything to go by. Both recipes, sold at Waitrose and Ocado, scooped two Great Taste Award stars last year.
IS THIS BAD NEWS FOR TRADITIONAL PRODUCERS WHO USE FULL CREAM MILK AND REAL CREAM?
Quite the reverse. In the three months to August 2018, 75% of ice cream eaters surveyed by Mintel enjoyed dairy ice cream, 59% of them at least weekly. There are around 1,000 craft producers across the British Isles and the Channel Islands (Ice Cream Alliance) and plenty of newcomer brands. In last year’s Great Taste Awards, some 55 artisan products gained a two-star accolade. This means judges considered the frozen desserts “above and beyond delicious”. Winning recipes included Real Carrot Cake Gelato by Swoon Ltd, Morelli’s Irish Black Butter Ice Cream and Vodka Pink Grapefruit Sorbet by Treleavens.
REMIND ME WHAT SORBETS AND GELATOS ARE?
Sorbets are technically water-ices but a well-made sorbet can have an ice cream-like texture when churned; the crystals are fine with air beaten into the mix. A good fruit sorbet tastes like a chilled version of the fresh fruit. Gelato is Italian-style ice cream containing milk as well as cream (or cornstarch). With less air beaten in, it is denser than traditional ice cream.
WHICH ICE CREAM FLAVOURS SELL BEST?
Salted caramel is still flying. Artisan ice cream expert Kitty Travers, author of La Grotta Ices says, “Subtle flavours like fig custard or persimmon don’t do as well as bold. I think it’s down to our climate. We seek comfort rather than refreshment. So chocolate, salted caramel, sticky toffee, brownie and nutty flavours sell best.” Boozy ices such as gin and tonic, Bailey’s, and rum and raisin also tempt buyers. When Baboo Gelato of Dorset offered a Brandy gelato, it ‘flew off the shelves’ as customers bought it to accompany mince pies and Christmas pudding.
I READ ABOUT A GERMAN BRATWURST ICE CREAM. SAUSAGES MIXED WITH CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM! IS SAVOURY ICE CREAM THE NEXT BIG THING?
Restaurant chefs like it, Joe Public less so. That said, there are some intriguing combinations out there. Fravocado vegan ice creams are made with avocado and coconut milk. Frills’ frozen vegan smoothies deliver your five-a-day fruit and veg in a tub. Their Refreshing Green ice cream contains spinach, basil, celery, avocado, mango and pineapple. Their latest Nutty Caramel recipe contains dates, chickpeas, bananas, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and coconut cream.
MY CUSTOMERS WANT TO IMPRESS THEIR GUESTS. WHOSE ICES DO YOU RECOMMEND?
Little Moons Mochi ice cream balls offer a Japanese-style finishing touch to a meal, with relatively few calories. Or how about Yee Kwan East Asian-influenced ices made in Sheffield and sold at Harvey Nichols? Typical flavours include Black Sesame, Matcha Green Tea, Chocolate Miso, Lychee & Rose and Yuzu.
HOW CAN INDIES SELL MORE ICES THIS SUMMER (AND WINTER)?
Shout about novelty flavours such as Baboo’s Jaffa Cake Gelato on social media and announce seasonal ices such as their Hot Cross Bun Gelato well ahead. Choose attractively packaged products that appeal both on Instagram and through the freezer doors. Display handheld ices prominently in warm weather to encourage impulse purchase.
WILL THE TREND LAST?
Yes! Ice cream is like lipstick. It cheers customers up and is an affordable treat. The only potential fly in the churn is if Public Health England imposed a sugar levy on ice cream and producers reflected higher ingredients costs in higher prices. For now, expect ever more novelty, show-off flavours, low/no sugar, soft serve and vegan. With no worries about special diets, we can push the sundae boat out.