Ice Cream trendspotting: From novel and nostalgic to celebrity-endorsed and plant-based

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/Lew Robertson
Source: Getty/Lew Robertson

Related tags Ice cream Unilever ben & jerry's

The weather outside may be increasingly cold for most of America, but sales of ice cream and frozen novelties – typically slower in the first quarter – remain hot, thanks in part to innovative launches, including new twists on old favorites, celebrity collaborations, novel flavors and novelty newcomers, and expanded plant-based options.

Sales of frozen desserts may be slowing compared to early in the pandemic when pantry stocking and panic buying spurred year-over-year sales upwards of 25% for ice cream and sherbet and novelties and 26% for frozen dessert toppings, but they are still strong on a one and two-year stack. In December 2021, sales of frozen dessert were up 3.1% from the prior year and 21% over 2019, with the biggest gains in desserts and toppings (up 13.9% to $88m in 2021 vs 2020), followed by an 11.8% increase to $347m in novelties. Ice cream and sherbet sales were hit harder, however, dropping 4.4% to $444m in December over the previous year, but still up 9.2% from December 2019, 201analytics and IRI report.

Despite the 3.1% sales gains in frozen desserts overall, unit sales slipped 0.7% -- reflecting in part high inflation that that cut across categories, including a 1.7% increase to an average price of $3.90 in frozen desserts in 2021 over the prior year. The biggest jump in inflation was a 6.8% increase in desserts and toppings to an average of $2.95 per unit, followed by a 4.4% increase to $4.10 per unit in novelties. Ice cream once again bucked the trend with inflation dropping 1.1% to an average price per unit of $3.89, according to 201analytics and IRI.

Novelties offer fun, portion control & safety

Klondike Cones

Consumers looking for something fun, new and individually wrapped for safety and portion control during the pandemic likely helped boost sale of frozen novelties. To keep the momentum up and give consumers something to look forward to in the new year, Unilever launched several new cones and bars, including five Klondike Cones combinations – several of which tap into consumers’ love for top-selling candies as well as classic flavors. The line up includes Coocoo for Caramel, Vanilla Caramel Classic Cones, Cookies ‘nCream Cones, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cones and Reese’s Chocolate Cones.

 ​Unilever also added a trio of novelty bars under its Magnum ice cream brand that target chocolate lovers looking for permissible indulgence. Each bar is dipped in not one but two types of chocolate, and include the Almond Duet Bar, which is fully dipped in milk chocolate with almonds and half dipped in dark chocolate, Chocolate Duet Bar, which dips vanilla ice cream with a raspberry swirl first in white chocolate and then half again in milk chocolate, and Cookie Duet Bar, which dips a vanilla ice cream with a chocolate ganache swirl first in white chocolate with chocolate cookie pieces and then half dipped in milk chocolate. 

Magnum Chocolate Duet bars

While not a novelty, Turkey Hill’s new Mystery Flavor is a novel approach to engaging consumers, who the brand says will need “more than a few scoops”​ before they can guess correctly the flavor. Those who do will have a chance to win “ice cream for life” as part of a broader campaign launching this month with the flavor. For those who can’t stand not knowing, all will be revealed March 15.

From tropical fruit to alcohol-inspired to baked classics – new flavors drive interest

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of consumers say that flavor is an important attribute when purchasing ice cream and frozen treats, according to research from T Hasegawa, which found fruit flavors popular in Asian and Latin cuisines are positioned well for growth in 2022. For example, 58% of consumers expressed interested in dragon fruit, 45% in lychee, 30% in yuzu and 29% in ube, according to T Hasegawa’s trend report. Tropical flavors are also popular, such as pineapple (74%), mango (69%), blood orange (58%) and guava (55%).

Also popular are alcohol-forward flavors, like bourbon at 52%, and flavors associated with baked goods, like brown butter, cookie butter and cinnamon rolls, the report reveals.

Unilever taps into this with the launch of four Talenti Gelato & Sorbetto pairings in one jar, including Strawberry Margarita, Bourbon Fudge Brownie, Salted Chocolate Churro and Caramel Pretzel Blondie.

Nostalgia brings comfort and creativity

While pandemic lockdowns have made many people eager to try something new, many others are looking for comfort from what they know and love – driving innovations based in nostalgia, like Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Flashback. The Unilever brand’s newest ice cream innovations are Topped Chocolate Milk & Cookies, which swirls chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cookies together with a milk chocolate ganache and fudge chips, and Topped Dirt Cake, which blends vanilla pudding ice cream with chocolate sandwich cookies and chocolate cookie swirls topped with milk chocolate ganache and chocolate cookie crumble.

oreo ice cream

Oreo also offers up the comfort of its classic creme filled chocolate cookie sandwiches in a new format with the launch of a scoopable ice cream tub featuring creme-flavored ice cream with Oreo cookie pieces. On the novelty side, it introduces Oreo Sandwiches, Oreo Cones and Oreo Bars.

Banana sundaes have been a go-to at ice cream parlors for decades, and now Breyers makes it easy to enjoy at home with its new Banana Split flavor that blends banana frozen dairy base with strawberry pieces and a chocolate swirl. Fudge sundaes, another parlor staple, also are easier to enjoy at home with Breyer’s M&M’s Minis Caramel Fudge, which mixes colorful M&M’s minis in light caramel ice cream with a fudge swirl. It also launches a complementary Very Berry Cobbler, which combines the classic baked good’s crumble and swirls it in strawberry ice cream with black raspberry.

Musicians give ice cream lovers something to sing about

This winter, several celebrities are adding their star-power to the frozen dessert category, including Dolly Parton who teamed with Jeni’s to promote her new novel and companion album with the return of Jeni’s Strawberry Pretzel Pie online.

JDs vegan

Impressed by Chance the Rapper’s community-centered political activism, which includes starting the youth empowerment nonprofit SocialWorks, Ben & Jerry’s is collaborating with the musician to create a “mixtape” of his favorite flavors. Mint Chocolate Chance blends mint chocolate chip ice cream with fudge brownies from Greyston Bakery in both a dairy and non-dairy option.

Grammy award-winning recording artist and producer Jermaine Dupri jumped at the chance to expand his line of plant-based coconut ice cream with three new flavors, Chocolate My Way, Key Lime Pie and (404) Cookies & Cream, which will appear in Walmart alongside JD’s Vegan’s existing flavors Welcome to Atlanta, Peach Cobbler, Apple Butter and Strawberry Sweetheart.

Renewal Mill and Salt & Straw deliver a knockout with one-two punch of upcycled and plant-based

A leader in the upcycled ingredient space, Renewal Mill’s is crumbling cupcakes made from its vegan Dark Chocolate Brownie Mix in a fleur de sel-spiked oat ice cream with salted caramel frosting swirl to create a limited-edition “climate-friendly” frozen dessert with Salt & Straw to mark Veganuary.

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