Takeover of the ice cream sandwich? Nielsen report reveals Americans want to indulge without compromise when it comes to ice cream

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Nielsen VP of consumer insight Jordan Rost says ice cream sandwiches are likely to be the biggest trend this summer. © iStock/molka
Nielsen VP of consumer insight Jordan Rost says ice cream sandwiches are likely to be the biggest trend this summer. © iStock/molka

Related tags Ice cream

A recent report by Nielsen reveals that sales of more decadent forms of frozen dairy treats have grown within the last year as consumers look to indulge in premium ice cream products, while better-for-you options like frozen yogurt lag behind in yearly sales.

Indulgence without compromise

Health and wellness are key factors driving many consumer food purchases, however indulgence is playing an arguably larger role in ice cream purchasing decisions.


“When people look at the indulgence they may not want to compromise,” ​Jordan Rost, VP of consumer insights at Nielsen, ​told DairyReporter. “Ice cream formats marketing a health claim are shrinking.”

This reasoning is playing out in frozen yogurt, which saw a 10.7% drop to $23.9m in sales this year, the largest decline in the ice cream market.

On the other end of the spectrum, higher-fat products like frozen custard grew by 134%, securing a nearly $18m market share.

Preference for locally-made ice cream rises

One of the report’s major findings is that consumers are showing a strong preference for local products with nearly 75% of global consumers listing brand origin as a key purchase driver, according to a Nielsen survey.

Additionally, Nielsen found that 36% of American consumers who purchase ice cream say they prefer to buy a local brand as opposed to 31% who say they have a preference for global brands.

Retailers looking to capitalize on consumers’ sweet tooth would be wise to stock their freezers with local ice cream products to satisfy their cravings,”​ Nielsen said in a press release.

Non-dairy ice cream has ‘long way to go’

Within the past year, non-dairy ice cream has seen a 43.7% year-over-year increase, reaching more than a $75m US market share.

 Health and wellness are still driving many of the food trends taking place in the US and globally, but this means different things to different people.

“It’s still only around 1% of the overall category,”​ Rost said. “There’s a long way to go for non-dairy replacing the traditional ice cream experience.”

‘The summer of ice cream sandwiches’

Part of the drive behind dairy ice cream growth is the desire for indulgence without compromise on flavor.

“If you delve a little bit deeper, you’re also seeing indulgence in novelty ice cream, which is growing at 6% year-over-year,”​ Rost said.

One novelty ice cream in particular, ice-cream sandwiches, is growing across most product categories.

US consumers are already starting to see a rise in food trucks and local retailers selling ice-cream sandwiches in major cities. For example, the annual Taste of Chicago event, which attracted an estimated 1.4m people over the course of the five-day festival, featured multiple vendors selling their rendition of the ice-cream sandwich.

Fine-dining restaurant chefs are also hopping on the trend by putting their own upscale spin on the indulgent treat and experimenting with other baked goods.  Chef Lawrence Letrero of Michelin-star-rated Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago recently added a churro ice cream sandwich with hibiscus ice cream to his dessert menu for the summer.  

“With 14% year-over-year sales growth, this summer might be the summer of ice-cream sandwiches,”​ Rost said. 

Related topics Markets Ice Cream Emerging Markets

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