Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK


Served on the side of a warm brownie, dripping off a popsicle stick or eaten straight from the tub, ice cream is a firm favourite on a hot day or to cure heartbreak.

It isn’t just nostalgia that makes ice cream popular — it’s been scientifically proven that it makes people happy.

In a study commissioned by ice-cream giant Unilever, which accounts for 22% of the global market, neuroscientists at London’s Institute of Psychiatry scanned the brains of people eating vanilla ice cream. They found an immediate effect on parts of the brain known to be active when people are enjoying themselves — the same feeling you’d have while listening to your favourite song.

However, as consumers become more health conscious, the ice-cream market is taking a dive. According to a report from market research firm Mintel, global ice-cream sales fell a whopping 16.7%, from 15.6bnl in 2015 to 13bnl in 2016.

Despite a dive in sales, the global ice-cream market is expected to hit the $89bn mark by 2022

While it may be goodbye to paddle pops or tubs of vanilla ice cream, there’s strong growth in luxury products such as gelato, innovative flavours such as avocado and olive oil, and dairy-free versions made with soya milk, for example.

Despite the current slowdown, the global ice-cream market is expected to hit the US$89bn mark by 2022, growing at an average 4.8%/year with the rise of premium products. And consumption in India and China is soaring.

"Growth remains solid if not spectacular in the key global ice-cream markets," says Mintel.

While consumers in the developed world are forgoing ice-cream van offerings in favour of healthier alternatives, they still flock to premium products — and the more outrageous the flavour, the better it does.

"This illustrates how consumers in the US, and other developed markets like the UK and Australia, are happy to occasionally overlook healthy principles if the quality of the ice cream is suitably indulgent," says the Mintel report.

In India, there’s strong competition from street vendors and traditional ice creams such as kulfi, a denser and creamier version of ice cream. This year ice-cream volumes in that country are set to overtake those of the UK, which is historically the biggest global market.

The market is also booming in China, which has had the fastest annual rise since 2013. In comparison, volume sales in the second-biggest ice-cream market, the US, have been flat for a second consecutive year.

In Africa, rising disposable incomes and a shift in consumer preferences have driven growth in the market. SA is the biggest market on the continent.

According to global information giant Nielsen, ice cream sales in SA stood at 60.7Ml between June 2016 and June 2017, and raked in R2.3bn.

Things are different now to 10 years ago ... I used to go to the US and wonder why the SA range was so abysmal. When I walked down any ice-cream aisle in SA there was only Ola, Nestlé and Country Fresh
Paul Ballen

There’s definitely a boom in spring and summer: in this country 60% of all ice cream is consumed between September and February, with the most being sold in December.

With the rise of Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream (Life, July 6-12) and the presence of international players such as Baskin-Robbins and Häagen-Dazs, ice cream is still the "it" dessert in SA. Sales have also been driven by innovative concepts such as the Magnum pop-up store, which gives customers the opportunity to mix and match ice cream, allowing them to explore new flavour experiences.

Paul’s founder Paul Ballen told Financial Mail last month: "Things are different now to 10 years ago when we couldn’t get a good pastry. I used to go to the US and wonder why the SA range was so abysmal. When I walked down any ice-cream aisle in SA there was only Ola, Nestlé and Country Fresh. I was trying to understand why there was this gap."

According to a report from market research firm Mordor Intelligence, "an increase in urbanisation, the introduction of innovative flavours and consumer indulgence drive the growth of this market".

The report says the SA economy is recovering from a "slowdown" phase, giving rise to increased disposable income and domestic consumption, with artisanal ice creams considered a premium segment.

Ice-cream giants have taken notice of the trend. In 2015, Unilever opened its first ice-cream factory in SA and invested close to R4bn in new and refurbished manufacturing facilities.

According to SA market research company Insight Survey, the Unilever-Nestlé duopoly, together with the rise of global fast-food franchises, makes ice cream a consolidated market environment in SA, with high entry barriers for new players. Despite this, independent retailers comprise a 12% market share.

While the global trend may be down for now, South Africans are still chasing the ice-cream van down.


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