Getting Ahead in the Plant-based Ice Cream Market

Updated: Sep 9

In our first article, we gave an overview of the state of affairs in the global vegan market. As socially responsible consumption continues to gain prevalence across the globe, we aim to leverage the breadth and granularity of our proprietary database to help you identify pockets of opportunities.

According to the Good Food Institute (GFI), vegan ice creams have just started to experience explosive growth. From 2017 to 2019, retail dollar sales of plant-based ice cream and frozen desserts surged by 34%. (1) Looking forward, the global non-dairy ice cream market is poised to expand by 15% on a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) basis from 2019 to reach US$1.2 billion in 2025. (2) This significantly exceeds the 4.1% CAGR projected for the overall ice cream market, which is forecasted to reach US$79 billion by 2025. (3)

Moreover, GFI estimates that plant-based mylks accounted for 14% of the total US milk market in 2019. (4) Taking the performance of the plant-based mylks category as a leading indicator, we forecast the vegan ice cream industry to be a US$14 billion market by 2030, with vegan flavors making up 15% of the overall ice cream market. To help you get ahead in the plant-based ice cream race, we zoom in our ice cream data to highlight market trends and recommend key strategies.

The US is the top market for vegan ice cream products

Drawing insights from our reviews, the US, Argentina, and Singapore are the top three markets for vegan ice creams, reflecting strong market conditions in these countries. Consumers in these markets have access to the widest range of off-the-shelf non-dairy ice cream products and brands. In particular, in the US, there were close to 400 distinct vegan ice cream products reviewed across more than 100 brands. By contrast, France and Canada have the lowest brand variety in terms of plant-based ice cream products.

Surge in vegan ice cream popularity in Europe, especially in Germany

Turning to growth, vegan ice cream interest has risen manifold since March 2020, particularly in our European markets. The popularity of dairy-free ice cream in Germany, as seen from the number of product reviews on our platform, has increased by close to 6x since the end of March. Similarly, Italy, Spain, and France also saw robust growth in vegan ice cream interest over the same period.

The surge in the popularity of plant-based ice cream products can be attributed to burgeoning consumer interest for dairy-free desserts and the significant improvement in vegan ice cream offerings in terms of accessibility, texture, and flavor. (5) The upswing in demand was also likely accelerated by the Coronavirus outbreak which coincided with the summer season. (6) We expect demand to continue growing exponentially, placing pressure on brands, suppliers, and retail stores to enhance the availability of dairy-free ice cream.

At abillionveg, we're working hard to improve the accessibility of the vegan lifestyle for consumers. We are also helping businesses around the world achieve better than 50% plant-based across their menus and product ranges.

- Vikas Garg, Founder & CEO, abillionveg

Local branding and flavors are critical to the success of a vegan ice cream product

Based on reviews on our platform, very few brands have vegan ice cream products that are widely available across countries. The exceptions to this observation are Magnum and Ben & Jerry's, two of our Top 20 Vegan Ice Cream Award Winners, which have reviewers from more than 30 countries. These international ice cream brands perform exceedingly well in markets like the US, UK, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, and Singapore.

On the other hand, in Argentina, Chile, and South Africa, top reviewed brands generally have a smaller geographical reach. For instance, Felices Las Vacas, another brand that clinched a spot in our Top 20 Vegan Ice Cream Awards, has been reviewed in just two markets but is the third most popular vegan ice cream brand in Argentina. This demonstrates the importance of local knowledge and branding in certain countries to reach the vegan community.

Indeed, ice cream product names in countries like Argentina and Chile are rather distinct as compared to mature, Western vegan markets like the US and UK. In these countries, popular dairy-free ice cream products tend to have localized product names (e.g., helado, fruta, soja, and vegano) that appeal to Spanish-speaking consumers.

Interestingly, while more Western flavors like chocolate, peanut butter, salted caramel, cookie dough, and vanilla are popular in the US, consumers in Argentina and Chile appear to enjoy localized flavors such as raspberry (frambuesa), strawberry, mango, passion fruit (maracuya), and lúcuma. Similarly, vegan ice cream products in Singapore include unique ingredients that are well-liked among locals, such as chendol (a local green rice flour jelly dessert), coconut, gula melaka (a variant of palm sugar), and mochi (a Japanese rice cake dessert). Corroborating our findings, other leaders of the plant-based industry have also recommended brands to pursue market-specific presentation and flavors to promote their plant-based products. (7)


Additionally, our analysis revealed that in certain markets, traditional leaders of the overall ice cream market are laggards in the dairy-free space. For instance, even though Arcor and Froneri accounts for the vast majority of retail ice cream sales in Argentina, they were less sought-after among socially conscious consumers. (8) This observation also applies to Chile where Nestle, the dominant ice cream producer in the country, takes the backseat in non-dairy ice creams. Instead, NotCo, who came in fourth in our Top 20 Vegan Ice Cream Awards, is the most popular vegan ice cream brand in Argentina and Chile. (9)

What does this mean for ice cream producers?

