“Ben & Jerry’s launching nondairy ice cream is a huge step in making more visible vegan and plant-based products,” which are becoming more popular, but often still are relegated to specialty aisles or parts of stores that are not as highly trafficked by mainstream consumers, said Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary – an organization dedicated to animal welfare and vegan living.
He explained that because Ben & Jerry’s often is prominently placed in stores’ frozen dessert aisles it likely will attract consumers of conventional products who may not know about or have been seeking plant-based alternatives, but who will try the dessert out of curiosity because they recognize the popular brand.
This in turn could inspire them to try other plant-based products – expanding the consumer base and fueling category growth that could attract other major mainstream brands, Baur said.
This sentiment is echoed in a consumer petition filed on Change.org that asked Ben & Jerry’s to create the nondairy option.
“For many, Ben & Jerry’s sets the ice cream agenda. They are in a position to lead the way and make non-dairy ice cream a mainstream choice, like meatless Mondays. Offering an ice cream for their vegan customers would signal their support for cutting back on animal products” and “would signal to their customers that such alternatives can be mainstream and don’t mean sacrificing great flavor and their favorite brands,” notes the petition, which attracted signatures from 28,432 supporters.
In addition to showing support for vegan consumers, the petition argued offering non-dairy frozen dessert would be a “sign of Ben & Jerry’s support for action against climate change.”
Other consumers asked Ben & Jerry’s for a non-dairy option because they were dairy intolerant, concerned about negative health consequences from eating animal products high in saturated fat and based on animal welfare concerns.
While Ben & Jerry’s already answers animal welfare concerns to an extent by sourcing cage free eggs and launching a Caring Dairy program that helps farms move towards more sustainable practices, it said it ultimately answered consumers’ “dare” to go dairyless because it admires vegans commitment and also wanted to provide an option for consumers who are lactose intolerant or more generally concerned about the health consequences of eating animal products, such as consuming more saturated fat – all influential trends impacting the larger food and beverage industry.
So what is in the new lineup?
Embracing the challenge to create vegan frozen desserts that could meet the same high standards as its conventional dairy options was not an easy task for Ben & Jerry’s. It took three years and more than 50 versions to come up with the four almond milk based SKUs, including Chunky Monkey, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Coffee Caramel Fudge and P.B. & Cookies.
The company landed on almond milk as its base because it offered a blank canvas that is smooth and creamy and “would hold onto chunks and swirls like none other,” according to the firm’s webpage. It explained that other non-dairy bases, such as coconut, cashew, soy, rice and hemp either had too strong of flavors, were too thin or thick or wouldn’t freeze or pump.
Ben & Jerry’s also worked Greyston Bakery to create a vegan version of its iconic gooey chocolate brownie used in other Ben & Jerry’s ice creams. In addition, it partnered with Vegan Action to certify that all the other ingredients also were non-dairy and excluded eggs and honey.
A promising category for followers
Manufacturers that follow Ben & Jerry’s into the non-dairy, vegan frozen dessert space likely won’t be disappointed, based on sales and growth of existing players in the segment.
So Delicious Dairy Free – a long time player in the space – has seen annual growth rates of 30% in recent years, and ice cream guru and consultant Malcolm Stogo predicted in late 2014 that the category would double or triple in the next five years.