The global ice cream market grows stronger—and a little stranger—each year. Our experts share the scoop on ice cream market research, from nutritional trends to novel formats
KerryDigest Fast Facts:
- The global ice cream industry is growing, with projections estimating a global CAGR of over 4% and annual sales climbing to $80 to $89b in the next five to seven years.
- Manufacturers are staying competitive through experimentation with formats and ingredients.
- Format trends are largely expressed in two ways: through the snackification of ice cream as on-the-go staple, such as with ice cream sandwiches, and through new and novel preparations, such as soft serve accompanied by French fries.
- Ice cream ingredient trends incorporate new flavours, healthier formulations—including free-from and reduced sugar varieties—and inclusions such as chocolate or waffle cone bits.
- While taste and nutrition are important to ice cream consumers, the influence of novelty, Instagrammability are more evident here than in many other categories.
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The Ice Cream Market is Heating Up
As temperatures rise around the globe, so does consumer interest in the ice cream market. The two may even be related: over 70% of Brazilian consumers say the main reason they eat ice cream is “to cool down in hot weather” and companies in the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa now advertise ice cream in spring as well as summer. But innovation, Instagram and experimental flavours are other factors boosting and strengthening the global ice cream, which market research firms predict is growing at a global CAGR of over 4% and will reach around $80b to $89b USD in global sales sometime between 2023 and 2025.
To gain region-specific insights and recommendations, we asked Kerry experts to weigh in on the state of the global ice cream market, from identifying the typical consumer in each region to seeking out the strongest trends in flavour, consumption habits and the snackification and premiumisation of ice cream. As you work to acquire more ice cream market share, keep these observations and predictions in mind.
- Courtney Schumacher: Marketing Specialist, Bakery, North America
- Melissa Muldowney: Strategic Marketing Director, Food, North America
- Sui Lan Lim: Marketing Consumer Insights Analyst, Asia Pacific
- Ayca Koc: Marketing Manager, Middle East, North Africa and Turkey
- Laura O’Connell: Strategic Marketing Manager, Dairy, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa
- Ferran Ballester Mataro: Marketing Executive, Europe
- Charmian Day: Senior Marketing Manager, Europe
- Linda Gomez: Marketing Manager, Mexico and Central America
- Giulia Milan: Market Research Analyst, Brazil
- Stefani Espinosa: Senior Marketing Analyst, Brazil
Ice Cream Consumers
Before exploring specific trends in the global ice cream market, it’s important to know which consumers are most responsible for setting them. In Mexico, consumers under age 15 are the biggest fans of ice cream, with those age 55 and older coming in second, according to Mintel data. This contrasts Globaldata’s findings in Brazil, which show that consumers younger than 34 make up a majority of the ice cream market, while those over 50 are the least likely to indulge. Consumers over 55 are most likely to indulge in Australia, Japan and South Korea, according to Globaldata, whereas those under 15 are the biggest ice cream consumers in less developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Gender is another consideration: For example, our customers tell us that in the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa, women are more likely than men to consume ice cream, especially take-home varieties. Women are also more likely than men to consume ice cream in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa, according to Globaldata.
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Similarly, the habits and motivations around eating ice cream also vary by location, although some generalisations can be inferred. Various reports have found that universally, consumers tend to eat the most ice cream in the afternoon or evening, and that for many consumers, eating ice cream is a regular past time more than an occasional indulgence. For example, one recent survey among 500 urban Brazilians found that 34% had consumed or bought ice cream in the past week and 37% had done so that month, indicating that ice cream is a household staple for many. Likewise, Globaldata found that 35% of French consumers regularly eat ice cream as an after dinner indulgence or to unwind after a hectic day. In the Asia-Pacific region, consumers may opt for take-home ice cream for a different reason: to foster a sense of community and sharing amongst the family.
Another unifier among consumers is the worldwide desire for economical ice cream options. In Germany, Spain and Poland, half of the respondents to a recent Kerry survey said they want cheaper ice cream options and around a third already buy private label ice cream, which is considered cheaper than traditional take-home ice cream. In Brazil, 36% of shoppers told Globaldata they are buying cheaper ice creams now than they were 12 months ago. This want for good value is indicated in format preferences. Mintel found that a third of U.S. consumers report purchasing at least one pint in 6-month period and take-home ice cream is the preferred format in many locations, with some countries, such as Brazil, showing a preference for bulk containers. (In many locations, a take-home pint costs the same—or less—than a single trip to an ice cream shop.) However, there’s growing demand for single-serving ice cream products in most markets, which brings us to our first trend—the snackification of ice cream into single-serving products.
