Mintel: China overtakes U.S. as top ice cream market

by Eric Schroeder
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Volume sales of ice cream in China reached 5.9 billion liters in 2014, which compared with 5.8 billion liters in the United States.

CHICAGO — For the first time, China has the scoop on the United States. According to new research from Chicago-based market research firm Mintel, China has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest ice cream market.

Between 2008 and 2014, the total market value for ice cream sales in China nearly has doubled, rising to 90% to reach $11.4 billion, according to Mintel. Meanwhile, the U.S. market has grown at a much slower rate, climbing by 15% over the same period to reach $11.2 billion.

Mintel said volume sales of ice cream in China reached 5.9 billion liters in 2014, which compared with 5.8 billion liters in the United States. The research firm said value sales also are expected to increase, moving up to $12.6 billion in China and $11.4 billion in the United States in 2015.

Even as sales of ice cream in China continue to climb, the United States remains the leader in terms of individual consumer consumption. U.S. consumers eat approximately 18.4 liters per person per year, compared with 4 liters for China, according to Mintel. The top five ice cream markets by volume globally are China (5.9 billion liters), followed by the United States (5.8 billion liters), Japan (784 million liters), Russia (668 million liters) and Germany (545 million liters), Mintel said.

Overall, global sales of ice cream reached $50 billion for the first time in 2014, increasing by 9% from 2011 when sales were valued at $46 billion.

Alex Beckett, global food analyst at Mintel.

“Rising incomes and an increasingly developed retail infrastructure and cold chain network are driving growth in the ice cream market in China,” said Alex Beckett, global food analyst at Mintel. “However, the vast array of locally produced, low-price brands present a challenge for global ice cream giants looking to develop there. China is now the powerhouse of the global ice cream market in terms of overall size, although for per capita consumption, it’s the Americans who tuck into the most ice cream each year. The pace of development, coupled with the immensity of the population, is having an increasing impact on the Chinese ice cream market.”

He added that while rising global volumes of ice cream mainly reflect the category’s expansion in emerging regions, ice cream has encountered challenging conditions in more developed markets such as Europe and North America.

“Growth has been dampened by consumer diet concerns, competition from other categories, such as yogurt, and the perennial challenge of unseasonable weather,” Mr. Beckett said. “As the world economy’s center of gravity continues to shift away from the West, these challenges give ice cream giants all the more reason to extend their presence, and new product development investment, in more emerging economies, particularly in Asia.”

On the new product front, Mintel’s Global New Products Database shows a trend toward more better-for-you products.

The number of ice cream launches with low/no/reduced allergen claims rose to 15% of global ice cream launches in 2014, up from 7% in 2012. Meanwhile, the number of ice cream launches with low/no/reduced fat claims rose to 8% in 2014 from 6% in 2012. Mintel also indicated an increase in gluten-free claims, which rose to 13% of global ice cream launches in 2014, up from 6% in 2012. The United States has been the most active in introducing better-for-you products, Mintel said, accounting for 20% of all low/no/reduced fat claims globally, 18% of low/no/reduced allergen claims and 18% of gluten-free claims.

In addition to better-for-you ice cream products, Mintel data showed a heightened interest in artisanal ice creams.

Mintel data showed a heightened interest in artisanal ice creams.

In the United States, approximately 61% of consumers of frozen treats claim to be willing to spend more on better-quality frozen treats, while 60% of daily eaters believe that local brands are better quality than national brands, according to Mintel. Overseas, buying local is a big deal. In 2014, 39% of ice cream and yogurt consumers in Italy said they would be interested in buying ice cream containing locally sourced ingredients, which compared with 38% in France, 38% in Poland, 33% in Germany and 28% in Spain. In addition, 39% of U.K. consumers agreed that ice cream made using authentic production methods, such as handmade or slow churned, is appealing, Mintel said.

“Handcrafted ice cream, made with a homemade style authenticity, is well positioned to embrace the wider consumer interest in artisan-produced food and drink,” Mr. Beckett said. “Craft has become something of a buzzword in recent years, with everything from alcohol to pasta sauces, pizza and lemonade emphasizing their craftsmanship or origin stories on packaging to differentiate the brand from the competition.”
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