Ice cream makers in the United States churned out more than 1.3 billion gallons of ice cream in 2021, in order to satisfy the average American who eats about 20 lbs of ice cream each year, or about 4 gallons, according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, DC.

And while chocolate, vanilla and cookies ’n cream have been the top-three flavors of ice cream for some time – ranking varies year to year – innovative formulators are increasingly taking the “anything goes” approach, with many providing shock value in their limited-edition offerings. This often includes pairing or twisting up two flavors into one product, as well as bringing an unexpected flavor profile into the ice cream base.

This concept of flavor mashups has become so popular in the frozen desserts space that Dairy Farmers of America, Kansas City, Kan., is rolling out Kemps MASHups Ice Cream. The four offerings start with either a simple chocolate or vanilla or both ice cream base and then mix in two different – often yin and yang – types of inclusions. There’s Brownies & Blondies, Brownies & Cookie Dough, Peanut Butter & Brownies and Peanut Butter & Cookies ’N Cream.

The most shocking mashups come from Brooklyn, NY-based Van Leeuwen Ice Cream. Last summer the company teamed up with Kraft Heinz, Chicago, to bring together two of life’s greatest pleasures: ice cream and macaroni and cheese. The limited-edition ice cream sold out online in the first few hours. Continuing with the cheese theme, earlier this year, Van Leeuwen rolled out a pizza-flavored ice cream featuring a mozzarella base with tomatoes and basil. It was part of an exclusive launch at Walmart that also included mashups like Hot Honey (bits of honeycomb in a vanilla base with a hot honey swirl) and Planet Earth (blue spirulina and matcha green tea cake). This summer the company continued its relationship with Walmart with the launch of five new limited-edition flavors. The mashups included Grey Poupon with Salted Pretzels, Honey Cornbread with Strawberry Jam and Espresso Fior di Latte Chip.  

“These pints offer something delicious for every member of a household, whether they like their desserts savory or sweet,” said Ben Van Leeuwen, co-founder and chief executive officer.

Pints, indeed, are a powerful package in the frozen desserts space. They command a premium and allow for consumers to try something new without the commitment of a larger-sized package. Price often does not matter when shopping the pint section of the freezer, which continues to grow every year.

Novelties, on the other hand, are designed to be single-serve items. While once considered a kids’ category, novelties are now often premium products designed for adults. They assist with portion control, making them ideal for indulgent formulations where the consumer wants a treat without the temptation to grab another scoop. They also increasingly function as a grab-and-go snack with some innovators focusing on better-for-you attributes, including high protein and low- or no added sugars.

With both pints and novelties, processors are loading them up with identifiable inclusions, such as candies, fruits, nuts and other whole food ingredients. The consumer knows just what they are getting in this portion pack.

Category innovations

• Yasso continues to pioneer the snacking category with the first-ever Frozen GreekvYogurt Mochi. The poppable treats use traditional rice dough to encompass chocolate, mango, strawberry or vanilla frozen yogurt.

• International recipes, imported ingredients and local sourcing and the use of upcycled ingredients, is trending in the freezer. New Heritage Kulfi comes in South Asian-inspired flavors such as Cardamom Chai, Rosewater and Saffron.

• Wells Enterprises’ new Blue Bunny Twist Cones are sugar cones filled with two flavors of softserve dairy dessert along with a ribbon of either fudge or strawberry.

• Shock value is the name of the game for Van Leeuwen. It all started when the company teamed up with Kraft Heinz in 2021 to produce macaroni and cheese ice cream. The relationship continued this year with a mustard and pretzel mashup.

Top frozen brands

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- All data included in this frozen category report was provided by IRI, a Chicago-based research firm, and is current as of June 27, 2022.