Plant-Based Ice Cream Is Flying Off The Shelves – Forbes

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Plant-based ice cream is beginning to melt away the competition.


You don’t need a study to prove that ice cream is enticing—the jingle of an ice cream truck alone can make one salivate. But did you know that it is downright biologically addictive?

One study found that found that the brain was left yearning for more while eating ice cream in the same way as a person who uses cocaine. Perhaps that is why the average American consumes more than 23 pounds of ice cream per year. The main driver of ice cream cravings is its sweetness, but the amount of fat is important, too.

Historically, that’s where cow-based dairy came in, as ice cream typically contains no less than 10% milk fat. For the 75% of the world’s population who are lactose intolerant, and for the rising numbers of individuals who are concerned about the treatment of cows on factory farms and their impact on the climate crisis, this presents a problem.

For the plant-based foods category, this presents an opportunity, and many leaders in the industry are milking it for all that it is worth.

Enter the “Golden Age” of vegan ice cream (often referred to as “dairy-free frozen dessert”). According to a 2019 report, the global dairy-free ice cream market size was valued at a whopping $455.9 million in 2018 and is anticipated to reach $1.2 billion by 2025. With tubs of plant-based ice cream flying off the shelves, a flurry of flavors and brands are eager to take a bite out of the competition.

Take Cado, a leader in the newly minted avocado ice cream category. It hit the scene in 2015 thanks to an innovative family in Iowa that wanted to enjoy ice cream but without artificial ingredients and with significantly less saturated fat. Cado’s ingredient list is pretty simple: primarily organic avocado (which contains mostly monounsaturated fat, plus a small amount of saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat) puree, non-organic avocado oil, and organic cane sugar (or cassava syrup). Avocado ice cream might sound odd, but the trendy fruit is actually a common ingredient for many vegan desserts thanks to its super-creamy texture and subtle flavor. Cado currently comes in seven flavors, including deep dark chocolate, simply lemon and mint chocolate chip, and more flavors are on the way, including cherry amaretto, java chip, vanilla and salted caramel. Next month the company will release a gluten-free option: cookies and cream.

Planet Oat, a popular oatmilk brand in the U.S., is also expanding into a new category with its first-ever non-dairy frozen desserts. Launching in six flavors at the Winter Fancy Foods Show, these new pint-sized non-dairy treats are made using Planet Oat oatmilk and boasts a rich, creamy texture and deliciously indulgent flavors to satisfy ice cream loving taste buds. This product will rollout nationwide at Albertsons, Safeway, Stop & Shop, Hannaford, Harris Teeter, Giant Carlisle, and other major retailers in February 2020. “We’re excited to launch this new non-dairy oatmilk frozen dessert line to consumers seeking a plant-based alternative and will continue to expand our portfolio with more innovations in the near future to keep up with consumer demand for oatmilk based products,” said Chris Ross, VP of Marketing at HP Hood.

Then there is So Delicious. The early entrant was founded in 1987 by Mark Brawerman in Oregon. It was acquired by WhiteWave Foods in 2014, which was then acquired by Danone North America in 2016. Today, it features an impressive line of plant-based ice cream, drawing upon a wide array of vegan milks including oat, almond, soy, cashew and coconut.

Coconut Bliss has many flavors, including dark chocolate.

Coconut Bliss

As for that last ingredient, Coconut Bliss has consumers covered. Founded by Luna and Larry in 2005 in Eugene, Oregon, the company is a longstanding champion of the mighty coconut and its medium chain triglycerides, which some studies suggest display beneficial properties in human health.

Kim Gibson Clark took over as Coconut Bliss’s CEO in 2010 (her family had been manufacturing the product since 2007). She tells me that part of the magic of coconut is that the ingredient’s heavy fat content makes it perform much like dairy-based ice cream, creating a rich, creamy texture with the added benefit of being white. Most of Coconut Bliss’s distribution is primarily in retail stores, such as Sprouts Farmers Market, Albertsons, Wegmans and Kroger, but they have also ventured into the fast-casual space in the past year, working with prominent West Coast restaurant brands such as Mel’s Drive-in and Burgerville.

To give you a sense of what they are up to, Coconut Bliss partnered with Burgerville to create a vegan Bliss Shakes for their customers. This means that customers can now order an existing shake flavor as a dairy-free shake without paying extra. (Perhaps Starbucks, which recently made headlines for its upcharge of $0.80 on nondairy milk options for its drinks, will take a cue?)

Birthday Cake Cookie Dough by NadaMoo! is a festive combination of sprinkles, cookie dough, and … [+] frosted yellow cake.


