Young people worldwide are developing a taste for dairy-free ice cream which they see as a “healthier” alternative, involving oats, almonds and coconut.New launches of dairy-free varieties now make up 4% of all new ice cream launches, according to market research firm Mintel. And major brands, including Haagen Dazs and Ben and Jerry’s have launched dairy-free varieties.But they don’t tend to market them as “vegan” said Mintel’s analyst. “There is consumer curiosity around dairy-free, particularly among younger people,” said Alex Beckett, Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel.”They perceive dairy-free ice cream to be a more permissible treat than regular ice cream.”Milking itAmid rising numbers of people switching to a diet that eliminates or cuts down on dairy-based ingredients, ice cream makers have embraced the trend, particularly in the United States.This week Haagen Dazs launched four new flavours: chocolate salted fudge truffle, peanut butter chocolate fudge, mocha chocolate cookie and coconut caramel. Ben and Jerry’s uses almond milk for its dairy-free flavours and has recently added caramel almond brittle, cherry Garcia and coconut seven layer bar to its range. In contrast to sorbets, these products aim to emulate the creamy textures and flavours of a dairy-based product, something that has proved a challenge for food scientists. Growing appetiteThey are not yet available in the UK but Mintel’s report suggest there could be a market for them across Europe.According to Mintel as many as three in 10 Italians and one in five French consumers say they are actively reducing their consumption or are avoiding dairy.
In the UK, 16% said that they, or a member of their household, avoided dairy. Although dairy-free still represents a small slice of the overall range of new ice cream launches, at 4%, that proportion has already doubled since 2014.Vegan-free marketingHowever, while a growing number of people are choosing to go vegan, firms are avoiding marketing new flavours with that label, said Mr Beckett, because vegan doesn’t really equate with indulgence.”They tend not to put vegan on the packaging, because for a lot of people that would be a deterrent,” he said.Instead they are exploiting the “health halo” of plant-based recipes and ingredients such as coconut and oats, to come across as a treat “but one you don’t feel too guilty eating”. Spicing it upThe UK ice cream market lags behind the US, added Mintel’s Mr Beckett.”In the UK we tend to follow what happens in the US and we’re a few years behind in terms of ice-cream innovation. “In the States dairy-free is booming,” he said.On that basis Mr Beckett, is predicting UK consumers will soon be offered the kind of middle-eastern-spice-influenced flavours currently in fashion in the States. “Saffron is an edgy flavour in US ice cream parlours,” he said.”What happens in Brooklyn and LA tends to emerge in retail in the States, and then in a few years that emerges in the UK.