The Times of London reported yesterday that the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods firm is conducting research in this area at its own laboratories, and in partnership with scientists from Cambridge University.
As normal ice cream must be frozen throughout transport and storage, a product sold at room temperature to be frozen only in the consumers’ home would have a great impact on energy use and carbon emissions.
But a spokesperson for Unilever told FoodNavigator.com today that ambient ice cream is “something we are aware of, but we have no plans to develop this kind of product”.
He declined to give details of any research or progress in the industry at large, but said the R&D ice cream specialists are “aware of all sorts of ideas”.
Red hot and icy
The ice cream market is incredibly competitive, and leading brand owners such as Unilver and Nestle battle to come up with innovative product formats, flavours and textures each year.
However their research and development activities are often enshrouded in secrecy, so as to take the market by surprise when they are finally ready to launch.
At the same time, consumers are increasingly keen on products that have proven green credentials, so an ambient ice cream product that tastes and feels as authentic as normal ice cream could do well.
The Times reported the company as saying that one of the main challenges behind an ambient ice cream would be ensuring it has the right microstructure.
Unilever has made headlines for its development of other ice cream texture solutions in recent times. In May it received European novel foods approval for its ice structuring proteins (ISP), which can help reduce the fat and calorie content of products by up to 50 per cent. They are also said to allow more fruit to be used, better taste, better structure and slower melting.
ISPs are found in nature, in fish and certain vegetables for instance, helping them to survive in icy conditions.
But since it would be uneconomical to tap these resources on a commercial scale, Unilever found a way to make them using yeast fermentation technology.
Ice cream sales
In its Q2 financial report, released this month, Unilever reported turnover of €2,468m for ice cream – up 4.9 per cent on the prior year period.
Growth has been particularly strong in the emerging and developing markets, including Asia and Latin America, although Western Europe also saw growth despite the tough economy.