What’s Trending with America’s Favorite Dessert

Ice Cream & Novelties Trends

It’s a fact – America loves ice cream. A quarter of U.S. consumers (25%) said it was at the top of their list of favorite desserts1, and with 87% of consumers saying they bought ice cream in the last 6 months2, it’s a well-earned honor.

Demand for the top dessert has turned the category into a $7.7 billion business3 – the largest in the frozen department. And it’s still growing, with a 3.8% increase in dollar sales and 2.9% increase in unit sales compared to the same period last year3.

Ice cream is also fueling the future – the category is anticipated to grow by 3.3% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) 2019 – 20234. The comfort ice cream brought shoppers gave the category a major bump in the last year as well. Given ice cream’s major role in the frozen case, we’re taking a look at what’s in demand as well as what’s coming next for America’s favorite dessert.

Plant-Based Products

We know – we sound like a broken record, but it’s just a fact: plant-based products are growing like crazy, and we know that ice cream is a key factor for this growth. The global plant-based ice cream market was a $455.9 million category in 2018 and is anticipated to reach $1.2 billion by 20255.

With more and more people adopting vegan practices and an estimated 75% of the population living with lactose intolerance6, it’s no wonder more people are picking up this style of ice cream. These products are typically made using coconut milk, almond milk, cashew milk, oat milk, soy milk, sunflower butter, and even dairy that isn’t produced by animals – appealing to a larger audience and leaving room to innovate and evolve for years to come.

Premium & Indulgence in Moderation

Consumers are spending more time at home, and they’re turning to ice cream as an affordable indulgence7. This has given growth to premium ice cream products. Two-fifths of ice cream manufacturers see an increased demand for premium ice cream8, and retailers say that it is most popular with their consumers8.

These days, more consumers are buying products that boast features such as local, small-batch, craft, artisanal, hand-packed, or that include premium ingredients.  And, packaging these products in smaller cartons is helping to allow them to indulge while keeping it easy on their budgets.

Thanks to accessibility, nostalgia, and relative affordability, premium ice cream has been tagged as a key factor in the category’s growth.


The rise of snacking is another trend making its way to the ice cream aisle, particularly in novelties. It’s a big trend: Over 44% of millennials and 32% of boomers say they snack at home. Even more have at least three snacks a day: 64% of younger millennials, 54% of older millennials, 43% of younger boomers, and 33% of older boomers9.

Snacks are starting to replace meals for some consumers, and dessert and indulgent moments are next. Novelties present a huge opportunity to capitalize on this trend with a ton of room for product, packaging, and portability – an innovation that could spur substantial growth.

Ethnic & Unique Flavors

While looking for variety in their eating habits, shoppers continue to seek unique flavors. Some are turning to ethnic favorites: 64% of U.S. consumers want to discover flavors from other cultures10.

These flavors are popping up in the ice cream aisle, usually as small-batch/premium offerings. Chai, matcha, and other tea-focused flavors are becoming common, as well as Mexican staples such as dulce de leche, mango, chili-lime, and churro.

More sophisticated palates like flavors like strawberry lemongrass, candied ginger, wildberry lavender, guanabana, and mascarpone and berries.

More and more distinct flavors like these will likely be introduced to the market in the future, much like how the culinary industry experiments with cuisine fusion and distinct flavor profiles.

This brings us to…

Savory Flavors

It doesn’t get more unique than bringing savory into a traditionally sweet category.

Sweet and salty has been a tried-and-true flavor combination, and we see brands take that over the top 10. They’ve been infusing chicken and waffles, candied bacon, blue cheese, avocado, olive oil, wasabi, and even smoky flavors into their products.

In Summary

Ice cream is America’s favorite dessert and is a key driver of the frozen food category. It got a big bump due to COVID and will only keep growing from there. 

The leading trends we see fueling the continued expansion are dairy-free/plant-based, premium products, products for snacking, unique ethnic flavors, and savory flavors.

We believe the future looks sweet for this cornerstone category.