Market analysts Euromonitor claim that this tendency is most clearly visible in the developed markets of North America, western Europe, Australasia and Japan, and is being driven by increasing average disposable incomes and a growing consumer desire for rewards or treats for good dietary habits maintained throughout the rest of the daily routine.
Also contributing to the 'premiumisation' trend is a high degree of product innovation, with manufacturers continuing to develop new formats and flavours, the company said.
With the breakdown of traditional mealtimes, consumers increasingly require portable, convenient snack-style food products, which can be eaten on-the-go, and ice cream manufacturers have been quick to exploit this shift in consumption demand.
Euromonitor gave the example of mini snack versions of existing products (Maxibon Mini, Magnum Sandwich Snack Size) and single-serve 100ml mini-tubs of bulk ice cream (Häagen-Dazs) to illustrate this trend, adding that such single-serve portions allowed ice cream producers to benefit from higher profit margins than those achieved for their 'family' equivalents, aiding value growth in the market as a whole.
But packaging innovation is not the only thing driving sales growth, Euromonitor said. Manufacturers such as Nestlé and Unilever are also taking advantage of growing trends towards impulsive, on-the-go consumption by expanding the availability of their products into non-traditional retail outlets, such as convenience stores, leisure centres and cinemas by placing freezers in these locations.
Single-serve portions, which are the key format sold in these alternative outlets, serve a number of purposes, including maximisation of freezer space, increased profit per unit and maintaining retail price per unit at affordable levels for all types of consumer.
If the snacking trend is helping to increase innovation, the health trend is also playing a significant role. While ice cream will always benefit from an indulgent image, Euromonitor said that there was also substantial potential for 'healthy' ice cream products.
"With growing waistlines and little time for exercise, consumers are increasingly looking for short-cuts to improved heath. While convenience and indulgence are the top priorities, diet-oriented ice creams are growing in prominence, particularly in the developed regional markets of Australasia, North America and western Europe," Euromonitor said.
Common themes in these products include lower calories, lower fat, dairy-free, low-carbohydrates and portion control, the company said.
The third major growth stream is likely to be the development of exotic flavours and ingredients, according to Euromonitor, with multinational manufacturers such as Unilever and Nestlé, with respective market shares of around 19 per cent and 13 per cent, attemping to increase this share by replacing regional producers through catering for particular ethnic groups.
This trend will be most prevalent in Asia-Pacific, Euromonitor suggests, where a wide range of both western and Asian-influenced flavours are already available to entice consumers. One manufacturer that is likely to be particularly active in this respect is Unilever, which has already announced plans to develop a range of savoury ice cream flavours such as curry or cheese.