KerryDigest Key Takeaways:
- Worldwide, ice cream is popular with the under-15 demographic, though many regions also have an older fan base.
- Ice cream is generally consumed later in the afternoon or evening; some consumers consider it a regular staple, especially after a long day.
- Consumers in parts of Europe (and likely elsewhere) are on the search for cheaper ice cream. Shoppers in Brazil have already found it, with 36% reportedly buying cheaper ice cream now than 12 months ago.
Ice Cream Trend 1: Snackification
Modern consumers, particularly younger ones, not only prefer convenience, but their busy lifestyles demand it. A surge in single-serving ice creams is redefining the category—although ice cream used to be considered an occasional treat for kids, it now holds appeal for adults as a dessert and as a snack option, thanks to new formats, many of which forgo the need for a bowl and often even a spoon.
Researchers have been tracking this shift: In India, 41% of adults who already eat sweet snacks consider ice cream sandwiches and the like to be a compelling treat, according to Mintel. In the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa, customers have suggested that children up to age 15 are most likely to consume ice cream impulsively, making on-the-go options appealing to kids and parents. In a Nielsen survey, a third of European consumers said they had eaten ice cream as a snack within the last 30 days.
Our experts speculate that with urbanisation, lifestyles have accelerated enough that there is simply less time to eat, which is increasing the need for on-the-go products. Health concerns are also influencing this trend toward grab-and-go: amongst UK consumers, 38% appreciate that single-serving ice creams tend to bring caloric intake down to 250 or less, according to Mintel.
Whatever the driving force, companies are responding with ice cream products that are innovative and delicious while also catering to the on-the-go lifestyle of its consumers. While ice cream treats on a stick and small tubs continue to sell well, new trends are infusing fresh life into the single-serving format. Think ice cream sandwiches made with unusual cookie varieties (waffle cone and chocolate chip, to name a few) and ice cream slices, which are individual slabs of ice cream—often enrobed in chocolate—that can be served on their own or as part of a larger treat. Countries in the Asia-Pacific region are becoming the role models for innovative ice cream formats, such as ice cream in fish-shaped pancake cones (referencing the fish-shaped taiyaki cake trend) and J-shaped ice cream cones in South Korea. Ice cream manufacturers looking to enter the grab-and-go category may want to look here and to the traditional snack sectors for packaging and format inspiration.
KerryDigest Key Takeaways:
- Growing demand for on-the-go products is expanding to a subcategory of ice-cream: single serving products.
- With premeasured portion sizes—many containing 250 calories or less—the pre-packed ice cream servings are gaining appeal in the snack category.
- Innovations have spread among ice cream bars and sandwiches and have inspired new formats, such as ice cream “slices”.
Ice Cream Trend 2: Premiumisation
Also on the consumer wish list: ice cream that tastes decadent and feels like a luxury. Because ice cream rarely qualifies as “healthy”, consumers want the calories to be worth it. Our experts around the world corroborate this: in Europe, premium and luxury ice cream offerings are rapidly evolving to reflect the growing consumer interest in gratifying, indulgent dessert experiences. In Australia, the consensus is that ice cream flavours can be sweet or savoury, but that indulgence is reflected in many choices made in the freezer aisle. Likewise, our team in Mexico expect indulgent ingredients to only grow in popularity in the future, including through the use of toppings, fillings and natural flavours.
What exactly is premium or indulgent ice cream? In the Asia-Pacific region, 29% of consumers perceive ice cream to be premium and innovative when dairy such as cheesecake or cheese pieces is added, according to the IPSOS survey of consumers in Indonesia, India and China. In Latin America, inclusions such as candies and cookies can help position ice cream as premium, while a majority of European consumers (79%) are looking for natural and authentic ingredients. Whatever your country of sale, as you cater to the growing base of indulgent consumers, creating ice creams with extras such as inclusions, layers and toppings can turn a standard product into a premium one.
KerryDigest Key Takeaways:
- Consumers view ice cream as an indulgence—and they want it to taste and feel like one.
