Flavor is the single most important choice factor and purchase driver for ice cream shoppers. However, there are other trends in ice cream development that help to build further competitive edge. These include non-dairy formulations, low sugar recipes, cleaner labels and ethical ingredients.

Non-dairy ice cream has certainly been booming in recent years. Launch numbers rose at a CAGR of nearly 30% over 2016-2020 and non-dairy lines now account for 10% of all ice cream introductions. This rises to as much as one-quarter of all activity in North America and one-fifth of launches in Australasia.

Low sugar formulations are also gaining ground, reaching penetration of 6% of launches in 2020. “The development of more natural sweeteners has attracted more attention to sugar reduction,” says Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights. “Artificial sweeteners have steadily lost ground, and erythritol, stevia and monk fruit are now the top three choices in low sugar and sugar-free ice cream.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to clean label development, shorter and simpler ingredients lists are popular. Some brands have even flagged the number of ingredients, or indeed the full ingredient list, on their packaging.

Although these are all interesting trends in ice cream development, flavor is still king. Even where alternative positionings are used to target specific consumer interests, taste choices remain vital. In fact, they can be even more important in healthier recipes, helping to cement an indulgent image. For example, salted caramel is one of the biggest winners in recent flavor development, rising to fifth in the flavor rankings in 2020. However, its penetration in non-dairy ice cream is more than twice as high as in regular dairy ice cream.