While the parts of the plant-based market are experiencing growing pains, the plant-based milk category is growing, and the plant-based ice cream market — which often uses plant-based milks as a base — has an opportunity to expand its retail shelf space, Usmen said.
“The plant-based dairy category is certainly growing. Milk was actually the category to grow before alternative meats kind of took off, and the plant-based ice cream specifically is still in the very early stages of growth, and we do see that there is demand for it.”
Addressing the gap between penetration, consumer desire
The global plant-based ice cream market was estimated to be worth $1.6bn in 2022 and expected to grow to $4.3bn by 2033 with a 10% CAGR from 2023 to 2033, spurred by adoption from younger generations, according to Future Market Insights research.
And currently, the plant-based ice cream segment has a smaller fraction of the overall market with 4% household penetration for the first quarter of 2023, according to The Brightfield Group data shared in a recent FoodNavigator-USA webinar.
The plant-based ice cream market also has the "biggest gap among plant-based dairy categories ... between penetration and the desire for it," Usmen said. Over 50% of consumers said that they would be more willing to try plant-based ice cream if more options were readily available, according to Olam Food Ingredients research, she added.
Looking at Innova data for the last five years, the ice cream and frozen yogurt category saw 2,876 product launches, and the non-dairy ice cream and frozen yogurt segment only saw 787 launches, Usmen said.
And while there are some indications that plant-based milks are taking market share away from their animal-based counterpart, Usmen sees the two more as complementary of one another. Olam Food Ingredients found in a survey of over 1,500 consumers that 67% said that they see plant-based dairy as complementary to dairy products, while 65% said they see plant-based dairy products as an opportunity to try something new.
Taste, texture still remain barriers to plant-based ice cream category
Another market barrier is recreating the taste, texture, and mouthfeel of traditional animal-based ice cream in a plant-based format, which has been a persistent challenge in the overall plant-based category, Usmen explained. In a separate survey of over 1,500 US consumers, 7% of them switched back to a dairy product after trying a plant-based product and not liking it.
“Consumers expect ice cream to be really indulgent and have this mouthfeel that's really creamy and rich. And most plant-based milks on the market just don't have that fat and protein content to get that rich texture if you just do a simple substitution.”
To address these formulation challenges, CPG brands need to ensure the right amount of fat and protein in their products, Usmen explained. One solution is using popular plant-based milks as the base of the ice cream formulation, she said. For instance, a coconut milk base can have the right ratio of fat and protein, which can recreate the taste of animal-based ice cream, she added.
“Among the ones that are from the plant-based milk category, coconut milk is probably the most commonly found because it does have that fat content already. That helps to get you to that texture that you would expect from ice cream, but there are a lot of options that you can choose for your base. The ones that are probably the easiest for consumers to grasp are the ones that are kind of building off of that plant-based milk category.”
Additionally, certain indulgent ingredients can be used to recreate the mouthfeel of animal-based ice cream, Usmen said. Olam Food Ingredients offer a super-high fat cocoa, which can provide a “smooth and indulgent mouthfeel, and it brings ... more of that fat richness, that enriched chocolatey taste, that is going to make a plant-based ice cream tastes delicious,” she added.