Brands should employ market-specific strategies to promote their non-dairy ice cream range. This involves strategically naming products based on the native tongue and launching localized flavors to appeal to the vegan community. Traditional ice cream players should invest more resources to develop more and better plant-based options for consumers, or run the risk of missing the surge in non-dairy ice cream demand by socially responsible consumers.

First-mover advantage for more affordable vegan ice cream options in Chile, Argentina, and Mexico

Unlike countries like Germany and the US, consumers in Chile, Argentina, and Mexico view available vegan ice cream products in their respective countries as pricey. This points towards a market opportunity for plant-based ice cream products in the mid- to low-price segments.

Once the vegan ice cream trend picks up pace in Chile, Argentina, and Mexico, the vegan ice cream range is likely to extend to low- and mid-priced products. Firms should capitalize on this first-mover advantage quickly to capture market share.

Brands should act swiftly to target market gaps and launch localized products

Consumer interest for dairy-free ice cream is set to expand exponentially. Alongside more plant-based ice cream products on supermarket shelves, restaurants have also incorporated non-dairy ice cream options on their menus. In Singapore, the most popular vegan ice cream parlors, WellSmoocht and Kind Kones, have more than 40 and close to 20 reviewed ice cream dishes respectively, while Crepe & Spoon in the US has chalked up reviews on 8 distinct vegan ice cream flavors.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

In line with the broader shift towards alternative milks, more consumers are projected to pick plant-based ice creams over those made from dairy milk. (10) From our data, coconut, oat, and cashew mylks are the most dominant bases used to manufacture plant-based ice cream. Although the US is the undisputed market leader, consumer interest for dairy-free ice cream is rising rapidly in Germany, Italy, and Spain. We also found a clear distinction in taste and flavor preferences in Western markets relative to the rest of the world. This has contributed to market fragmentation with localized ice cream brands winning consumers' hearts in countries like Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. Moreover, our analysis revealed that in these markets, traditional ice cream market leaders are lagging in the plant-based segment. These companies should allocate more resources to widen and deepen their repertoire in dairy-free ice creams.

As the trend towards socially responsible consumption continues to gain momentum, the growth of the non-dairy segment of the ice cream market is likely to continue accelerating ahead of the overall market. Brands and intermediaries should act swiftly to benefit from this upward trajectory in demand.


Authors:

Ravi Gopalan, @ravi-gopalan

Maria Tan, @mariaubergine




References

  1. The Good Food Institute (2020) Plant-based Market Overview. Retrieved from https://www.gfi.org/marketresearch

  2. Grand View Research (2019) Dairy-Free Ice Cream Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report, 2019 - 2025. Retrieved from https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/dairy-free-ice-cream-market

  3. Grand View Research (2018) Ice Cream Market Size Worth $78.8 billion by 2025. Retrieved from https://www.grandviewresearch.com/press-release/global-ice-cream-market

  4. The Good Food Institute (2020) Plant-based Food Retail Sales Grow 5x Faster Than Total Food Sales for Second Consecutive Year, with Plant-based Market Now Worth $5 billion. Retrieved from https://www.gfi.org/media-release-2020-plant-based-market-data

  5. Mintel (2020) Big Scoop for Vegan Ice Cream: Global Plant-based Ice Cream New Product Development Doubles in Five Years. Retrieved from https://www.mintel.com/press-centre/food-and-drink/big-scoop-for-vegan-ice-cream-global-plant-based-ice-cream-new-product-development-doubles-in-five-years

  6. Mintel (2020) Pass the Avocado on Toast: A Quarter of Young Millennials Say Covid-19 Has Made a Vegan Diet More Appealing. Retrieved from https://www.mintel.com/press-centre/food-and-drink/pass-the-avocado-on-toast-a-quarter-of-young-millennials-say-covid-19-has-made-a-vegan-diet-more-appealing

  7. Wan, L. (2018) Alternative Protein Firms 'Need to Rethink' Asian Preferences and Nutrition Priorities. Retrieved from https://www.foodnavigator-asia.com/Article/2018/06/18/Alternative-protein-firms-need-to-rethink-Asian-preferences-and-nutrition-priorities

  8. Euromonitor (2019) Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts in Argentina. Retrieved from https://www.euromonitor.com/ice-cream-and-frozen-desserts-in-argentina/report

  9. Statista (2020) Distribution of Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts Market in Chile in 2017. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/967904/chile-largest-ice-cream-frozen-desserts-producers/

  10. Franklin-Wallis, O. (2019) White Gold: The Unstoppable Rise of Alternative Milks. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/jan/29/white-gold-the-unstoppable-rise-of-alternative-milks-oat-soy-rice-coconut-plant