NadaMoo! is also a lover of coconuts. In 2008, Daniel Nicholson was blown away by the dairy-free ice cream brand. He was excited that it tasted just like conventional ice cream, but lacked the negative health and sustainability concerns. That same year, he convinced both his family to invest in the company and the company’s founder to let him become its comptroller. Then, in 2011, when the founder wanted to step away from the business, Nicholson became its CEO. Today, with colorful flavors like Marshmallow Stardust and That Snickerdoodle Dough, NadaMoo! is in over 8,000 stores nationwide.

For those who are allergic to nuts or not a fan of coconuts, Snow Monkey ice cream is a top contender. Snow Monkey brands itself as a “superfood ice treat.” The slogan isn’t far off given that the ingredient lists read like a fairly healthy smoothie recipe. For example, the açaí berry flavor contains banana puree, water, apple puree concentrate, mixed berry juice conc. (apple, blueberry, blackberry), hemp protein powder, sunflower butter, goji powder, açai powder, acacia tree gum, guar bean gum, vitamin c and citric acid. And as for the brand’s matcha green tea flavor? It contains turmeric, the old Indian spice known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Vanilla ice cream in a vibrant cone by Eclipse Foods.


Eclipse is also free from all eight major allergens like gluten, soy, nuts and lactose, but it takes a slightly different approach. Founded last year by alternative protein experts Aylon Steinhart and Thomas Bowman, with support from some impressive investors including Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit, and Daiya Foods’ (which has its own line of vegan desserts bars) former chairman of the board Eric Patel, Eclipse uses a blend of five common plants including heirloom corn, cassava and oats.

While many plant-based ice cream flavors taste delicious, Eclipse aims to create one that is indistinguishable from conventional dairy. The company currently sells a liquid ice cream base in three flavors—neutral, vanilla, and chocolate, as well as frozen chocolate and vanilla tubs. The neutral base is for ice cream shops and high-end chefs who want to create their own flavors (like at OddFellows, Humphry Slocombe, and Equinox Restaurant), while chocolate and vanilla are sold to fast casual restaurants, universities and other outlets that have soft serve or other ice cream-making machines. As for the frozen tubs of chocolate and vanilla, these are sold to entities that don’t have the ability or desire to spin up their own ice cream.

Reveri is also focusing on the food-service market. One of their main partners is Life Time Fitness, which features it on its menus nationwide. Its founder Karen Waddell has a history of diabetes in her family and wanted to offer a healthier option. That’s why Reveri doesn’t have any added sugar and is instead sweetened with whole fruits and dates; the presence of fiber slows down the sugar absorption. It is also relatively low in calories, averaging only 83 calories per serving, and all the flavors are gluten-free.

As for the well-established brands like Ben & Jerry’s (which, in other news, is being sued over “happy cow” claims with respect to its non-vegan dairy) Haagen-Dazs and Breyers? They too have jumped on the plant-based bandwagon, now offering a wide selection of dairy-free options.

With its unique design, Dream Pops are almost too beautiful to eat.

Dream Pops

It’s worth nothing that vegan ice cream isn’t just the familiar stuff sold in tubs; it can now be found in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes.

Consider Dream Pops, a new non-dairy, gluten and soy free frozen dessert that—in the words of one of its cofounders—is aspiring to “become the Willy Wonka of plant-based confections.” It’s actually an apt description. The innovative company creates its desserts by pouring its puree (which is made with ingredients like coconut milk, mango, rosemary, tapioca, agave and baobab) into futuristic 3-D printed silicone shapes that are made into metal molds. The result, as described by one reviewer, is “superfood popsicles almost too beautiful to eat—almost.”

Chock full of chocolatey chocolate, each My/Mo mochi ball is crafted to ensure the proportions of … [+] ooey to gooey and silky to smooth.


My/Mo Mochi is also reinventing the way consumers encounter and consume vegan ice cream. Its cashew cream frozen dessert for example is a carefully crafted vegan snack made with a scoop of premium cashew cream wrapped in pillowy mochi dough, a Japanese rice cake made of mochigome, a short-grain japonica glutinous rice.

So too is Modern Pop. The founders’ story began as sleep deprived new parents searching for a treat they felt comfortable giving their teething infant. When options fell short, they went home and created what they needed theirselves. In lieu of “sugar water,” as they describe it, their colorful bars are jam packed with whole fruit, with lead ingredients such as strawberries, pineapple, raspberries, and mango.

For fellow addicts of ice cream who are resistant to kick the habit in the New Year but are increasingly embracing “reducetarianism”—the practice of cutting back on animal products, including dairy—it’s never been a better time to stroll down the frozen aisle. And with “Veganuary” upon us, it is likely the trend will continue, one scoop, popsicle, and dough ball at a time.

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