- In Europe, ice cream is evolving to mimic other rich desserts; in Australia it’s at times taking on a savoury flavour profile.
- Ice cream can be made premium by adding inclusions such as chocolate pieces or by creating layers of flavours and/or toppings.
Ice Cream Trend 3: Healthy-ish
Seemingly at odds with the trend toward indulgence, consumers also want ice cream to be healthy. This concept is known as “permissible indulgence”. Consumers want something that tastes great, but won’t break their diet or interrupt their healthy lifestyle. How can manufacturers satisfy these contrasting demands? Making ice cream that’s even somewhat healthier may be enough: Mintel reports that globally, 37% of consumers would feel less guilty about consuming unhealthy food or drinks if they contained at least one healthy ingredient.
Manufacturers who address this fix may decide to offer functional ice creams, such as varieties that come packed with protein or probiotics. The audience for such functional treats is growing. Consumers are increasingly on the lookout for fortified products for themselves and their children, and ice cream is no exception. For instance, in Europe, 53% of consumers are more concerned with digestive health than they used to be and 29% are increasing their protein intake, according to Kerry research. Also in Europe, Globaldata reports that parents tend to struggle with finding sweet options for children they can feel good about, and have so far been deterred by ice cream’s nutritional makeup.
By launching better-for-you varieties, manufacturers may be able to move some ice creams from "want" to "need". This trend toward health is already appearing on shelves in some areas: in Mexico and Central America, for example, ice cream launches with health and wellness claims increased from 14.9% in 2013 to 19.6% in 2017, according to Globaldata. Likewise, countries in the Asia-Pacific region are seeing a rise in ice cream products containing digestion aids, collagen and added probiotics, according to Mintel. Southeast and Northern Asia are also blurring category lines, with more outlets offering frozen yogurt, which is often perceived as a more richly fortified product.
Broader reformulations are also an option when appealing to the wellness-seeking consumer. Efforts to reduce sugar are in effect around the globe, due to pressure from consumers as well as governmental actions such as sugar taxes. Although sugar sweetened beverages have been the category most affected by this shift, forward-thinking ice cream manufacturers would be wise to consider toying with sugar content, among other ingredients. Various research shows that consumers from Europe, Australia, Brazil, China and everywhere in between like the concept of ice creams that reduce or eliminate at least some of the below:
- “unnatural” ingredients
This last category—“unnatural” ingredients—ties right into the universal trend toward clean label. In Brazil, 68% of consumers are actively buying products that claim to be natural, according to a 2018 Globaldata report. Seventy percent of Europeans and 82% of Americans believe clean label is important (per Mintel and Kerry, respectively), and research suggests that many are willing to pay more for healthier, cleaner products, including ice cream. Chinese consumers, especially those with children in the household, are also willing to pay extra for ice cream with a clean label, especially when it’s for family consumption. According to Mintel, Chinese consumers make health a top priority when buying food for their children. When pursuing the clean labeltrend, it’s also important to note Kerry’s proprietary clean label research, which found ice cream consumers agree the top five ingredients to avoid are high fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, cellulose, dairy containing rGBH/rBST and modified corn starch.
However, as labels are shortened, unsweetened and otherwise cleaned up, manufacturers must be careful to not let taste fall to the wayside. Many consumers, including 17% of Brazilians, believe healthy ice creams taste worse than standard varieties, as reported by Mintel, a fact that may hinder the consumption of such products. Here, as in other categories, it will be important to maintain the balance of taste and nutrition as consumers become more aware of the negative health effects of some ingredients while seeking alternatives that don’t compromise on flavour.
KerryDigest Key Takeaways:
- Many consumers want ice cream to be a “permissible indulgence”: something that tastes good but doesn’t totally derail a healthy diet.
- One way manufacturers are embracing this trend is through the addition of a healthy ingredient, such as probiotics or sustainably sourced vanilla.
- Another is through removing ingredients from ice cream, including sugar, fat, dairy and gluten.
Ice Cream Trend 4: Fun Flavours
While some regions prefer the staples, consumers in many areas are cooling down with fun, new flavours. Even in Brazil, where the main driver of ice cream purchases is a favorite, usually classic, flavour such as chocolate, strawberry or vanilla, our experts predict new, more playful flavours will soon gain popularity. Case in point: according to Mintel, 55% of Brazilian consumers have already tried frozen fruit creams, including açaí and pitaya, and the majority would be interested in having them again.
