With many people spending more time at home due to restrictions around COVID-19, ice cream sales continue to increase. Consumers worldwide are facing significant changes to their lifestyles, says Food Union Group, which is using sensory and behavioral research to identify consumer demands. The global dairy production and distribution group’s findings highlight frozen flavor trends and insights that it believes will reflect consumers’ desires for nostalgic favorites from childhood as well as new flavors and more health-conscious options.
Food Union’s Ice Cream Competence Centre monitors the pulse of these consumer changes with researchers in Latvia and eight other countries studying cultural and behavioral trends. Its research has found that consumers are looking for comfort during the global pandemic.
“During this time when lives are disrupted, consumers are reaching for food and flavors that provide emotional comfort, make them feel pampered and remind them of childhood,” says Normunds Staņēvičs, CEO of Food Union.
Today’s consumers still love traditional flavors like vanilla and chocolate. Still, Food Union is also uncovering new behaviors and preferences in its research showing that consumers are more open to experimentation. “Consumers are trying new flavors and looking for new sensory experiences in greater numbers. More adventurous eaters want to try new, surprising and unexpected flavors. We use these insights from our research to deliver consumer-centered innovation,” notes Ieva Ražinska, Marketing Manager at Food Union Latvia.
Ražinska says new flavors meet consumers’ needs for excitement and novelty during the pandemic’s disruptive lockdowns. Consumers willing to push their boundaries further will be able to try intriguing new flavors that offer sensory and visual disruptions such as sweet and savory mixtures with vegetables, potato chips or other savory snacks. Other unique flavors include the sweet-sour sensation of Ruby chocolate, Japanese-inspired flavors like matcha and mochi, or even hemp and CBD oil.
Commitment to local sourcing is at the forefront of Food Union’s ice cream innovation, as consumers want to taste flavors they know and love. For example, Norway’s ice cream company Isbjørn Is will be incorporating local ingredients, such as Nordic cloudberries and gooseberries.
Normunds Staņēvičs also said consumer’s tastes for ice cream trends and flavors vary by season and year. “In the summer, consumers look for refreshing water-based products such as sorbet with citrus fruits and berries. In the winter, there is more demand for warm chocolatey or nutty flavors,” he continues. “Our innovative trends depend on the demands of our consumers, but we always uphold our high standards of taste, quality and nutritional value across product development.”
Rediscovering nature and health
As people begin to emerge from their cocoon state and leave their homes, many consumers will experience a sensory re-awakening. Consumers will likely spend more time rediscovering the world outside and enjoying new flavors, Food Union predicts. As consumers spend more time in nature, new ice cream ingredients will include natural aromatic botanicals, spices with warm notes such as cardamom and cinnamon. Consumers will also want natural options that benefit their overall health and wellness needs. For example, cinnamon is an ice cream flavor that gives an appealing taste, a warm feeling and is known for its immunity-boosting qualities.
According to Ražinska, Food Union’s key areas of focus for innovation in 2021 and beyond will also be to develop plant-based and flexitarian products that use less sugar without compromising on indulgent flavors.
“There is a strong demand for healthier and plant-based alternatives. We have found that every flavor in dairy can also be made in plant-based frozen desserts when paired with a non-dairy ice cream base, so there are delicious and guilt-free options for everyone,” Ražinska adds.
The company is also working on sustainable packaging to reduce the environmental footprint of its products as well as upgrades to cones, wafer cups and new single portion products in unexpected shapes and sizes.
In June, Food Union prepared over 100 novel products for the summer season that feature exclusive flavors, textures and nutritional benefits targeting consumers across the Baltics, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.