Sector News

Tetra Pak execs flag plant-based ice cream development hurdles as indulgent offerings expand

February 4, 2023
Consumer Packaged Goods

The appetite for plant-based frozen desserts continues to grow, and this growth has seen an increase in the range of natural sources they can be derived from. The market has expanded rapidly beyond the traditional plant staple of soy into a plethora of other alternative protein sources – from oat, cashew and almond to coconut, pea and avocado – and progresses into the latest frontier of potato, chia, chickpea and fava bean.

Globally, plant-based ice creams have doubled their share of the market over the last five years, according to Tetra Pack. Pea protein and coconut milk are leading the way, but Tetra Pak cites data showing that oat-based ice cream launches have doubled in the previous year.

As always, consumers still expect these alternatives to tick the traditional ice cream boxes of indulgent, rich, creamy and delicious. However, novelties like 3D printed frozen desserts and “micro” formats are poised to take over today’s frozen food aisle.

Intricacies of adapting new plant bases
FoodIngredientsFirst speaks with Tetra Pak’s Elsebeth Baungaard, portfolio manager, and Torben Vilsgaard, ice cream academy manager, who discuss the challenges that plant-based demands bring, particularly from a processing perspective.

Employing these new plant-based ingredients can generate issues both during the preparation of the mix and during the processing of the mix to ice cream, Baungaard highlights.

“The main challenges are potential high mix viscosities during the preparation and processing of the frozen dessert, with plant-based ingredients often more abrasive toward the process equipment. As a result, more robust equipment solutions are essential,” she explains.

Thanks to improved processing technologies and innovation in ingredient handling and ice cream processing, Vilsgaard says that plant-based varieties can now match traditional dairy ice cream for flavor, texture and mouthfeel.

Spicing up indulgent flavors
Notably, Tetra Pak sees that Millennials are driving interest in new flavors, including spices such as chili and cardamom.

“We’re seeing a shift toward more ‘indulgent’ flavors over healthier, low-calorie choices. Nearly half (48%) of consumers think it has been ‘easier to justify eating indulgent food or drink since COVID-19,’” explains Baungaard.

The company has also monitored a growing interest in trying alternative ingredients, including plant-based ice cream with health benefits such as probiotics.

“The global ice cream market is expected to hit US$75 billion by 2024, and to maintain growth, brands need to innovate, exploring new recipes and flavors, to respond to changing consumer demands,” comments Vilsgaard.

Piloting future recipes from Denmark
At Tetra Pak’s Ice Cream Product Development Centre in Aarhus, Denmark, the company tests future recipes and technology with ice cream brands.

A lot of investment is generated in winter before new products are launched in late spring. “However, some research will take one or two years to market,” underscores Vilsgaard.

Tetra Pak closely monitors social media trends to predict changes in consumer behavior.

“For instance, we spotted growing interest for intricate decorations on top of baked goods,” comments Baungaard. “As a result, we investigated how to incorporate 3D printing technologies into ice cream.”

“We now have a depositing decoration unit in our portfolio, where the ice cream imprint can be changed to reflect current events or trends. Caramel, ripple, or chocolate images can easily be added – creating endless creative options for customers.”

Meanwhile, cravings for nostalgia are turning consumers toward traditional flavors, such as bimbo cakes in Spain, to quirky launches, including beer-flavored ice cream in Japan, she adds.

Micro treats and chunky ice cream
Consumers continue to see ice cream as an indulgence, with “small treats” becoming increasingly popular, flags Tetra Pak.

In response, ice cream products are getting smaller and smaller. “Tiny cones, small sticks, and bite-size ice cream cubes will “be the next big thing,” according to Baungaard.

“It is not minis anymore; it is micros,” she reflects. “Consumers are happier to indulge in smaller frozen treats to limit their calorie intake and save money. To make them even more attractive, ice cream producers add healthy ingredients such as fruit and nuts into their products.”

Further, ice cream producers have long sought to embed large inclusions, like chunks of cookie dough or brownies, to ice cream on a stick.

To meet this demand, Tetra Pak developed the Tetra Pak Extrusion Wheel, which can be added to existing lines. Currently, it’s the only technology capable of adding chunks to stick ice cream.

Evolving ice cream market conditions
As with all industries, ingredients suppliers and manufacturers must respond to changing market conditions.

“Wherever possible, we aim to develop products near customers’ facilities to reduce transportation and supply chain costs,” continues Vilsgaard.

“More broadly, Tetra Pak has an ambitious target for reducing energy, waste and water by 50% by 2030. From a sustainability perspective, this will improve operational performance while mitigating an increase in energy costs.”

Tetra Pak highlights that its ingredient feeder with a double hopper helps ease the production of ice cream with two different inclusions without compromising accuracy and thereby decreasing waste.

Withstanding todays macroeconomic challenges, Vilsgaard concludes by noting that, historically, ice cream has flourished during times of economic difficulties as “it is a relatively inexpensive dessert and remains an affordable treat.”

In other frozen dessert news, FoodIngredientsFirst recently reported that “wholesome” ingredients, textural elements and fantasy flavors are poised for success in the category.

By Elizabeth Green


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