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Indulgence Tops Health for U.S. Ice Cream

Mintel report says sales of frozen yogurt and non-dairy ice cream declined 10% in two years.
July 17, 2017

​WASHINGTON, D.C. – Whether it’s gelato, sundaes or sorbets, ice cream in all varieties has remained popular for centuries and it seems that in the U.S., consumers aren’t straying far from the classics, even amid their quest for a healthy lifestyle.

New Mintel research found that retail sales of frozen yogurt and non-dairy ice cream slipped 10% in the last two years, reaching an estimated $299 million in 2016. Meanwhile, the ice cream and frozen dairy desserts segment grew 7% from 2014–2016 to reach an estimated $6.8 million.

Mintel suggests that attitudes support consumers’ desire to indulge with ice cream. Only one in 10 U.S. consumers (11%) report cutting back on ice cream or frozen treat consumption due to health concerns. In fact, an almost equal share (10%) report actively avoiding healthy versions because they are “meant to be treats.” More than one quarter (27%) of ice cream buyers agree that, even though they find these treats unhealthy, they buy them anyway.

“Many of the pleasures that consumers get from frozen treats, such as satisfaction of cravings and an enjoyable indulgence, simply outweigh health-related concerns for the vast majority of Americans. As a result, we’re seeing a decline in retail sales for the frozen yogurt and non-daily segment, which typically carries a health halo. Although soft-serve yogurt remains popular in specialized frozen yogurt parlors, the harder frozen yogurt packaged like ice cream continues to lose traction, indicating that even products with healthy claims need to ensure they maintain their appeal as a treat,” said Mimi Bonnett, director, U.S. reports, food, drink and foodservice at Mintel.

The U.S. is the world’s second largest ice cream market with sales estimated at 2.7 billion liters in 2016, falling just behind China at 4.3 billion liters. However, in terms of individual ice cream consumption, Mintel research reveals that Norwegian consumers are the biggest ice cream eaters, consuming 9.8 liters per capita in 2016, followed by Australia (9.4) and Sweden (8.9). The U.S. ranks fourth, with Americans consuming 8.4 liters per capita in 2016.

Western consumers are increasingly looking to try ice cream products with more Eastern inspired flavors. Nearly one-third (30%) of Canadians would be interested in ethnically-inspired ice cream flavors, such as green tea or mango, while one-quarter (23%) would be interested in internationally inspired formats, such as Japanese mochi ice cream or Indian kulfi.

“In the U.S., mochi ice cream, the Japanese treat of frozen rice dough around an ice cream filling, is set to continue growing in profile in 2017. Meanwhile, Thai-style rolled ice cream also continues to gain food press headlines across North America, often pitched as the next big thing in desserts. The Middle East also promises to become more influential for ice cream innovation. In particular, booza, a traditional type of ice cream from Syria and Lebanon, has one clear advantage which should resonate the world over: It is very slow to melt,” said Alex Beckett, global food and drink analyst at Mintel.