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It’s hot. There’s a pandemic. And Americans may be turning, in part, to ice cream for comfort.
There’s been a significant increase in ice cream consumption in the past few years, according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), a trade group of dairy producers. The average American eats about 22 pounds of ice cream every year and consumers want more.
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“We saw retail sales of ice cream during the pandemic really explode,” says Matt Herrick, senior vice president of public affairs and communications at IDFA. Sales have spiked 30 to 40 percent since the start of the pandemic, Herrick says.
The Ice Cream Index, a study of consumer preferences and trends by market research firm Top Data, recently found a 29 percent increase in online ice cream purchases this year compared with last year. That may be due, in part, to increased use of online ordering of groceries. A recent Adobe Digital Economic Index report found a jump in online grocery sales at the start of the pandemic, with continued growth since then. That demand for ice cream is why U.S. ice cream makers churn out more than 1.3 billion gallons of ice cream a year, according to the IDFA.
Favorite ice cream flavors
The first frozen sweet milk dessert was created for the emperors of the Tang dynasty who ruled China from 618 to 907 A.D., according to food blogger Tori Avey author of The History Kitchen blog. They mixed milk and flour and flavored it with camphor. A treat similar to ice cream popped up later in Italy and England, but ice cream really took off in the 1600s when a Paris cafe offered a cold treat using a recipe that blended milk, cream, butter and eggs, according to the IDFA.
Today, classic flavors still reign supreme: Chocolate, Cookies N’Cream, vanilla, strawberry and chocolate chip are currently America’s five favorite flavors, according to the IDFA. However, newer flavor profiles like salted caramel are creeping up the list. Flavors that include heat or spice, like chili and turmeric, or incorporate cinnamon or cardamom, or include liquor are all gaining in popularity. “We see different flavors and ingredients from around the world” being incorporated, Herrick says.
Specialty ice cream companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Blue Bell, Jeni’s, or Häagen-Dazs often find their customers are looking for something a bit more interesting than the traditional.
At Ben & Jerry’s, flavors like Cherry Garcia, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Americone Dream, Half Baked and Phish Food have been best sellers for years, but preferences are changing, says Sarah Fidler, a flavor guru at Ben & Jerry’s.
“Tonight Dough, both ice cream and non-dairy, are in the top 10 right now,” she says. “Strawberry Cheesecake has grown substantially in popularity over the last year, too.”
The ice cream freezers at grocery stores are filled with options far beyond vanilla. Blue Bell has Oatmeal Cream Pie and Strawberry Lemonade flavors, Jeni’s offers Butterscotch Popcorn and Watermelon Taffy, and Wisconsin’s Chocolate Shoppe developed a flavor called Exhausted Parent, a bourbon-spiked espresso ice cream with dark chocolate swirls.