FrozenFoodsBiz BUZZ

Brits are Eating Less Ice Cream but Spending More for Premium Options

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Like many other discretionary food items sold in the British retail and foodservice markets, the ice cream segment has been impacted by cutbacks caused by the financial crisis and income squeeze. The desire for indulgent and affordable treats has resulted in fewer ice cream volume sales, but a trend towards premium and luxury branded options is apparent.

According to Mintel’s UK Ice Cream Report 2024, the category’s boost gained as an evening treat has fallen short of offsetting the volume downturn. However, the business intelligence company predicts that the national ice cream market should benefit from improving real incomes that will support volume growth and facilitate trading up, reaching £2 billion in sales by 2028.

“The latest data from Mintel shows that the value of the ice cream market has risen while the overall volume sold has fallen,” stated Rupert Ashby, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF). “Clearly, we are eating less ice cream as a nation despite spending more on it overall. This is due to a combination of inflation making products more expensive and shoppers trading up to more premium options.”

Brand Favorites

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing numbers of Brits have continued to socialize at home as an affordable alternative to going out to eat or drink. In fact, according to Mintel’s ice cream market trends statistics, 46% of consumers who eat ice cream often serve it to guests. Therefore, the visual appeal of product presentation and quality plays an important role when it comes to purchase behavior.

“The income squeeze has dialed up the threat from private labels to ice cream brands,” said Yogita Burke, a cross-category research analyst at Mintel. “Branded ice cream’s image as more of a treat than own label products is a key factor drawing buyers to brands. This reaffirms the crucial importance for brands to continue fostering an aspirational and treat image to combat competition from own labels.”

According to Mintel, Unilever’s Magnum brand retains a strong lead in the handheld ice cream segment. t generated sales of £235 million in 2022-23, highlighting UK consumers’ brand loyalty.

“This year we’ve noticed some of the brand favorites are still on top with Magnum impulse ice cream, including the two new innovative flavors Euphoria and Chill, (pictured above)” said a spokesperson from Consort Frozen Foods. “Snacking options are now beginning to really take effect in the sector with the ice cream sandwiches of Oreo Sandwich and Cornetto Go, which are proving to still sell in good numbers even in the slower winter season. Staple core lines consistently remain in retail store freezer cabinets with the likes of Flake Cone, Cornetto, Calippo, Feast, Mars and Snickers.”

Top Picks

Although plain vanilla, chocolate and strawberry remain the most popular ice cream flavors across the total market, there are innovative offerings that are also proving a hit with customers. Among them are Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Truffle and Cinnamon Churro from Doughlicious.

“We’ve noticed several new trends that seem to reflect changing consumer preferences and market dynamics,” said the Consort Frozen Foods’ spokesperson. “Bite-size ice creams are the fastest growing sub-category, catering to the trend of snackification and portion control. A great example here is Little Moons, and this year Oreo Mini Bites have grasped everyone’s attention.”

There is also a rising demand for healthier ice cream options, including low-sugar, low-fat and high-protein varieties. Examples include Lickalix, Pip Organic Squeezers, Jude’s Fruit Rockets and Guuud.

Consumers are increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives, such as plant-based ice creams with lower environmental footprints. Non-dairy claims have seen significant growth, reflecting the shift towards more sustainable food systems.

Price Point

The impulse ice cream segment does not experience the big highs and lows of offers and price points. This is due to consumers reacting to summertime vibes which trigger impulses for treats.

“Traditional ice cream has remained one dimensional and therefore consumption is stuck to the elusive dessert moments,” according to a statement from Doughlicious. “With consumers snacking more than they eat meals, we see the biggest growth opportunity to be less about ice cream occasions and more reliant on snacking opportunities throughout the day.”

To slice this even finer, especially with economic uncertainty, consumers are looking for comfort. This means even with smaller, snackable formats, indulgent frozen snacks trump sweet treats.

Snackable formats are hugely popular among consumers who are looking for snacks that deliver on both taste and texture, while being made with better-for-you ingredients. Convenience reigns supreme, with those wanting to escape and indulge with ease. Products that offer easy portion control and that offer indulgence and little guilt are most popular.

“As shoppers look for moments of indulgence and escapism in their day, we are also seeing the more indulgent flavors such as chocolate truffle and chocolate chip perform better than fruity variants,” remarked a Doughlicious spokesperson. “Our most popular flavors of Cookie Dough and Gelato Bites are the indulgent flavors such as our classic Chocolate Chip and decant Chocolate Truffle as well as the indulgent Cinnamon Churro.”

Seasonal Demand

There’s no doubt that the seasons have a direct impact on ice cream sales, with the peak months between June and August in the United Kingdom, when the weather gets warmer and the holiday season begins. As leisure sites open and trips to the seaside become more frequent, so too does indulging in frozen treats.

“Seasonality does of course play a role in demand for ice cream products, with hotter months seeing greater spikes in demand,” said the Doughlicious’ spokeperson. “However, we are seeing increasing demand for snackable ice cream formats throughout the year as these tap into the multitude of daily snacking occasions.”

According to Mintel, improving household finances will support growth in the ice cream sector. However, the decline of ice cream’s core family audience poses a threat and there is a need to engage older groups.

– Reported by Sarah Welsh