Is vanilla ice cream under threat?
As more ice cream flavours are launched, the traditional vanilla is coming under threat. In addition, the price of Madagascan vanilla pods is set to increase in the wake of a cyclone earlier this year. With these developments, is vanilla set to lose out on ice cream’s $35bn growth worldwide over the next five years?
The main flavours offered by international brands have traditionally been vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. However, as globalisation took ice cream to every corner of the world, localised flavours are expanding outwards with migration, tourism, and the global reach of the internet.
The appeal of these new flavours, such as masala chai and kulfi from India; rosewater, orange blossom, and saffron from the Middle East; or red bean, sesame, and taro from China is set to spread as consumers embrace more innovative and far-flung taste experiences. The desire for novel products and new experiences motivated the consumption of around 25% of ice cream worldwide in 2016, showing how the market is increasingly driven by people wanting to try something different, new, and interesting.
Consumers also seek out authenticity when experimenting with new flavours, so it is likely that more brands will test out products that will appeal to more globalised palates, with different proportions of umami, sweet, sour, and bitter tastes. Examples could include chocolate miso, matcha tea, toasted coconut, lychee, cardamom, nutmeg, ginseng, or citrus flavours that are far more reliant upon East-Asian citrus fruit yuzu, which has already made inroads into the UK’s premium ice cream brands.
Unilever's executive vice-president of global ice cream Matt Close said he was "absolutely convinced kulfi would work in the UK" and would spread easily to the non-Indian population, who have a wide acceptance of Indian food already.
Other examples of new experimental ice cream trends include rolled ice cream from Thailand, which involves pouring ice cream mixture onto a freezing metal plate and then rolling the frozen mixture like a piece of paper.
Do these new flavours seriously threaten vanilla’s status? Not according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). According to an IDFA survey, the US’s top five flavours are vanilla, chocolate, cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip, and chocolate chip cookie dough. When asked about ingredients added to ice cream, the majority of those surveyed said that pecans are the most popular nut or nut flavouring, while strawberries are the most popular fruit added to their frozen treats. When asked to name their most daring and creative flavours, respondents listed Lemon Poppyseed Muffin, Black Sesame, and a bourbon / caffeine concoction called Exhausted Parent.
Vanilla’s continuing success is likely down to its staple, inoffensive nature, and its ability to complement other dishes, rather than dominate with a significant, innovative flavour.
IDFA vice-president of regulatory and scientific affairs Cary Frye said: “Vanilla has long been the best-selling ice cream flavour not only because it is creamy and delicious, but also because of its ability to enhance so many other desserts and treats.”