Flavor Trends

Americans are united in their love for ice cream, but divided over their favorite flavors

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Ice cream, Vanilla

The dog days of summer are here and to help cool off consumers are reaching for ice cream, which a recent Yahoo Food survey found is 41% of American’s favorite dessert.

Love for the frozen treat cuts across generations and the country, but its most adoring fans are more likely to be young teenagers and Northeasterners, according to the survey, which found 56% of 13- to 17-year-olds say ice cream is their favorite dessert compared to 38% to 39% of millennials and adults older than 35 years.  In addition, it found 49% of Northeasterners say ice cream is their favorite dessert, compared to only 37% of people on the West Coast.

While Americans are united in liking ice cream, they are highly divided on what is the best flavor – which creates marketing opportunities for manufacturers.

Chocolate eked out the top spot with 16% of consumers saying it was their favorite flavor ice cream, followed closely by cookies and cream, which won 13% of American’s hearts, according to the survey. Vanilla, which came in at 12%, took third place, followed by cookie dough and mint chocolate chip, which both captured 11%.

The highly fractured flavor preferences of Americans give manufacturers plenty of wiggle room for introducing new flavors as well as riffs on old favorites.

For example, Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Cores, a modern take on cookies and cream, was the “best new ice cream innovation for trial and repeat purchase in 2015,”​ according to the Unilever subsidiary. The three flavors – Boom Chocolatta!; Cookie, Peanut Buttah; and Spectacular Speculoos (a cinnamon spice cookie flavor) – include a “crunchy, swirly inclusion of spoonable cookies right down the center of each pint,”​ the company said.

Other players also are making their mark with sophisticated twists on classic flavors. Steve’s, which makes small batch ice cream with premium ingredients, offers Mexican Chili Chocolate instead of regular chocolate, Bourbon Vanilla and Mint Cacao Chip.

There is plenty room to deviate far from the classics though, as the founders of Coolhaus gourmet ice cream discovered when customers flocked to its food service store for boozy ice cream concoctions, such as a coconut ice cream mixed with Campari, Coolhaus CEO Natasha Case told FoodNavigator-USA earlier this summer​. She added that the cocktail creations are sponsored by alcohol manufacturers, making them a more profitable venture. 

Savory flavors’ potential

Savory ice creams are a less explored flavor profile with substantial potential. The Yahoo Food survey found nearly half of Americans either like or love savory ice cream.

Manufacturers that want to explore this avenue, however, should be aware that 39% of the consumers who eat the most ice cream – 13- to 17-year-olds – have never heard of savory ice cream, and therefore likely would not be the best target demographic. A third of adults older than 18 also said they didn’t know about savory ice cream, which could indicate substantial marketing support might be necessary to sell the idea to the masses.

This could change quickly, however, given that savory nutrition bars​, yogurt and even butter are gaining traction in the snack segment. 

Popular salty-sweet combinations could be a stepping stone to savory. Mintel noted in a recent blog post that salted caramel and salted vanilla flavor combinations for ice cream are among the latest flavor innovations.

In addition, it notes, “in an attempt to attract the more sophisticated palates of some adults, brands are incorporating everything from bitter fruits and vegetables to cheese and alcohol, creating signature flavors.”

Price check

While the sky may be the limit for flavor innovation in ice cream, it’s not for price.

The Yahoo Food survey found 60% of Americans want to spend less than $5 for a pint, with the “sweet spot”​ at $3 to $5 for 48% of Americans. This could pinch the margins for makers of super high-end ice creams made from expensive or hard-to-find ingredients.

For them, their best bet might be to target adults older than 35 years. This is the group that drove the third of Americans who said they would spend more than $5 on a pint.

Not a seasonal treat

As summer comes to an eventual end, ice cream sales likely will not, the Yahoo Food survey suggests. It found more than half of Americans say it’s always ice cream season and there isn’t just one season in which they indulge. 

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