Consumers love ice cream. In big cities and small towns, people line up to enjoy this frozen treat — whether scooped into a container or cone, enjoyed in sandwich form, or blended as a refreshing drink. 

Despite such widespread adoration, consumers tend to have their favorites across generations. Some favorites remain firm, while others change as consumer desires shift course. So, how have ice cream trends changed over the years? What are the latest trends in ice cream, and who is leading the pack? Keep reading for our industry insights.

 

Ice Cream: By the Generation

The frozen dessert has come a long way since its early days, although modern, recognizable recipes were around in the late 1800s. Consumers could head out to enjoy flavors like vanilla, lemon, strawberry, and raspberry as well as herbs and florals like lavender, elderflower, or mint. Chocolate slowly gained popularity as well. 

Boomers saw continuing trends with berry, vanilla, and chocolate-flavored ice cream, along with newer trends like Rocky Road, pineapple, rum raisin, and butter pecan. 

Many older generations still prefer these flavors, seeking them out for familiar tastes and nostalgic childhood memories. Of course, younger generations like millennials and Generation Z have a strong hold on consumer preferences that's growing with each year. These generations have greater interest in moving beyond the long-standing favorites to sample fresh flavors, alternative dairy, and intriguing combinations. 

 

Latest Trends in Ice Cream

There’s a lot to get excited about in the ice cream industry. These days, consumers are getting more curious about flavors they haven’t experienced, which leads them to spread the word about their discoveries. Whether in person or on social media, their enthusiasm shows that ice cream remains a beloved treat in many forms. Here are some of the latest consumer trends we see shaping the ice cream market.

 

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Bring on the Texture

Many types of traditional ice cream are smooth and creamy. In the past, any flavors with texture tended to have a singular element, such as chocolate chips or mini berry pieces. Today’s popular ice cream flavors push the boundaries to also include unique textures.

One of the most popular textures is the butter cookie cone. This ice cream trend switches out the standard cone for a buttery cookie. The buttery flavor profile brings richness, enhancing the overall taste and sensory experience. It also offers a crumbly, crunchy texture, similar to shortbread. 

Boba is another texture making waves in the ice cream market. These tapioca pearls are often simmered in brown sugar syrup, offering a sweet taste along with the distinctive texture. As a main feature of bubble tea, boba has long been popular across Asian shops. In recent years, it’s also found its way throughout the U.S. and other markets. Now, boba is trending in ice cream. Combined with the creaminess of ice cream, boba’s distinctive chewy texture brings an intriguing new taste sensation. 

Although ice cream sandwiches have been popular for a while, we’re now seeing the soft, chewy cookies replaced with crunchy waffles. The waffles surrounding these ice cream sandwiches come in varying thicknesses, but they all add a contrasting texture to the creamy ice cream within. 

What’s another unique ice cream trend we see? Rolled ice cream. This inventive treat, sometimes called stir-fried ice cream, hails from Thailand and features thin sheets of ice cream rolled into long curls. The curls are arranged in a cup, with sauces and toppings added. Rolled ice cream has a denser texture because there’s less air added to the mixture. This denseness also brings out intense flavors, giving each batch of craft ice cream plenty of opportunities to shine.

 

Enjoy the Sweet and Savory

Ice cream got sweeter over the years. Now, we’re seeing it get a little more versatile with sweet and savory combinations. Some of the trends use more common tastes, such as the salty-sweet umami notes of bacon and maple or the herbal zest of lavender and lemon. 

However, other trends are pulling in flavors such as sweet corn and blackberry, coconut curry, red cherries and goat cheese, or cream cheese and everything bagel. These flavor notes take foods that work well as main courses or side dishes and turn them into exciting new ice cream flavors. Bridging the gap between dinner and dessert, they cater to consumers’ interest in expanding their culinary palate.

 

Related: The Sweetness and Light of Pastry Fusion

 

 Get Lost in the Indulgence

Trending ice cream treats aren’t always focused on texture or new combinations. Across the industry, we see rising demand for treats that add indulgence and luxury. Ice cream innovations are meeting that demand by turning the focus on premiumization.

Rather than sitting down to a simple but satisfying scoop of ice cream, consumers want to turn their treat into an experience. That’s why indulgent tastes are one of the latest ice cream trends. By moving beyond simple satisfaction, premium ice cream can include a multi-sensory experience. It appeals to consumers who want more from their food. 

Gourmet ice cream might feature the warmth of cinnamon and silky richness of honey or the fiery kick of chilis and rich decadence of dark chocolate. We also find plenty of Asian-fusion flavors, with miso’s salty umami notes, caramelized butter’s nuttiness, and milk chocolate’s sweet creaminess. 

 

Go Global and Artisanal

One of the most exciting ice cream trends looks out on a global perspective. Ice cream appears in many forms around the world, so we love how consumer demand acknowledges this diversity.  

We’re seeing these authentic flavors making their way around the globe, especially from Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines. Trending flavors might blend tangy labneh yogurt with sour cherries or nutty halva treats with local raw honey.

Looking at Asian flavors, a common combination is citrusy calamansi and sweet yet earthy red bean paste. Another popular flavor touches on the nutty sweetness of coconut and grassy vanilla notes of pandan.

Other artisanal ice cream trends head in opposite directions, merging seemingly opposite flavors in inventive ways. What might we find for specialty ice cream flavors? Earthy, vegetable-based gazpacho blended with sweet and summer-crisp watermelon. Or, the combination might pair olive oil and satsuma to bring out citrusy, grassy notes with a peppery finish. 

 

Focus on Health

Millennials came into their purchasing power with a strong interest in sustainability, health, and wellness. This health focus deepened with Gen Z. Today, consumers continue to choose foods that are healthier or may improve some aspect of their health. Sustainable production and environmental health are also important, so frozen dessert trends also focus on sustainably harvested ingredients and chemical-free recipes. 

Healthy ice cream trends have started to focus on fiber-rich and protein-packed ingredients, along with a continuation on low- to no-sugar recipes.

For new ice cream flavors that appeal to health interests, we see the biggest trends with probiotics and other gut-health boosters. Yogurt is a common ingredient, but fermented beverages and food like koji and kombucha have been making their way into ice cream as well. It’s clear that Asian foods are trending in health and wellness. 

Other fermented flavor notes continue this trend, with fermented soy milk bringing a tangy earthiness to ice cream. Amazake, cashews, and ground pine needles also create a unique ice cream combination that delights all taste buds. 

 

Welcome the Alternatives

Another continuing trend is the preference for plant-based alternatives. Dairy-free ice cream has expanded from coconut milk to include other alt-milks like oat, macadamia nut, flax, hemp, pea, and rice. 

These milk alternatives create many unique ice cream flavors and offer a good base for adding other plant-based flavors. Whether enjoying caramelized bananas and oat milk or matcha with almond milk and cashews, consumers are showing their approval of milk alternatives used in trending frozen treats.

 

Interested in more insights? Reach out to Symrise for the latest trends in ice cream, frozen desserts, and other key markets.

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