Working with Research America, IDFA polled major national and regional ice cream makers and processors, as well as ‘hundreds’ of scoop shops and retail ice cream makers to find out how they see the ice cream and frozen dessert category evolving. The researchers then asked 1,000 American consumers about their preferences.
‘America’s favorite flavors depend on who you ask’, IDFA said. However, there was some clear crossover.
Top 5 flavors for ice cream makers and retailers:
- Cookies N’ Cream
- Mint Chocolate Chip
Top 5 flavors according to consumers:
- Cookies N’ Cream
- Chocolate Chip
Commenting on the findings, IDFA observed there was little movement in the top three – vanilla, cookies n’ cream and chocolate – who also topped the 2017 IDFA-Research America survey. However, the dairy organization noted, some ‘new flavors’ have entered the top five – notably strawberry and chocolate chip.
“America’s love for ice cream knows no bounds,” said IDFA President and CEO Michael Dykes. “Comforting and satisfying as an indulgent treat, ice cream production and consumption grew throughout the COVID pandemic and sales continue to set a blazing pace at grocery, scoop shops, and corner stores.”
Dykes stressed the economic as well as cultural importance of the ice cream sector: “America’s favorite frozen treat is more than dessert—it also supports nearly 30,000 jobs and pumps $13.1 billion into our nation’s economy each year”.
Looking at toppings, the research found chocolate is the most popular source topping, preferred by 26% of people compared to caramel, which came in second place at 18%.
For dry toppings, 15% of people opt for nuts and 14% want sprinkles, the survey revealed. The most popular nut was the pecan – preferred by 24% of respondents – followed by the peanut.
How do people like to buy their ice cream?
Of those polled, 73% of consumers reported eating ice cream ‘at least once a week’ and two in three said that their preferred time to consume it is in the evening. A large majority of people – 84% - say they want to purchase ice cream at a grocery store and eat it at home. In this channel, almost half of consumers want a half-gallon container, while 23% prefer a pint.
Future innovation: From packaging to plant-based
Looking to the future of the ice cream sector, IDFA found two-thirds of ice cream makers say they ‘already use’ or ‘plan to incorporate’ more sustainable packaging solutions, suggesting that packaging will be an important innovation drive in the category.
Another trend that has been tipped as gaining ground is the rise of plant-based or dairy-free ice cream alternatives.
Interestingly, the IDFA survey didn’t find a groundswell of consumer support for plant-based ice cream alternatives. “While ice cream makers say they are seeing increased demand for non-dairy ice creams and plant-based ingredients, consumers rank these at the bottom of the list for most-consumed types of ice cream and frozen desserts,” the researchers noted.