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Alt-Dairy Ice Cream: The Fast-Growing Frozen Confection Category
With plant-based ‘milks’ taking a growing share of the dairy-drinks market, it is inevitable that the ice-cream market is next to be impacted.
According to a report by Persistent Market Research, sales of plant-based milk alternatives made from soybeans, nuts, oats and the like - what some people refer to as the ‘alt-milk market’ - are predicted to grow at a compound annual rate of 9.4 per cent between now and 2030. Besides taking a greater share of the consumer-packaged goods market, these milks are steadily and potentially replacing dairy in the food-service sector.
That sort of growth is almost double the 5.4-per-cent CAGR of the global ice cream market, valued by Allied Market Research at US$68.072 billion in 2016, and projected to reach $97.301 billion by 2023.
“Asia-Pacific is expected to witness the highest growth rate, owing to rise in demand from the emerging economies such as India, China, Indonesia, and others,” concluded Allied.
The global dairy-free ice cream market size was estimated at $523.5 million last year and was on track to reach $601.2 million in this year. While that may represent a tiny fraction of the larger market, it’s the growth and consumer trend - which have accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis, which make it significant.
The move towards non-dairy ice cream is especially gaining momentum in the US where numerous artisan brands are establishing a name for themselves and two mainstream labels are also heading down the route.
Haagen Daz has released its first dairy-free line, with enticing flavours like peanut butter chocolate fudge and coconut caramel, using peanut butter or chocolate, rather than milk, as the recipe base.
Ben & Jerry’s, owned by Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever, is steadily expanding its range of non-dairy frozen desserts (it cannot call them ice cream for regulatory reasons in the US because they do not contain dairy content). Eleven lines include a version of its famous Cherry Garcia and Netflix & Chilll’d.
“Made with either almond milk or sunflower butter, they have a creamy, dreamy texture that makes a perfect blank canvas for our Flavor Gurus' wild creations,” the company proclaims on its website.
In Asia, high-profile alt-dairy ice cream brands include Soyato, the lactose-free, vegan ice cream made from soy milk and sold in pints through NTUC Fairprice and Isetan stores in Singapore, which comes in flavours including Green Tea, Honey Lemon and Wickedly Chocolate. Certified-organic Rice Dream ice cream is made from brown rice in place of cow’s milk.
Sugalight, with a low glycaemic index of 7, is diabetic-friendly as well as vegan and has won the right to bear the Singapore’s Health Promotion Board’s Healthy Snack logo.
Mintel Global New Product Database (GNPD) reports that vegan ice cream accounted for 7 per cent of all ‘ice cream’ new product launches in the past 12 months (2019/20), more than double the figure of five years ago.
Mintel says manufacturers are focusing on the textural qualities of plant-based ice creams with ‘chunky’ varieties (those with nuts, toffee chunks, cookie pieces, for example) accounting for 13 per cent of releases in the past year, up from just 2 per cent in 2016-17. But the core flavours remain the traditional chocolate, vanilla and coconut, accounting for just under half of the market.
“The recent buzz around veganism has made its mark on the ice cream category,” says Kate Vlietstra, an analyst at Mintel Global Food & Drink. “Interest in vegan ice cream isn't restricted to those following a vegan diet.”
Taking a cue from their dairy counterparts, plant-based ice creams are moving beyond the basic flavours to offer indulgent options.
“Texture is playing a prominent part in vegan new product development (NPD) with chunkier varieties on offer. Brands are demonstrating that vegan offerings can be premium with an array of luxury flavour combinations and packaging,” she says.
With the COVID-19 pandemic raising consumer awareness of healthy eating, it has also boosted focus on vegetarian options, whether it be plant-based meats or beverages.
“Plant-based products are booming, and within the dairy space, there are many motivators for consumers looking for dairy alternatives,” says Eric Eddings, president and CEO of Oregon Ice Cream Co in the US, which is producing daily-free ice-cream alternatives and frozen desserts under the Alden’s Organic brand.
He says consumers with allergies to dairy products and those who follow a vegan lifestyle are helping to drive demand, but there is another group, dubbed the ‘dairy-free curious’.
“This group of consumers typically purchases dairy products, but is also seeking dairy-free options the whole family will love, without having to compromise on taste and texture.”
With countries including China, India and Indonesia leading the Asian market in crops like soy, coconuts and rice, it is natural these are now regions to which manufacturers and consumer brands are looking for ingredients in order to help develop non-dairy products.
International ingredients supplier Barry Callebaut says the supply and range of dairy-free frozen desserts has risen by 16 per cent in value and 20 per cent in volume this year.
“This category trend is not new, but has gained significant momentum over the past few years. This stems from two factors: First, consumers’ changing their diets because they physically cannot consume products with dairy. Second, they may be making a conscious or social decision to not consume animal products.
“As developers, we have an opportunity to paint on a new canvas with new ingredients,” the company says.
To the rescue: nut butters which provide the fat and texture found naturally in dairy products.
Asia Pacific already accounts for the largest share of the alt dairy market, reflecting rapid urbanisation, diverse diets, and a liberalisation of foreign direct investment in the food sector.
This, together with rising purchasing power and a fast-growing middle-class population, rising awareness about health and fitness, and more demand for nutritional, healthy products, is making Asia an attractive market for the alt-dairy industry.
Around 6 per cent of Asians are estimated to suffer gluten intolerance. That makes a significant market opportunity for restaurants willing to add gluten-free options to their menus. But where do you start?