Given that I am a rather informed ice cream consumer, I feel the need to report an interesting trend in the world of frozen treats. According to a recent report by the market research firm Mintel, “healthy” ice cream options don’t fare as well as one may expect in our supposedly health-conscious era. While consumers say they want healthy options, turns out they really want the “real stuff”: creamy, full fat ice cream. Instead of turning to the reduced-fat-low-sugar-fake-chocolate-vanilla varieties, turns out consumers really want to turn to pretzel-filled-chocolate-soaked-calorie-laden products like Ben & Jerry’s range of flavors. Notably, Ben & Jerry’s tried to introduce a lighter line and ended up pulling the plug when it didn’t sell through well on retailers’ shelves. Interestingly, the ice cream category has declined by 8% over the past 5 years as a whole, and sales for health brands specifically have stagnated. However, the novelty market is growing, with a 15% gain over the past 5 years. And healthy products are doing better in that category. Think Skinny Cow, fancier popsicles, etc. But then there are also my adored Magnum Bars, which are new to the U.S. market and 100% NOT healthy options (though delicious!).
It’s curious to think about this phenomenon in context of our overall food trends. Do consumers prefer the full-fat, indulgent versions because ice cream is inherently an indulgence category? Is buying a carton of ice cream so tied to the need to have a rich treat that consumers don’t want something less than the real deal? Or is this indicative of broader food trends, meaning that consumers say they want to be healthy because it’s the right thing to do, but in reality they just want Cheez Whiz and potato chips?
As a total side note, it’s really fun to call something “full fat” vs. “non fat.” What if our milk was called “full fat” instead of “whole?” Do you think that would change how people perceive it? And what if we turned “full fat” into fatty and used it to modify every food product that had whole milk? “Ma’am, would you like fatty milk or skim milk in your coffee?” I would definitely enjoy watching people’s reactions to a stunt like that.