Where is the ice cream industry going? (Hint: Away from nostalgic memories)

Things change as we grow up. And its not just us, its also the things around us. So why are we always surprised? 

I am a foodie in disguise. Or perhaps not so much, as evident from my food blog. But above all, I specialize in desserts. And being wired into marketing and trend-watching, I have wondered many times about where the ice cream industry is going. Witness it in Where’s my Ice Cream again, mommy? An ode to nostalgic ice cream.

Classic ice cream, as we knew of it as kids, has now evolved into a whole new plethora of ice cream treats. From meaty to vegetably, from spicy to cheesey, and from an entire meal to a teatime substitute, I have identified several trends that I have tasted, relished, appalled, and naturally, documented. Kids, to whom ice cream is conventionally marketed, may no longer be
the target segment for the out-of-the-box flavors, explaining the
namesake title of this article. Like many businesses, the ice cream
business has to also grow and stretch beyond traditional norms, which is
why brands like Haagen daaz choose sexual connotations to position themselves as an adult brand, or why the existence of an evolution of ice cream trends exists
in the first place. The  new target market comprises of invidividuals
that are not segmented by age or demographics, but by tastes and mindsets. I feel that my Mindset Framework applies best to ice cream eaters, driven so strongly by the emotional
connection with this delectable treat!

The ice cream market itself can perhaps never decline; it has however
reached maturity, thus explaining the many trends that ice cream makers
have taken to keep it alive. My curiosity about how this happened has led to a mapping of the
evolution of ice cream, and what may lie in store! Though the trends are
not distinct from each other, with various combinations that give rise
to even more diversity, the following figure maps the evolution, trying
to grasp the strategy behind each phase.

Business Management
the onset, generally ice cream companies behave like a business. They
make something, sell it, keep selling it, see what sells, and continue
selling more of it. Kaboom, you have a market, a business, profits, and
ultimately, the economies of scale make the ice cream somewhat
commoditized. This explains the variety in quality amidst so many
classic makers.

loving vanilla ice cream, who wouldn’t love it with chocolate chips? Or
walnuts? Or a swirl of chocolate? Thus begins an era of infiltrating
ice cream with other favorites, at the time limited to things like
chocolate chips or gooey swirls of caramel and chocolate. Ice cream
floats can fall into this category too, which interestingly are making a
comeback, as witnessed by the street long lines outside Philadelphia’s Franklin Fountain.

Skinny and Healthy
On seeing the expanding waist sizes
and increasing health concerns, fat free and sugar free versions of
aforementioned ice creams begin to hit the market in this phase. The
target market here is those consumers who want the indulgence, but want
to walk out wearing the same pair of pants. This is a profitable way to
diversify the product, as it targets a large and growing segment. Less
sugar, sugar substitutes, smaller portions, and sometimes misleading
claims rule the roost here.

Super-premium Difference
Realizing the commoditization of the business, which rightfully erupted from the business management phase,
naturally ice cream creators in this phase look for a way to better
differentiate their product. So, taking inspiration from luxury
products, super premium ice cream is introduced, to give consumers the
ultimate indulgence, a divine treat, at a higher price point. Lovers of
ice cream inevitably fall for the trick, and at times, the taste is
indeed to swoon for! Today every brand has this, with much competition and merger activity on the battleground, but the classic Dove visuals
of rich melting swoops and rings strike a recollective memory bell. And
when the Godivas and Ghiriadellis begin to enter the ice cream market,
its easy for any marketer to see that the industry is booming.

Co-branding Smartness
it nice when you can dive into two indulgences with one scoop?
Friendship blossoms between brands of chocolate, cookie dough, cookies
and candy, and the world of ice cream, and the infiltration phase is repeated, this time with infiltrants that actually come with brand baggage. Co branding becomes the smart, creative and breakthrough business model.
Although perhaps an extension of diversifying from the business phase,
this is a new enticement for hungry consumers who can get their Snickers
and their ice cream all in one! And hey, its not bad if ice cream
makers can share their costs and profits alike with Reeses peanut butter
pieces, since the more eggs there are in the basket, the more likely it
is that they will be safe together, or crack together. Cannibalization?
Brand competition? Leave these worries to the corporates while we lick

Inspired Flavors
This is probably where we are now, given the recalls on Nestle Toll House cookie dough and the overdose of co-branding. Similar to the diversification of food inspired body care products,
this is perhaps an era of drawing inspiration from the unlikeliest of
foods, ranging from rose petals, basil and cinnamon, to pumpkin, cotton
candy and bubble gum. Toss in a bit of the original fragments, be it
mint leaves or petals or strawberry pieces, and the experience is
authenticated. While the flavor craze is probably restricted to
boutiques and ice cream parlors, it may not be long before wacky
combinations begin hitting grocery stores, which are already densely
packed with flavors ranging from watermelon and grapefruit to all the
aforemnetioned trends, so gleefully glaring out of identical packaging
and confusingly similar artwork.

Meal inspirations and Combinations
This is what I have noticed a surge in globally. One may call it the
Willy Wonka Phase. Instead of simply having flavors, and pieces of other
infiltrants, entire meals are being combined to give you an ultimate
ice cream experience. Peanut butter and jelly ice cream sandwiches
replace the classic sandwich; bourbon ice cream with crunchy corn flakes
are akin to a breakfast; and as already discussed in the predecessor of this article,
these can foray into the savory category too! Ice cream made with salad
ingredients, vegetables, sesame seeds, combined together with trends
from previous eras, all formulate a world that Tim Burton would enjoy
crafting into a whimsical sattire.

Makes you wonder what happened to good old ice cream right? After all, where’s my ice cream, mommy?

Sourabh Sharma,
Communication & Social Media Research Expert at SKIM, an international
consultancy and marketing research agency, has a background in engineering,
marketing and finance from the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton
School and Rotterdam School of Management. Having worked in marketing and
product development at L’Oreal, followed by a stint in management consulting,
he now passionately enjoys the world of social media, and can be found on every
platform with his alias sssourabh. He is a food critic and a fashion writer,
and documents these alongside strategy on his blog called
3FS. He may be reached at
s.sharma@skimgroup.com. Follow him on