But both categories are welcoming new and improved plant-based options plus better “real dairy.”
During the 12 weeks ended Feb. 20, ice cream/sherbet sales fell 2.4% versus the same period a year ago to $1.42 billion across channels, according to
Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). However, sales of frozen novelties shot up 10.1% to more than $1.15 billion, highlighting continued demand for both portion control and portability. Manufacturers say the category has also gotten a boost from a slew of new entries boasting various modern health attributes — from low-cal and gluten-free to organic and plant-based. But it’s the latter that’s seen the most activity recently as suppliers roll out dairy-free options that taste more and more like the real thing.
ALL ABOUT THAT BASE
Most plant-based ice creams are built around a “hero” ingredient such as soy or oats that sometimes “breaks through” or doesn’t complement certain flavors, says Aylon Steinhart, founder and CEO of Oakland, Calif.-based Eclipse. “But we’re a food technology company, so we looked at the molecular composition of milk and duplicated that with [a unique blend of] plants, rather than just one, allowing us to recreate that dairy magic.” New additions to Eclipse’s 14-ounce vegan lineup include Dark Side of the Spoon and Caramel Butter Pecan.
Danone-owned So Delicious Dairy Free, Broomfield, Colo., is also tapping the power of plants (plural) with its new Wondermilk Frozen Desserts collection. Wondermilk (the beverage) is made with “the right blend” of oats, coconut and soy, creating the “perfect” base for dairy-free ice cream and novelties. The initial rollout includes five vegan-certified, non-GMO frozen dessert pints (Buttery Pecan, Vanilla, Chocolate Cocoa Chip, Cookies & Crème and Strawberry) and two frozen sundae cones (Salted Caramel and Vanilla Peanut).
While some dairy-free ice cream manufacturers are focused on the right blend of plants, others are incorporating new ones. For example, Minneapolis-based Wicked Kitchen is launching the first line made with the lupin bean, giving it “an amazing mouthfeel and super creamy texture,” according to the company.
“We really don’t think of it as an ‘alternative’ because half the people who taste it won’t know it’s plant-based,” says CEO Pete Speranza. In Kroger stores now, the Wicked Kitchen collection includes four pints (Vanilla, Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip and Cookie Dough) and three novelties (Chocolate & Red Berry Cones, Chocolate & Almond Sticks, and Berry White Sticks, the latter of which features a vegan white chocolate frosting).
Lupin beans aren’t the only unique base utilized by dairy-free ice cream makers, several of which are expanding their lineups. For example, Montpelier, Vt.-based Wildgood is adding two new flavors — Triple Berry and Caramelized Fig — to a collection crafted with extra virgin olive oil. And Sweetpea, Virginia Beach, Va., just debuted a Mint Chocolate Freckle flavor of its protein-rich chickpea-based pints. However, many players in the plant-based space are concentrating their efforts on coconut cream- and oatmilk-based products, often with additional attributes.
JOLLY LLAMA ADDS GLUTEN-FREE NOVELTIES
After getting an “unbelievable reception” to its initial rollout, Casper’s Ice Cream, Richmond, Utah, is adding two new coconut cream-based flavors — White
Mint Chip and Sea Salt Caramel — to its gluten-free Jolly Llama Cones collection. “It’s hard to find a dairy- and gluten-free version of a decadent, nostalgic treat like that,” says national sales manager Colton Gerrard. “So we’re really meeting a need. But the artisan product tastes so good, it can be enjoyed by everyone, dietary restrictions or not.”
Alden’s Organic, Eugene, Ore., is also jumping on the gluten-free/dairy-free trend with its new novelties, including Vanilla Bean Round Sammies, Dark Chocolate Almond Bars, Dark Chocolate Vanilla Bars, and Coffee Swirl Bars, all certified gluten-free and vegan. (The company also adds a gluten-free real dairy Strawberry Cream Swirl Bar.)
On the oatmilk side of the category, meanwhile, Austin, Texas-based GoodPop is launching what it says are the first gluten-free oatmilk-based frozen dessert sandwiches. Representing the company’s first foray into stickless frozen treats, GoodPop Chocolate Vanilla Sandwiches contain 120 calories apiece and only 10 grams of sugar. The company is also rolling out oatmilk-based Fudge ‘n Vanilla Squares made with fair trade, non-GMO ingredients. “We saw an opportunity to recreate some of the cult classics we grew up with in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but with cleaner ingredients that are more delicious and better for people and the planet,” says GoodPop founder and CEO Daniel Goetz.
Another new gluten-free oatmilk-based novelty comes from Phoenix-based Bubbies Ice Cream, which debuted three certified vegan, non-GMO varieties of its mochi ice cream at Expo West last month: Rich Chocolate; Alphonso Mango; and Red, Ripe Strawberry. The company also added a Cookies and Cream flavor to its flagship dairy-based mochi lineup.
Despite manufacturer efforts to find the best plant base for their dairy-free ice cream, others have eschewed plants altogether in favor of “real dairy” — but without the animal. Among the latest entries in the burgeoning animal-free ice cream segment is El Segundo, Calif.-based Nick’s, which recently introduced a non-dairy version of its low-cal, no-sugar-added, keto-friendly pints made with Perfect Day animal-free whey protein. Available flavors include Vanilj Bean, Stawbär Kram, Peanöt Butter Swirl, Hazelnöt Swirl, Choklad Choklad, Swedish Mint Chip and Karamell Swirl.
