Plant-based ice cream NPD on the rise as Japan overtakes US for most new products

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

Japan has overtaken the US as the country with the most new products being launched in the ice cream sector. Pic: Getty Images/nikoniko_happy
Japan has overtaken the US as the country with the most new products being launched in the ice cream sector. Pic: Getty Images/nikoniko_happy

Related tags plant-based ice cream alternatives Ice cream vegan Japan Npd

According to the latest research from Mintel Global New Product Database (GNPD), vegan ice cream accounts for an increasing proportion of global ice cream launches, making up 7% of all launches in the last 12 months (2019/20), more than double the 3% five years ago (2015/16).

Within the sector, the focus on the textural qualities of plant-based ice cream is increasing; vegan ice creams with a chunky texture such as nuts, cookie pieces, toffee pieces and cookie dough chunks have surged from 2% to 13% of launches over the last four years.

Chocolate (accounting for 26% of innovation over the last 12 months), vanilla (11%) and coconut (9%) still remain the most popular in terms of plant-based flavor innovation.

This comes as 12% of UK adults agree that the coronavirus outbreak has made a vegan diet more appealing, almost doubling among under-25s (23%).

Kate Vlietstra, Mintel global food and drink analyst, said, “The recent buzz around veganism has made its mark on the ice cream category. Interest in vegan ice cream isn't restricted to those following a vegan diet. Learning from their dairy counterparts, plant-based ice creams are moving beyond the basic flavors to offer indulgent options. Texture is playing a prominent part in vegan new product development (NPD) with chunkier varieties on offer. Brands are demonstrating that vegan offerings can be premium with an array of luxury flavour combinations and packaging.

“The makeup of plant-based ice cream will evolve, incorporating new ingredients from the world of plant milk such as quinoa and other seeds. Oats are expected to feature in more dairy-free ice creams, following on from the popularity of oats in plant-based drinks.”

Japan top for ice cream NPD

From matcha to mayonnaise and seaweed to soybean, there seems no limit to Japanese ice cream innovation as Mintel said Japan is now the world’s top global ice cream innovator, with the most ice cream launches.

Over the past five years, Japan’s ice cream innovation has gone from strength to strength. In 2015/16 Japan accounted for 7% of launches globally, but since then its innovation has been coming thick and fast and Japan is now (2019/20) responsible for one in 10 product launches, overtaking the US to become the world leader in ice cream innovation.

With a 6% share of global ice cream innovation, Germany is Europe’s number one ice cream innovator and third in terms of global innovation.

Vlietstra said, “A popular sweet treat among Japanese consumers, ice cream innovation in Japan has surged in recent years following a push to drive year-round consumption.

“The growing popularity of Japanese cuisine paves the way for ice cream brands to utilize traditional Japanese flavors such as hojicha and yuzu. Quirky combinations, unique flavors and unusual ice cream cones are all well-positioned to appeal to consumers globally.”

She added that the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, now due to take place in summer 2021, offer a global platform for Japanese-inspired food and drink to shine.

“Ice cream brands tapping into Japanese flavors are likely to fare well, particularly during the hot summer months,”​ she said.

Protein potential

Mintel said in the last five years, food and drink launches featuring high/added protein claims have doubled from 2% to 4% of total food and drink, with high/added protein ice cream claims increasing from less than 1% of ice creams to more than 2% in the last four years. While relatively small in number, the opportunity for ice cream with added protein is highlighted by the fact that around one in six British consumers would eat more ice cream if it had added protein.

Vlietstra said a smaller amount of protein will satisfy the consumer demand for healthier options while allowing brands to explore different protein options. Plant protein from legumes, grain and seeds can offer a high-protein alternative to dairy protein, she said, adding that with sustainability gaining importance, “the ice cream category will need to demonstrate its ethical credentials to continue to win favor with consumers, and plant proteins can appeal due to their lower carbon footprint than dairy proteins.”

Related topics Markets Ice Cream Emerging Markets