Thursday, September 16, 2021

Dairy-free Ice Cream: Opportunity or Threat? It’s All About the Story.


Source: Cascade Glacier

Heading to Expo East this week? I am. Typically the smaller—and much more manageable—of the two Natural Products Expos in the U.S., this one will be unlike any other, as entrepreneurs are anxious to show off their innovations. Last year’s in-person Expo East, as well in-person Expo West 2020 and 2021, were all cancelled because of the pandemic. Without a doubt, plant-based and keto are sure to be dominant themes, but so will regenerative agriculture and sustainability. I expect to hear lots of “stories” and brands banking on buyers to listen and respond with a purchase order. 

Folks, less than five years ago--with high-protein ice cream—you learned that just because a concept is doing well in the freezer does not mean every brand needs to play in this space. When it comes to dairy-free ice cream, there are some very good chocolates and vanillas in the retail marketplace. That’s enough!

 It’s not the same story in foodservice. Eugene, Oregon-based Cascade Glacier recognized this opportunity and is making it easier for foodservice operators to offer plant-based and allergen-friendly options that will satisfy a variety of ice cream consumers. Available in both Classic Chocolate and Vanilla, Cascade Glacier Dairy Free comes in three-gallon tubs for foodservice. The neutral base is intentionally crafted to blend seamlessly with the decadent flavors, eliminating any aftertaste such as coconut or almond that is common in other non-dairy alternatives. This formulation makes the product more versatile, allowing retailers to serve dairy-free versions of everything from scoops and sundaes to smoothies and milkshakes.

My friends at McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams are also embracing the concept of a very neutral base in its new Dairy-Free Frozen Desserts. Like all the company’s offerings, the new line is made from scratch at McConnell’s Family Dairy, using a proprietary and innovative base of oat milk, cocoa butter and coconut oil to approximate the indulgent, unique and creamy mouthfeel of McConnell’s ice creams without the coconut, oat or nutty aftertaste or smell customers so often find in dairy-free offerings. And like McConnell’s other products, there are no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners. 

The oat base has a neutral taste, which gives McConnell’s the flexibility to incorporate other ingredients and flavors without overpowering them. All flavors are allergen free, kosher and non-GMO and are described as being delicious for customers and good for the planet. 

McConnell’s Dairy-Free Frozen Desserts come in six flavors. They are: Chocolate Fudge & Cookies, Coffee Cookie Crumble, Cookies & Cream, Passion Fruit Lemon Swirl, Salted Caramel Chocolate Swirl, and Vanilla Bean, with more to come. Flavors have been gradually rolling out across McConnell’s scoop shops starting with Peanut Butter Chocolate Crunch, Cookies & Cream and Passionfruit Lemon Swirl. 

That’s because the plant-based consumer is craving flavor innovation. Many favorite ice cream flavors—like mine, Pralines and Cream—cannot be applied to vegan frozen desserts. The key for this category is to explore eye-catching flavors—that taste delish—and include a story about them. They don’t have to be a threat to dairy ice cream. They present an opportunity. 

I’m a huge fan of KIND bars, not because they are plant-based, but because they are delicious and the company has a great story. It’s a brand I feel good about purchasing and eating. I’m a huge fan of their frozen products for the same reasons. The novelty bars are amazing, and the pints give new meaning to the phrase “permission to indulge.” As much as KIND FROZEN products are dairy-free ice cream, they also are healthy snacks. 

“At KIND, we’re always striving to challenge conventional wisdom and eliminate false compromises,” says Daniel Lubetzky, KIND Founder. “We tried to think differently about what we would want in a frozen treat. We discovered what was missing was an offering that tasted delicious, and delivered premium, plant-based ingredients that we can feel good about putting in our body.”

“While we’re best-known for nutrition bars most often consumed on-the go, we’re continuing to prioritize innovation that cuts across categories and day-parts. As we look to close the taste gap in health-focused aisles and the health gap in taste-focused aisles, we will stay true to how we’ve always created new products with an eye to elevate people’s overall experience, while adhering to our KIND Promise.”

KIND’s Frozen Pints come in seven flavors. They are: Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cherry Cashew, Coffee Hazelnut, Caramel Almond Sea Salt, Pistachio and Strawberry. 

Bubbies, a leading mochi brand, now offers three non-dairy options in six-pack retail boxes: Vegan Strawberry Mochi, Vegan Chocolate Mochi, and a newly created flavor, Vegan Mango Mochi. They are made with a base of coconut milk and wrapped in sweet mochi dough.  

“We’ve seen a huge surge in demand from consumers seeking comforting indulgences over the past year, so it’s natural that ice cream would be one of the first foods they turned to,” says Katie Cline, vice president of marketing at Bubbies Ice Cream. “Not only are shoppers looking for ice cream as a comfort food, but also as a unique experience, from texture to flavor discovery and natural ingredients. We want to make our beloved mochi ice cream accessible to as many people as possible, so we’re thrilled to be launching our new Vegan Mochi Ice Cream. For us, it’s extremely meaningful as this opens up new opportunities to provide value to consumers and deliver small moments of joy.”

Wildgood takes a Mediterranean diet approach to its non-dairy frozen dessert. It’s made with extra virgin olive oil for a rich, smooth and heart-healthy indulgence. Varieties are: Chocolate, Coffee, Chocolate Hazelnut, Mango, Mint Chocolate Chip, Pistachio, Sea Salt Caramel and Vanilla. 
Sacred Gelato is one of the most recent start-ups to enter this space. This new gelato brand gets its creamy texture from a base of coconut meat that is sourced directly from Thailand. It includes adaptogenic herbs and medicinal mushrooms for a health and wellness story. The brand is making its debut in five flavors. They are: Chaga Chocolate, Coconut Salted Caramel, Matcha Mint, Saffron Chai Spice and Tigernut Cookies N Cream. 

SweetPea is exhibiting at Expo East and I cannot wait to sample. The brand relies on chickpeas to make its base mix and touts the nutrient density of the legume. The line is making its debut in nine varieties. They are: 3 Parts Chocolate, Cookies ‘N Cream, Cookie Dough, Mango Tango Peach, Must Do Cold Brew, Peanut Butter Bomb, T.G.I. PieDay Raspberry, Vanilla Bean, and, wait for it, Salted Caramel Praline. Hmm…has my beloved Pralines and Cream met its match? 

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