The Urgent Co., Los Angeles, which introduced the first widely available animal-free dairy ice cream under its Brave Robot brand, is expanding its pint offerings with three new flavors: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Mint Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Cherry Brownie. The company also announced it will eventually transition the dairy-free portion of new acquisition Coolhaus’s portfolio to animal-free as well. In the meantime, however, it’s adding pea protein-based Dairy-Free Cones to that collection, including Cookie Dough, Farmer’s Market Strawberry and Cookies & Cream varieties.
NEW CONES, BARS & BITES
New cones are popping up on the real dairy side of the novelties category as well. Le Mars, Iowa-based Blue Bunny, owned by Wells Enterprises, is rolling out Twist Cones in three classic soft-serve combinations: Chocolate Vanilla, Strawberry Cheesecake and Chocolate Peanut Butter.
Another top-10 brand, Conestoga, Pa.-based Turkey Hill is expanding its frozen novelties portfolio with new ice cream bars featuring two premium flavors swirled together and covered in milk chocolate. Dipped Duos are available in four flavors: Vanilla Bean & Chocolate, Caramel & Chocolate, Strawberry & Vanilla Bean and Peanut Butter & Chocolate.
Despite the popularity of full-size frozen novelties, manufacturers also note a trend toward bite-size frozen snacks that allow consumers to treat themselves to as much — or as little — as they’d like.
“Our new Dream Bites have been a home run for us,” says David Greenfeld, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Dream Pops. In fact, since their debut in early 2021, the poppable, superfood- and adaptogen-rich, plant-based bites have enjoyed “explosive” growth and now represent three-fourths of Dream Pops’ total sales. “Consumers really like the snackability,” says Greenfeld. To give shoppers even more flavor options, the company is adding a Banana Cream flavor this spring. Like the rest of the Dream Pops lineup, the new addition contains fewer than 5 grams of sugar (and no sugar alcohols or erythritol stevia), highlighting another in-demand attribute.
Among those jumping on the low-sugar trend are New York-based Chloe’s, which is adding No Sugar Added Grape Pops to the No Sugar Added Strawberry Pops it rolled out last year, and New York-based Enlightened, which is debuting what it says are the category’s first lower-sugar Sundae Cones. Sweetened with monk fruit, the frozen treats contain as few as 6 grams of sugar (versus up to 23 in traditional sundae cones). Available flavors include Vanilla Fudge, Caramel Fudge and Peanut Butter Fudge (all made with light ice cream) and Vanilla Honey and Caramel Dark Chocolate Almond Butter (made with frozen Greek yogurt).
In the scoopable segment, plant-based Nubocha, Los Angeles, adds a new Cold Brew flavor to its soy-, coconut- and gluten-free, no-sugar-added gelato lineup, which it says is the first sweetened with allulose. Another player in the allergen-friendly space, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Sunscoop, is bringing Cookie Whoa! and Cold Brew Swirl varieties to its refined sugar-free lineup, which is made with superfoods and adaptogens. “It’s ice cream that actually makes your body feel good,” says founder and CEO Carli Blum.
Of all the ice cream pint segments, superpremium has been the fastest growing for several consecutive years.’
That said, “Consumers should not have to retrain their palates in order to eat healthier,” says Nick’s CEO Carlos Altschul, citing an unmet need for “products with amazing nutritionals that actually taste great, too.” To that end, the company developed a line of low-cal, low-carb, no-sugar-added light ice creams that are “surprisingly creamy” and contain more inclusions than other better-for-you alternatives. Available flavors include Rocky Fjord, Campfire S’mörgs, Swedish Munchies, Raspbär Swirl, Hazelnöt Kram and Strawbär Cheesecake.
BETTER, CLEANER DAIRY ICE CREAM
Even among consumers seeking a more indulgent dairy-based ice cream experience, there’s demand for better, cleaner options that don’t harm the environment or animals. “Ninety-seven percent of ice cream today is dairy, but the vast majority of that is sourced from industrial dairies where animals are raised under inhumane conditions,” says Jason Karp, founder and CEO of HumanCo, Austin, Texas. “We believe there are more humane, sustainable ways to do dairy.” So after acquiring plant-based ice cream brand Coconut Bliss, Karp set out to create a better dairy-based lineup, so consumers looking for an earth-friendly ice cream would have both dairy and non-dairy options.
Sold under the new Cosmic Bliss name, the collection is made with milk from humanely raised grass-fed cows. “It’s the only sustainably sourced, gluten-free, certified organic, grass-fed ice cream in the U.S.,” says Karp. Available flavors include Twisted Cookie Dough, Peanut Butter Blitz, Hazelnut Fudge Crunch, Strawberry Lemon Shortbread, Banana Caramel Flambé, Vanilla Bean Nirvana and Chocolate Euphoria.
Another new addition in the real dairy segment comes from Norwood, Ohio-based United Dairy Farmers (UDF), which recently debuted a decadent, clean label collection under the new Main Street Creamery brand. “Of all the ice cream pint segments, ‘superpremium’ has been the fastest growing for several consecutive years,” says director of sales Peter Seibenick. Crafted with high butterfat cream, milk, eggs, cane sugar and no stabilizers or artificial flavors, the “house-made” lineup includes Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Caramel Swirl, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Vanilla Bean, Coffee, Black Raspberries & Chips and Butter Pecan.
UDF is also adding a new 48-ounce Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough variety under its premium Homemade brand. n