Decoding The Love For Ice Cream
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A universal favourite, ice cream is an all-time mood elevator amongst children and adults alike. Summers are incomplete without it, and winters are comforted by it. The world is an oyster for innovation, and every country has its version of sweet and creamy goodness. Italy has Gelato, Turkey has Dondurma, India has its Kulfi, and Japan has Mochi. The conventional scoop has withstood the test of time and evolved with taste preference changes. We have other popular versions such as the Fro-Yo (frozen yoghurt), the sorbet, along with current accounts of ice-creams being fat-free, dairy-free, and GMO-free. No matter the type, ice cream is a pure delight for its lovers, irrespective of age or occasion. Here’s a scoop on how it all started.

The Origin Of Ice Cream

Historical references indicate that ice cream originated somewhere during the second century BC and that Alexander the great used to devour snow with flavoured honey and nectar ice. Specific concerns also suggest that King Solomon was fond of iced drinks and would have them during harvesting. However, it is believed that it was in China that ice cream was first consumed as a food in 618-97 AD. It is also thought that King Tang of Shang got 94 men who prepared ice cream with buffalo milk, flour and camphor. 

Another instance of the origins of ice cream hails back to the Roman Empire, where Nero Claudius Caesar (A.D. 54-86) used mountain snow as a base to flavour with fruits and juices. Centuries later, Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant and explorer, brought back a recipe from the Far East to Italy, sharing a close resemblance with today’s Sherbet. Historians estimated that this recipe evolved into ice cream sometime in the 16th Century.

During the Mughal Empire regime in the 16th Century, horseback riders were frequently sent to the Hindu Kush to bring ice to Delhi, used in fruit sorbets. The ice was also used to make the ‘traditional Indian ice-cream’ popularly known as ‘Kulfi.’ Today ‘, Kulfi’ is relished in different parts of the world as a popular Indian sweet delicacy.  

The Evolution Of Ice Cream

Given the historical references, it is evident that there is no sole inventor of ice cream, and it got evolved over the years. The actual evolution happened in 1846 when hand-cracked freezers were invented, and hand-made ice-creams were ceased. Further, in the 18th Century, ice creams made their way to England and moved to the US. Finally, confectioneries started selling ice creams in New York and other parts of America. By the 18th Century, ice cream became accessible to the masses. Its commercial manufacturing started and gained rapid popularity by the 20th Century.

The Trends Of Ice Cream

The ice cream industry is now experiencing great innovation and creativity. According to Mintel market research, 45 per cent of ice-cream consumers enjoy it as their favourite indulgence. 

Over the years, manufacturers have continued to develop newer variants and innovative flavours. As a result, ice-Cream trends have also evolved by combining new flavours with the quintessential ones, such as mint with chocolate or brownie with vanilla. Combining flavours or other desserts with ice cream enhances its original texture. Conversely, some consumers prefer the traditional flavour the way it is; however, they might like their scoop in a waffle cone.

However, many other factors have also contributed to today's decision, such as the lactose-free and sugar-free ice-creams. The sugar-free ice cream variants are also popular as they go in as ingredients in sugar-free desserts are increasingly popular. While Chocolate ice cream still holds the pole position in India, international flavours like Caramel, Cookies & Cream, Pralines & Cream, Tiramisu are becoming increasingly sought out.

Ice-cream shakes with indulgent flavours are increasingly added to restaurant menus to attract more consumers. These sweeteners are a combination of milk, ice cream and flavoured toppings. Ice-cream shakes are also aiming to market consumers who are health conscious. Therefore, healthy alternatives are increasingly a factor in new product development for ice cream. With the rise in consumer health awareness, Manufacturer’s innovation strategies focus increasingly on developing ice creams containing lower sugar levels, higher levels of protein and natural ingredients.

What's the way ahead?

The growth of the ice cream industry can be attributed to numerous aspects, including rising disposable incomes, urbanisation rates, improved cold chain facilities, growing deep-freezer penetration and entry of multiple international ice cream players. Ice-cream manufacturers have already started focusing beyond ingredients. They are now working on clean label credentials, fusion flavours, product innovation such as plant-based inclusions and multi-layered textures to create a unique sensory experience for consumers.

While classic and fruity flavours continue to hold appeal, more consumers are now willing to experiment with newer flavours. Mintel report suggests that 39% of the Indian consumers would like to have ice creams with added fruit pieces, 33% with added nuts or biscuits and 25% would like to try new ice cream flavours. In addition, 60% of the consumers mentioned that a well-known brand is most important while choosing ice cream and 21% say they like buying ice cream from a parlour. 

It has become inevitable for the category to offer a wide assortment of flavours, textures, innovative packaging and drive trust through various touch-points. Moreover, a significant shift in consumers' buying behaviour has led manufacturers to shift their strategies and relook at their delivery platforms. Major Ice cream players are now selling ice creams through E-Commerce and DTC platforms to boost in-home consumption.

These factors will positively impact the ice cream market and drive the sector to grow rapidly and strongly worldwide.

(With inputs from Milind Pingle, CEO, Allana Consumer Products Pvt Ltd)