“Wholesome” ingredients, textural elements and fantasy flavors to elevate plant-based ice cream in 2023
However, crafting comparable alternatives to dairy-based frozen desserts comes with challenges, particularly when emulating true milk, suppliers flag
18 Jan 2023 --- The recent shift in consumer behavior toward a healthier lifestyle is unlocking significant growth potential for plant-based ice cream manufacturers, according to suppliers. While cravings for creamy frozen treats remain high, consumers are juggling that with a desire to purchase foods that reflect their values, both nutritionally and environmentally.
FoodIngredientsFirst looks at the latest sector developments in dairy-free ice cream, with key suppliers sharing insights on new “fantastical” flavors – such as those “evoking the essence of mermaids or yetis” – alongside new superfood formulas and formats like rolled ice cream and glow-in-the-dark frozen treats.
“Dairy is being replaced with a diverse range of alternative bases, including popular varieties such as coconut, soy, almond, as well as emerging sources, including oat and pea,” explains Roisin McGoran, RDA director at Kerry.
According to ADM, plant-based frozen desserts are “primed for growth,” but capturing and holding shopper attention means products must have “outstanding sensory experiences.”
Zach Gall, global senior marketing manager for wholesome ingredients and texturants at the company, says brands face tough challenges when crafting comparable alternatives to ice cream and frozen treats, with one of the largest hurdles being around texture.
Plant-based popping texture
Plant-based alternatives are being established in various formats – from soy to pea, oats to almonds, and ice cream makers are using a range of different milk options depending on their functional requirements.
Consumers still expect that alternatives will tick the traditional ice cream boxes of indulgent, rich, creamy and delicious. Mimicking the smooth creaminess of ice cream can be challenging to get exactly right, but those who achieve it have the potential to gain a larger share of success in the plant-based ice cream category.
“Taste and texture are the key elements to deliver a positive consumer eating experience. On top of that, developing plant-based ice cream that appeals to the environmentally and health-conscious consumer has added a layer of complexity to formulation, alongside the growing pressure to develop plant-based ice creams that mimic as far as possible the taste and texture of dairy ice cream,” explains McGoran at Kerry.
Zhou states that flavor goes hand-in-hand with texture, and she sees intriguing textural elements building momentum this year.
“From cocoa nibs to coconut flakes, nuts and seeds, these added inclusions ‘pop’ with consumers to add texture and make even the most traditional flavors new and exciting. Plus, by leaning into wholesome ingredients like nuts and seeds, formulators can bring an extra layer of protein to plant-based frozen desserts, adding further appeal for consumers looking to indulge while lending a sense of discovery and delight purposefully,” she underscores.
Meanwhile, with technologies like precision fermentation rising in F&B, ADM also anticipates animal-free dairy to escalate in the market.
“While this revolution is just beginning in fluid milk, we foresee that same technology creating opportunities for innovation within frozen dairy and alternative plant-based formats,” Zhou comments.
Fun with flavors
Jennifer Zhou, global director of product marketing, flavors at ADM, believes consumers are increasingly open to adventurous food experiences, particularly as they seek new ways to express themselves.
“The frozen treat space – for both dairy and plant-based products – is the perfect category to experiment with flavor,” she continues. “Playful flavors coupled with shades that can lift spirits are taking the space by storm: think pink ice creams with unique flavors like dragon fruit or teaberry.”
Johan Cerstiaens, commercial director at SVZ, reiterates that fruit ingredients offer brands limitless potential for bold yet natural flavor creation to tap into the latest “superfood” trends.
“Avocado, for instance, seems to be a popular choice in plant-based ice cream for recreating the perfect melt-in-your-mouth texture of dairy counterparts. But this flavor alone may not match the taste of many consumers,” he argues.
“So, a sour kick with cherry puree or juice concentrate can elevate this formulation.”
Some brands have already started to experiment with this combination, reveals Cerstiaens, evidenced by Cado’s “‘Cherry Amaretto Chip”’ avocado-based ice cream, which includes organic cherry juice concentrate, he adds.
However, Cerstiaens concedes that classic ice cream flavors will “never go out of fashion.”
“Flavors gaining traction are those that people are already familiar with, like strawberry, peach or mango. Take JD’s Vegan Dairy-Free Frozen Dessert as an example. The brand offers ‘Strawberry Sweetheart’ and ‘Welcome to Atlanta, Peach Cobbler’ flavors, featuring strawberry and peach puree, respectively,” he comments.
Meanwhile, Pantone’s Color of the Year, Viva Magenta, is “a punchy example” of the Barbiecore trend taking hold across categories, adds Zhou.
Moreover, ube ice cream is gaining traction both for its eye-catching purple color and sweet, earthy notes. “With exploration top of mind for many consumers, we also anticipate more imaginative taste sensations to emerge,” adds Zhou.
“‘Fantastical-type’ flavors, such as those that evoke the essence of mermaids or yetis, have already penetrated the carbonated soft drink category and will soon make their mark on the frozen dairy arena.”
New frozen formats take shape
The increasingly mainstream appeal of non-dairy desserts is reflected in the growing range of ice cream formats beyond tubs, including sticks, cones and mochi, according to McGoran at Kerry.
“New formats, such ice cream sandwiches, reduced sugar and calorie formats, are gaining traction in the frozen dessert space,” she adds.
Meanwhile, Zhou believes that manufacturers are taking inspiration from niche on-premise and street food offerings.
“This may include rolled ice cream, glow-in-the-dark frozen treats, color-changing ice cream and more. On-the-go experiences are also back in the limelight, with snackable ice cream nuggets and mochi bites gaining traction. This heralds the adoption of the hybrid experience – combining dessert-like indulgences and snacking,” she explains.
Supply challenges in ice cream
When working within the realms of plant-based, certain ingredients are notably in demand.
Israeli start-up ChickP has developed a chickpea protein isolate designed for plant-based ice cream.
The company’s protein isolate has several benefits, including high nutritional value, a neutral taste and smell, and excellent functional properties, says Liat Lachish Levy, ChickP’s CEO.
However, the prices of raw materials, such as chickpeas, and the supply chain are impacted by two significant factors: the war in Ukraine and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and global inflation.
“Despite the complexity of the situation, it’s worth noting that chickpea is the world’s second most consumed legume crop and is popular in a variety of countries, including India, Turkey, Afghanistan, Australia, and several countries in Africa, areas that are less affected by the conflict in Europe,” explains Lachish Levy.
“In addition, we can prioritize the environment and strive to reduce our carbon footprint by sourcing crops from locations near our production plant. Thanks to that, we have maintained our customers’ protein prices worldwide without raising them.”
Gall at ADM says the company works directly with farmers throughout its global supply chain to ensure transparency and responsible sourcing, including for its soy and pea ingredients, from seed to fork.
“This helps ensure the quality and consistency of our plant protein sources, ultimately creating consumer-preferred plant-forward offerings. Markedly, we recently expanded our soy protein efforts in Europe following the acquisition of SojaProtein with the opening of our new extrusion facility in Serbia.”
According to Gall, this builds upon ADM’s 100% locally sourced, non-GMO alternative protein capabilities in the region and for global markets. “Moreover, in addition to transparent and traceable sourcing of our pea proteins, we use all parts of the pea and soy plant – 99% of the soybean and pea used in production – adding value via byproducts with US origins and offering non-GMO sourcing,” he concludes.
Edited by Elizabeth Green
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