While the US just celebrated National Ice Cream Day this past Sunday, the country is no longer the biggest market when it comes to the frozen dessert. According to researchers at Mintel, China has overtaken the US as the world’s biggest ice cream market for the first time.
Between 2008 and 2014, researchers say the total market value for ice cream sales in China nearly doubled, soaring by 90 percent to reach $11.4 billion. The US market grew at a much slower rate, climbing15 percent over the same period to reach $11.2 billion.
“Rising incomes and an increasingly developed retail infrastructure and cold chain network are driving growth in the ice cream market in China,” says Alex Beckett, global food analyst for Mintel. “However, the vast array of locally produced, low-price brands presents a challenge for global ice cream giants looking to develop there.” Beckett adds the growth of the Chinese ice cream market can be attributed both to population and pace of development.
But Americans still eat more ice cream per capita than consumers in other countries. On average, a typical US consumer eats 18.4 liters of ice cream a year, compared to four liters per Chinese consumer. The top-five ice cream markets by volume are China (5.9 billion liters), followed by the US (5.8 billion liters), Japan (784 million liters), Russia (668 million liters) and Germany (545 million liters).
Global sales of ice cream reached $50 billion for the first time in 2014, Mintel researchers say. This is 9 percent over the 2011 number ($46 billion). Despite this increase, analysts say ice cream is struggling in places like Europe and North America where diet concerns and competition from other categories are impacting growth.
“As the world economy’s center of gravity continues to shift away from the West, these challenges give ice cream giants all the more reason to extend their presence—and new product development investment—in more emerging economies, particularly in Asia,” Beckett says.
Because of consumers’ health concerns regarding sweets and desserts, ice cream manufacturers are developing new recipes and bolstering the better-for-you options available at the store.
According to Mintel, the global ice cream market witnessed a record high share of new launches bearing low/no/reduced allergen and fat claims, as well as gluten-free products, in 2014. The number of ice cream launches with allergen claims increased from 7 percent of global ice cream launches in 2012 to 15 percent in 2014, while fat claims launches rose from 6 percent in 2012 to 8 percent in 2014.
But diets aren’t everything. Mintel says another trend in the ice cream market is an appreciation for “individuality and quality over quantity.” Local brands and locally sourced ingredients are getting a lot more love from consumers, and six in 10 American consumers say they are willing to spend more on better-quality frozen treats.
“Handcrafted ice cream, made with a homemade style authenticity, is well positioned to embrace the wider consumer interest in artisan-produced food and drink,” Beckett says. “Craft has become something of a buzzword in recent years, with everything from alcohol to pasta sauces, pizza and lemonade emphasizing their craftsmanship or origin stories on packaging to differentiate the brand from the competition,” Beckett concludes.