Asia scoops ice cream growth boost as West turns to East for flavours

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Food historians credit China with inventing ice cream and Marco Polo for bringing it to Italy. Skip forward to the 21st century, and the rate at which Western ice-cream makers are looking to the East for inspiration promises to see renewed momentum—with India at the helm. 

While ice-cream sales have largely been dominated by Western markets in recent years, India is now at the head of global growth, followed by other Asian nations.

World sales reached 13bn litres in 2016, with India, Indonesia and Vietnam among the fastest growing markets, according to new research by Mintel. 

Following annual growth of 13% over the past five years, this year volumes in India are set to overtake those of more established markets. Indeed, ice-cream sales there are forecast to reach 382m litres—and 657m litres in 2021.

India’s strong annual growth is closely followed by Indonesia (11%), Vietnam (9%), Turkey (9%) and Malaysia (8%). Meanwhile, sales in Western markets have been flakey, with Switzerland having witnessed an annual drop of -3% over the past five years, followed by, Denmark (-2%), Britain (-2%) and America (-1%). Thailand also saw a fall of -2%.

Currently the world’s biggest ice-cream market, China had sales estimated at 4.3bn litres in 2016, followed by the America (2.7bn litres) and Japan (756m litres). 

In terms of individual consumption, Mintel found that Norwegian consumers are the biggest ice-cream eaters, consuming 9.8 litres per capita in 2016, followed by Australia (9.4) and Sweden (8.9).

The rapidity with which India’s ice-cream market is expanding is worth noting. The low per-capita consumption of retail ice cream in India demonstrates the exciting potential, though competition from street vendors should not be underestimated,” said Alex Beckett, a Mintel global food and drink analyst.

With the East’s love of ice cream thickening, one in three ice cream products were launched in Asia-Pacific in 2016, up from a quarter in 2013. Meanwhile, the share of ice cream products launched in North America fell from 19% to 14% over the same time period.

Clearly keen to get a scoop of the product innovation action, Western consumers are increasingly looking to try ice cream products with more Eastern-inspired flavours. 

Nearly of Canadians would be interested in ethnic-inspired lines, such as green tea or mango, while slightly fewer would be tempted by internationally inspired ice cream formats, such as Japanese mochi ice cream or Indian kulfi.

In Europe too, ice cream eaters are acquiring a taste for the exotic. As many as 20% of Italian, 17% of Polish and 16% of French consumers would be interested in trying ice cream with ethnic-inspired ingredients, such as wasabi, green tea or saffron.

In the US, mochi ice cream, Japanese-style frozen rice dough around an ice cream filling, is set to continue growing in profile in 2017,” said Beckett. 

Meanwhile, Thai-style rolled ice cream also continues to gain food press headlines in North America, often pitched as the next big thing in desserts.” 

The Middle East also promises to become more influential in terms of innovation. In particular, booza, a traditional ice cream from Syria and Lebanon, has the advantage that it is very slow to melt.

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