It’s National Ice Cream Day. In recent years the meaning of ice cream has taken a turn, reflecting the changing food preferences of Americans. According to Gallup, while only 5% of American citizens are vegetarian or vegan, nearly 25% have given up eating meat. Moreover, 41% of Americans have tried plant-based meats. And about half of Americans buy skim milk.

For this year’s National Ice Cream Day, food chains like Whole Foods are highlighting their milk-free options, in addition to conventional choices, and for a reason. Plant-based ice creams are growing by 26.5% per year while their dairy counterparts are growing by 1%, according to SPINS data.

The category is estimated to reach $ 1 billion in sales by 2027. While this is currently part of the overall icy ice cream and confectionery market, major brands are considering it. Baskin Robbins launched oat milk-based ice cream in all its locations in 2021. Unilever executive Matt Close reported an ‘explosion’ of non-dairy ice cream sales, but difficulty in achieving ice cream consistency. There is a flood of R&D in the category from new entrants who are highlighting the creative ingredients to achieve the ice cream consistency and its nostalgic flavors.

Introduce challenging brands

Certified Kaisti Health Trainer Kailey Donewald noticed the change in consumer preferences years ago. She started the Chicago-based milk-based Sacred Serve ice cream company in 2017 to bring a healthier alternative to the segment, starting with Whole Foods.

Donewald has innovated on milk-free flavors that evoke childhood favorites like chocolate and mint chips, but with a twist. Using fresh Thai coconut meat as a base, her recipes include superfoods, adaptogenic herbs, medicinal mushrooms and low glycemic coconut sugar. For example, the newest Sacred Serve flavors, biscuits and creams, have no “biscuits” or “creams” on their list of ingredients. Tigers and activated charcoal are central to the recipe.

Donewald explains, “Tigern flour is the star of our newest Cookies N Cream flavor. Tigers are incredibly unique as they are not nuts at all, but a root vegetable. They contain important vitamins and minerals, are gluten free, paleo friendly and filled with prebiotic fibers that are great for the gut.Thanks to their natural sweetness, I knew they would be the perfect flour substitute to make our biscuits.Activated charcoal, a fine powder made from coconut husks , is a well-known detoxifying agent used to trap toxins and gases in the gut, preventing them from being absorbed and helping your body eliminate them.We found it gives it the perfect “oreo” flavor.And so, Cookies N Cream – without any biscuits or cream – was born. “

Taking a different approach to ingredients, Brave Robot makes a milk-free ice cream from whey protein to mimic traditional ice cream, resulting in a lactose-free vegan product. According to The Spoon, the company “produces its dairy by genetically modifying the microflora to produce two key proteins in milk: casein and whey. They combine dried proteins with vegetable fats, water, vitamins and minerals to make a lactose-free product that it has the same properties — the taste, the consistency, and the nutritional decay — of milk. ”

Both companies have a strong focus on sustainability in their ingredient supply chain. Sacred Serve was the first to achieve a 100% recyclable, plastic-free packaging, an achievement that giants like Unilever have not yet achieved.

A profitable category

Oatly-based dairy company Oatly reached a $ 10 billion IPO earlier this year, following plant-based meat giant Beyond Meat, IPO 2019. On the M&A front, earlier this year Human Co announced a majority stake in Coconut Bliss — a dairy-free ice cream company — with unknown terms. And in March 2021, plant-based egg company Eat Just won $ 200 million in a round led by the Qatari Investment Authority.

Analysts at Pitchbook News are looking at the plant-based alternative food category, calling it “pandemic and recessive.” Food technology startups had raised nearly $ 16 billion in Q1 2021, almost surpassing the total amount raised in 2020.

Donewald is not surprised. She concluded, “Now more than ever consumers are looking at products through the lenses of health and well-being, especially after the pandemic. The plant-based has attracted a lot of attention to be better for you and better for the environment, so more consumers are looking to make a difference. “