Three ice cream trend action areas for UK food operators in 2024

Egg Soldiers' Insights Lab discusses three opportunity areas for ice cream innovation in the coming years, appealing to a broad, cross-generational audience of UK consumers
A tall glass containing different ice cream flavours
Summer is (apparently) on the way, with the hot weather naturally leading to a rise in ice cream and frozen dessert sales, both in retail and foodservice.

When it comes to ice cream trends in the UK, classic flavours such as vanilla, mint choc chip and chocolate lead the mainstream pack year after year, with decadent flavour combos also regularly finding favour.

Innovation, meanwhile, is often found within format & delivery, textural attributes, health-forward formulations (sugar/fat replacements), and plant-based builds, with consumers increasingly gravitating towards elevated, convenient and/or healthier ice cream iterations.

According to a recent report by Market Research Futures (MRF), the global artisanal ice cream market's valuation is set to grow 50% by 2030, driven in part by consumer demand for clean-label food offerings. Within this retail segment, creative flavour combinations, exciting textures, and health-forward enhancements are among the other main drivers, with the UK predicted to be the largest market for artisanal ice cream in Europe.

Now, while summer is obviously when ice cream really comes into its own; the golden ticket for UK food brands is all-year-round appeal for their offerings - a task made all the more complicated by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis in the UK.

With all of the above in mind, Egg Soldiers' Insights Lab has identified three opportunity areas for ice cream innovation in the coming years, with gut-friendly dairy riffs, nostalgia-driven creations, and bite-sized delivery all on the menu.

Ice cream trends UK: Gut-friendly A2 milk
Alec’s offers a range of indulgent flavours for its A2 dairy ice cream, including Salted Caramel Latte (pictured), Honey Blueberry Lavender, Mint Chocolate Chip, Matcha Chocolate Chip, and Peanut Butter Fudge Honeycomb
Functional benefits is a red-hot area of interest for global consumers within both the dairy and dairy-free categories, specifically with the likes of milk and yoghurt, with innovators seeking to meet demand with immune-boosting fortifications, gut health support, and high-protein fixes.

For the UK ice cream scene, the 'high protein, low calorie' concept is perhaps the most successful route to date for retail brands seeking to win over health-conscious consumers, with Mintel last year claiming that 42% of Brits consider low calories as important in the healthiness of ice cream, and high protein a long-running trend within dairy/non-dairy foods.

In terms of dairy-based ice cream development opportunities for 2024 (and beyond), we have our eye on A2 milk which, according to studies, is easier to digest and causes fewer symptoms of lactose intolerance compared to A1 milk, which is effectively universal across the UK market.

Alec's Ice Cream (US) is one of the first major movers within A2 dairy ice cream, with the climate-conscious brand, which uses ingredients sourced via regenerative farming methods, making its debut in Whole Foods Market at the end of April.
Food Trend to Food Concept

What to expect:

  • Understand the state-of-play with Asian-inspired chicken with an expert-led overview, innovator examples, and a spotlight on potential opportunity areas for the UK market.

  • Journey with us through fried/breaded chicken seasoning opportunities, exploring viable retail applications and digesting analysis.

  • Discover a brand-new retail seasoning concept as an example of our 'trend to concept' methodology, with the team discussing ingredient builds and suitability for the UK market.

  • Understand possible range expansions, backed up by AI-led product concept showcases.

Ice cream trends UK: Nostalgic nods
One of Ynyshir's latest 'Mach Flurry' courses delivered a combination of fresh sheep's whey soft serve with homemade rhubarb syrup
With the UK enduring times of change and uncertainty amid the worsening cost of living crisis, consumers are increasingly seeking comforting and nostalgic food experiences that soothe the soul, with both classic and contemporary ice cream brands continuing to win with retro flavours reminiscent of childhood summers.

Meanwhile, foodservice innovators are finding new ice cream dessert opportunities within the concept of nostalgic experience, developing around the flavours and textures of branded classics, from Solero to Viennetta, to deliver complex showstoppers dripping with nostalgia and embodying the concept of 'Fun Dining'.

For example, Ynyshir, Gareth Ward's two Michelin-starred restaurant in Wales, offers a high-end riff on McDonald's famous McFlurry ice cream as part of its changing tasting menu. It's name, 'Mach Flurry', comes from the restaurant's location, Machynlleth, found on the southern tip of Snowdonia National Park.

Instagram chef legend @WhyteRushen's pair-up with cult noodle bar Supa Ya Ramen in Dalston last year featured a Double Decker, miso vinegar caramel and shiso ice cream dessert, while the brains behind hot Hackney spot, Papi, offered a Passion Popping Candy Solero Lolly dessert last year during a residency as the Hot 4 U pop-up concept at The Haggerston pub in East London.

Ice cream trends UK: Bite-sized wins
Dairy-free brand NadaMoo! recently partnered with food tech brand Foodberry (both US) to develop plant-based casings for its range of Frozen Snack Bites. Foodberry’s proprietary technology enables new alternatives for coating ice cream (and making self-contained, individual servings) beyond a traditional chocolate shell or chewy dough-based exterior.
With the current cost-of-living crisis, UK consumers are cutting back on regular treat-worthy purchases. And yet, small, affordable luxuries remain of considerable appeal to many, with finding a balance between restraint and indulgence an emerging norm across the board (a concept we explored in depth during our dedicated London event, 'Two Worlds Collide', last year).

Within ice cream, bite-sized releases are enjoying the spotlight, with innovative formats now key considerations for NPD teams.

According to Mintel, a third of ice cream consumers would be interested in trying bite-sized portions of ice cream, with Unilever's Magnum Minis one of the recent big winners in retail, reportedly growing 8.3% faster than the total ice cream category.

Little Moons, the mochi ice cream brand, are real trailblazers within convenient ice cream format & delivery, growing exponentially over the past three years by regularly launching new frozen dessert bites wrapped in Japanese mochi (pounded sticky rice).

Looking forward to 2024, bite-sized innovation will surely increase in frequency, with coating technologies and more healthful formulations to play larger roles as brands look to stand out from the crowd.
Insights Lab: Ice cream action points for 2024
  • HFSS considerations
    In retail, ice cream is covered by the new high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) regulations across UK retail, with non-compliant options subject to restrictions in terms of promotional activity and store location – a particularly big deal for impulse-bought handheld ice creams.

    Keep HFSS-compliance front-of-mind when developing new ice cream products, even if not initially intended for bulk promotions or store entrance positioning - you may have challenges to overcome later down the line.
  • Evoke childhood comfort
    For foodservice operators, tapping childhood nostalgia is becoming a sure-fire way of appealing to consumers, both young and old, with ice cream and frozen dessert innovation no exception.

    Think back to your own childhood, consider the treats and sweet indulgences that brought you comfort, branded or otherwise. Could you make your own iterations with the ingredients at your disposal?
  • Format, Format, Format
    Format innovation allows for established product types to make moves into new categories, with ice cream increasingly finding favour as a convenient snacking option for moments of permissible indulgence.

    Take inspiration from the viral success of Little Moons' mochi ice cream and consider innovative casings for bite-sized ice creams, exploring collaborations with food tech pioneers for access to clean-label coating technologies.
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