Countries in the Asia-Pacific region may be the biggest boundary pushers for new flavour combinations, with offerings like chili crab ice cream and blue cheese ice cream becoming more commonplace by the day. Australia, is following suit—there, the newest flavour innovation has been dubbed “swavoury”, thanks to the combining of sweet and savoury flavours for a new ice cream experience.
If these combinations are too off-brand for your company, don’t worry. An easy way to introduce new flavours is by transforming already loved classics. In Europe, the fastest growing ice cream flavours include elderflower, honeycomb, prosecco and speculoos. By pairing these flavours with a classic base, like vanilla, you can get a new and exciting flavor experience that won’t repel your regular customers.
Seasonal flavours offer another place for experimentation and innovation. Kerry’s experts in North America suggest that using less traditional seasonal flavors is one easy way to stand apart from the competition. (Think sweet potato ice cream for Thanksgiving.) According to a recent Kerry survey, 88% of U.S. consumers who purchased a seasonal menu item in the past year agree they are more likely to try a new flavour if it’s seasonal. Debuting seasonal and limited edition offerings can be a safe way for manufacturers to test new flavours without fully committing.
KerryDigest Key Takeaways:
- Countries in the Asia Pacific region are likely the most experimental with flavours, with concoctions containing crab and blue cheese becoming more commonplace.
- Australians are bringing in more savoury offerings, which has resulted in a new category— “swavory”—which combines sweet and savoury.
- In Europe, North America and Latin America, ice cream flavours are more often inspired by regional favorites including desserts and fruits.
Ice Cream Trend 5: Experiential and Novel
One consequence of living in a highly connected world is that the always-on consumer tends to have a surplus of ideas and options at their fingertips, which can lead to boredom with the ordinary. Ice cream is no exception. Consumers want ice cream that can provide an experience outside of the norm. If it’s easily Instagrammable, all the better. In the Asia-Pacific region, consumers are even willing to spend more on artisanal ice cream if it has the potential to be shared on social media, according to Globaldata.
Younger consumers in Europe are looking to experiment with new flavours and consumption experiences that can boost their mood, and those between 15 and 29 years old are seeking new experiences that they can rationalise as permissible, according to Globaldata. This may be why more interactive ice cream experiences are popping up: after visiting one of the Museums of Ice Cream—or another such experiential iteration—it would be unthinkable to skip getting a scoop of one’s own.
New experiences also come in more pedestrian forms, such as unusual ice cream flavours (mentioned in greater detail above), as well as novel colors, inclusions or accompaniments. In the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, producers are toying with coated cones and cones with surprise inclusions—like chocolate at the bottom—to keep consumers engaged and wanting more. Our experts in that region expect to see colorful ice creams gain in popularity too, perhaps taking inspiration from countries of the Asia-Pacific region, where there has been a rise in jet black charcoal and bright purple sweet potato soft serves, among others. Novel and niche extras such as bubble waffle cones continue to spread far beyond their cities of origin, and other trends such as soft serve with French fries are also making their way to the mainstream. Texture is another aspect manufacturers are experimenting with: for example, ice cream producers in Mexico are using inclusions such as hard chocolates and marshmallows, swapping in crepes for cones and even selling ice cream bars cast in the shape of candy bars.
Ice cream manufacturers and sellers that are able to pack a healthy and tasty helping of “Wow!” into their offerings will be well positioned to appeal not only to their customers, but also to the online networks of cunsomers who share their experiences via social media. If your ice cream business doesn’t yet have active social media handles and hashtags, it’s time to start. If your products cause a stir among shoppers, you want to be sure your company gets the credit.
KerryDigest Key Takeaways:
- Novelty is a popular—if intangible—ingredient in the new ice cream experience.
- Photogenic treats are scoring high among consumers, meaning bright and bold colors are in.
- Surprises are another way manufacturers are snagging consumer appeal, including sneaking treats into cone bottoms or creating unusual textures, such as through the use of marshmallows.
As the global ice cream market grows, so must your understanding of consumers and how to best deliver appealing Ice Cream and Desserts. To access proprietary Kerry ice cream research, or to learn how our consumer insights and RD&A experts can help you build better products, contact Kerry.