“Have you ever spent days and days and days making up flavors of ice cream that no one’s ever eaten before? Like chicken and telephone ice cream? Green mouse ice cream was the worst. I didn’t like that at all.”

So wrote cult author Neil Gaiman in The Sandman: Brief Lives. And while his ideas are yet to grace the tubs of Ben & Jerry’s, the variety of flavours coming through to the ice cream market have a wonderful air of eccentricity to them.

The global ice cream market is big business – the US ice cream market alone is predicted to reach $10.8 billion this year, with the average American expected to eat almost 17 litres. Across the Atlantic in Europe, the biggest ice cream consumers are in Norway with each consumer predicted to eat 10.4 litres this year, just shy of the 13 litres per head that New Zealander’s are predicted to eat.

Although mature markets such as the US, are seeing lower rates of growth, manufacturers have managed to maintain momentum by innovating to stimulate consumption. Here are some of the main trends – and more quirky developments – in ice cream innovation, and the products launched to make the most of them:

Fruit and veg – US

Seven in 10 US adults agree that ice cream and frozen treats are indulgent, but 73% also say ice cream and frozen treats can fit into a healthy diet. US manufacturers are taking advantage of that perception with better-for-you (BFY) innovations that combine fruit juice with pumpkin, beet, kale, spinach and other vegetable juices. In addition to their produce base, these products tout their low calorie count, reduced fat and specific vitamin content.

Adding in vegetables is not the only inspiration frozen juice-based bars can take from the juice category in order to elevate their products above competitive frozen desserts.

Dairy free – Italy

For a country with as much ice cream heritage as Italy, it is perhaps unsurprising that the country has such respect for traditional recipes and artisanal production. However, Italian consumers are more likely than other Europeans to be interested in seeing a wider variety of lactose/dairy free ice creams. Nearly 17% of Italian ice cream users are keen to see more of these recipes, a notably bigger response than that of users from France (12%) and Germany (13%).

Free of gluten and lactose, Bofrost* Fior di Soia Tiramisù Variegato al Caffè (Coffee and Tiramisu Soy Based Ice Cream) caters to Italians’ relatively high interest in seeing more lactose/dairy-free ice cream.

Premiumisation – Germany

The branding and appearance of “MÖ”, with its short name and black packaging, reminds consumers of the chilled dessert range “Gü”, branded Gü London in Germany, which brought a new premium dimension to the German dessert market and has performed very well in European markets. Premiumisation is proving to be a lucrative way of expanding business, as upmarket desserts benefit from growing consumer interest in indulgent experiences combined with demand for quality ingredients and sophisticated flavours.

Aromatic – Japan

Häagen-Dazs Mini Cup Sakura (30th Anniversary Cherry Blossom Ice Cream) is available for the brand’s 30th anniversary. One of the features of Häagen-Dazs’ flower ice creams is that they have an aroma, which is in keeping with the enjoyment Japanese people gain from smelling the annual spring cherry blossom. Incorporating scent into ice cream adds an extra sensory appeal to the consumption experience, but it’s a concept which is largely limited to the Japanese ice cream market, which has seen a flurry of new aromatic launches recently.

Alcoholic – UK

In the UK, Solero’s Mojito Water Ice Lolly is targeted to adults only and contains a mint flavour lemon lime core. Whilst dessert- and alcohol-flavoured ice creams have been at the forefront of new product development in the UK market, 43% of Brits claim they have not tried alcoholic flavoured ice cream but would be interested in doing so, suggesting that operators should continue to explore these flavours in NPD in the near future.

International flavours – Mexico

Spices and fruits with Asian associations became more commonplace in the US and European ice cream markets in 2013, as Western brands looked to the East to respond to consumer interest in more unusual flavours. Using Asian spices, such as cardamom and ginger, to flavour products can allow brands to tap into the trend for more sophisticated adult-focused flavours.

Low-cal, low-cost – India

This perception of ice cream as a summer treat is slowly changing in India’s urban markets, as it loses its seasonality and is becoming accepted as an indulgent snack and dessert option. However, there is scope to widen this audience by offering more convenient and less messy formats for older adults, such as in cups or in scoops. Fruit lolly products with a low sugar content or low-fat / low-calorie alternatives to sugar may also find takers. This could open up potential avenues for premiumisation and up-ageing of a segment that is still considered to be for children.

Extend the appeal – UK

The infatuation with coconut water has entered the UK freezer aisle, as OkoBay launches what it claims are the world’s first all-natural coconut water ice lollies.

As well as being the first ice lolly brand to leverage the booming popularity of coconut water, the launch also stands out for its sophisticated positioning, targeting health-conscious adults, within a typically child-orientated market. Young families are an important target audience for ice lolly manufacturers to target, considering usage peaks among parents with children aged 5-9 (60%). As such, ice lolly NPD has historically been less focused on the strong premiumisation trends apparent within the ice cream market, such as the adult-centric themes of decadence and indulgence.

However, there are opportunities to extend the appeal of ice lollies beyond young families through more sophisticated, gourmet recipes.

Cross-category blurring – Canada

Following on from the US obsession with cookie dough ice cream, bakery flavours have become prevalent in American ice cream. Launched in Canada, President’s Choice Ice Cream Shop Flavours Cinnamon Bun Ice Cream is described as cinnamon bun and vanilla flavoured ice cream with vanilla icing ripple and cinnamon bun pieces. Through taking on a flavour usually seen in the bakery category, the ice cream satisfies consumer hunger for cross-category blurring, previously seen in products like the Cronut (croissant-donut).

For more information on Mintel’s ice cream research click here for UK/US analysis.

Alex was promoted to Global Food and Drink analyst at the end of 2013, having spent nearly three years writing UK-based consumer reports on a wide variety of food and drink categories. Prior to joining Mintel, Alex was food and drink editor of highly-regarded food industry magazine, The Grocer. Here, he spent four years delivering exclusive news stories, which were often picked up by national media, and developing an excellent knowledge of the industry and global food issues. Alex started off his career as a primary school teacher in Hampshire.

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