Ice Cream Flavor Trends for 2021

botanical flavored ice cream in waffle cones

With ice cream making its way onto nearly half of all foodservice menus, operators that offer innovative flavors can freeze out the competition

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KerryDigest Fast Facts:

  • 89% of Americans love or like ice cream according to Datassential research from 2021.
  • Flavor is key, with 72% of global consumers stating it’s the most important factor when purchasing ice cream.
  • Brands can stand out by incorporating global ingredients, health-inspired flavors, nostalgic offerings and unexpected flavor combinations, all of which are driving ice cream trends.

KerryDigest Fast Facts:

As we found in our earlier coverage of the state of the global ice cream market, Instagram, innovation and experimental flavors are contributing to the growth of the ice cream category, which is projected grow 2.83% annually, according to Mordor Intelligence data. But when choosing which ice cream product to purchase, standout taste may be the most important factor of all: a 2020 survey from Innova found that 72% of global consumers believe flavor is the most important consideration when selecting ice cream. (For comparison, flavor played a key role in just 61% of overall food and beverage purchases.)

To give brands guidance on trending ice cream flavors, we identified four of the top taste trends igniting the ice cream category by reviewing some of the more inventive—and Instagrammed—offerings from small and craft ice cream brands. Our findings range from novel and nostalgic flavor experiences to the inclusion of ingredients that are perceived to impart actual health benefits.

Ethnic ice cream flavors

With COVID-19 still limiting travel for most people, flavors inspired by global cuisine continue to perform well, including in the ice cream category. According to 2020 Innova Market Insights, 64% of U.S. consumers want to discover flavors from other cultures.

bright green ice cream in cupWith COVID-19 still limiting travel for most consumers, flavors inspired by global cuisine continue to perform well, including in the ice cream category.

In ice cream, consumers are interested in Mexican-inspired flavors, with offerings such as dulce de leche, mango salsa, mango chili and churro all popping up on foodservice ice cream menus. We’re also seeing Mexican flavors flourish in the retail space, such Outshine’s mango tajin popsicles, which feature a chili-lime flavor.

Ice creams inspired by South Asian beverages are also trending in foodservice, including chai-flavored ice cream from Northeast-based Ample Hills Creamery and Mango Lassi Frozen Yogurt from Jeni’s, which has its headquarters in Ohio. Thai tea and matcha have made their way into California-based Coolhaus ice creams, and New York’s Noona’s Toasted Rice ice cream was inspired by noo-roong, a traditional Korean snack that comes from the caramelized layer of crunchy rice that forms on the bottom of a pan of cooked rice.

Ice cream ingredients with a health halo

To satisfy scrutinizing consumers, ice cream retail brands and foodservice operators are incorporating more inspired-by-nature and heath halo ingredients and flavors into their products. For example, Cloud Creamery, of Boston, launched a blueberry-ginger-sage sorbet and New York’s Hay Rosie Craft Ice Cream Company has a Sage Chocolate Chip flavor. Carmela Ice Cream, in California, offers flavors including Lemon Basil Sorbet and Rosemary with Toasted Pine Nuts.

Floral and botanical flavors have regularly appeared on the Kerry Taste Charts in recent years. Flavors such as lavender, violet and lilac are showing up on foodservice ice cream menus across the country, providing subtle flavor and hues ranging from light to bright purple, which translate into visual Instagrammable appeal.

Fruit flavors are also staples in the ice cream category. Some brands are incorporating new and exciting flavors such as banana, agave and marionberry into their ice cream, while others are branching out into vegetable-inspired flavors. For example, Arizona’s Sweet Republic ice cream shops have offered an avocado jalapeno ice cream while San Francisco’s Mitchell’s Ice Cream has an ube (purple yam) flavor.

Nostalgic flavors are back in style

The resurgence of nostalgia has been on the rise across all food and beverage categories, especially as consumers look for comforting foods and flavors during the pandemic. Ice cream already fits in the comfort food category, and by offering nostalgic flavors, brands can deliver a double dose of TLC.

For instance, comforting and nostalgic breakfast-inspired flavors such as buttered French toast, pancake and everything bagel are now available in ice cream form. Ample Hills Creamery has an oatmeal cookie-based ice cream as well as flavors that incorporate marshmallow, cereal, pretzels and chips. We’re also seeing different takes on the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with roasted peanut butter and fluffernutter ice cream from Jeni’s and an Elvis-themed ice cream incorporating peanut butter, jelly and banana from Portland, Oregon’s Salt & Straw.

Savory flavors trending in ice cream

People have long loved the combination of sweet and salty: think chicken and waffles, salted caramel and pizza with pineapple. Now, we’re seeing savory flavors infiltrate ice cream. Olive oil ice cream was a hot trend on Tik Tok in 2020, and it’s now on menus, such as Brooklyn’s Oddfellows’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil ice cream or New York’s Morgenstern’s Nazca olive oil and charred eggplant novelty ice cream bar. Smoke is another popular flavor on trending ice cream menus, including offerings such as burnt marshmallow, burnt honey vanilla and charred banana.

Consumers have long loved the combination of sweet and salty. Now, we’re seeing savory flavors infiltrate ice

Finally, the standard flavors of salt and pepper are also being mixed with sweet. Raspberry Pink Peppercorn Sorbet is on the Oddfellows menu while Morgenstern’s touts a Salt & Pepper Pine Nut ice cream, a French Fry ice cream and a Raspberry Pink Peppercorn ice cream bar. For some added oomph, Coolhaus’s Milkshake & Fries ice cream combines salted Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream with shoestring French fries and milk chocolate malt ball inclusions.

To learn more about taste trends across food and beverage applications and how we’re partnering with brands to innovate with ice cream flavors, contact us.

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