By applying design thinking to ice cream innovation, our team identified 6 key areas of opportunity
One of the most widely read KerryDigest articles details ice cream trends around the world, including emerging and popular flavours and formats. To get a broader sense of ice cream innovation opportunities, we recently assembled a cross-functional team of Kerry experts to workshop possibilities and predict the future of ice cream by considering the needs and wants of consumers as well as cutting-edge technologies from the food industry and beyond.
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The formula for coming up with such good ideas generally includes inspiration, research, ideation, innovation, refinement and testing. This process has been labeled, in recent years, “design thinking”, but the creative technique for building better ideas and products is one we’ve used for years in food innovation. In a fast-paced market, design thinking can help brands capture new growth streams through disruptive innovation.
Here we detail our process for keying into the wide range of possible ice cream innovation platforms, then refining those to the most palatable options that will likely inform the future of ice cream.
Collecting Data for Ice Cream Innovation
Design thinking is a creative approach that follows a process. So, the research phase can spur inspiration, and the innovation phase can lead to more research.
To get started, we began looking at what was happening in food and beverage as well as in adjacent categories. For example, we spoke to skincare innovators to learn what they’re investigating and found a commonality in our shared focus on the future of texture, including how to make products even smoother and creamier. We spoke to innovators in the detergent and clothes care space and got insights on how to make a leaner, more efficient and sustainable supply chain, such as through the use of powders and concentrates for DIY ice creams. And we spoke to experts in savoury flavours and mixology who were injecting umami flavours into ice cream to provide unexpected but pleasurable taste sensations.
These discussions highlighted common consumer values as well as new technologies that could come into play in the future of ice cream. We also talked to futurists, analysed our competitors, researched freezing and home appliance innovations, met with consumers, spoke with procurement and sourcing specialists, studied demographic trends and discussed challenges with manufacturers. We took these insights and began to clash them together, joining the dots from seemingly different worlds to come up with 6 platforms for ice cream innovation.
6 Concepts Informing the Future of Ice Cream
While demand for ice cream keeps growing, true innovation has been slow. To help get the industry unstuck, our team channeled disruptive and conceptual thinking into ice cream ingredient and product ideas that could create growth in the future. This thinking was crystalised into 6 innovation platforms on which future products can be built.
- 5-D sensory stimulation: Consumer needs have expanded and their expectations are heightened and increasingly multisensorial. Ice cream is known for delivering on visual appeal—it’s one of the most Instagrammed foods with 31.7M posts tagged #icecream—and taste. This means there’s room to keep launching stunning creations and ideate even more intense flavours, such as umami flavours that borrow from mixology. But it also leaves room to innovate in ways that stimulate all 5 sense. For example, ice cream isn’t known for its intense, mouthwatering aroma, but it could be.
- Winding down: Claims have been made that many consumers eat ice cream just before bed. Whether or not these are substantiated, they do point to an untapped opportunity for ice cream that helps people relax and sleep better. Consumers generally don’t want to overindulge before bed, but there could be a space for ice creams that cater to before bedtime or the evening wind down. The challenge is to find better-for-you ways to destress and unwind without guilt. Because the sleep-inspiring hormone melatonin is naturally present in milk, this is one area to start exploring.
- Health and pharma: If a spoonful of sugar helps medicine go down, so can a scoop of ice cream. By hiding functional foods in ice cream, consumers could improve their gut health, immunity, fiber intake and overall nutrition while also satisfying their need for great taste and pleasure. This category could easily grow to include actual pharma ice cream, or ice creams that help deliver medication, such as to ageing patients that have difficulty chewing solid foods.
- Intelligent production: Customers have mounting concerns about the environment and packaged goods. Just as at-home devices have helped consumers make their own sparkling water, there’s a room for ice cream innovations that deliver smaller portions of ice cream at home. This could be done through the use of yet-to-be created kitchen appliances as well as through food technologies that deliver ice cream powders or concentrates designed to be remixed and reconstituted at home.
- Alternative futures: As our research on plant-based foods indicates, more consumers are moving away from actual dairy and embracing dairy alternative ingredients. This platform is challenging but future facing. One question we started with is, how do we shape away from traditional dairy? Are there more sustainable sources of milk that consumers trust, such as camel milk? Or, if dairy as a whole didn’t exist, what would ice cream look like? As plant-based food technologies evolve, there’s a need for development in frozen applications.
- Ice cream unlimited: Adjacent to personalised nutrition is personalised indulgence. Consumers want products that feel individualised—“for me, for now”—that satisfy their cravings in unapologetic ways. This means delivering unlimited possibilities in the product itself, per many of the above solutions, as well offering choice in how ice cream is served, packaged, purchased and more. This is where you make ice cream really amplified—if ice cream is happiness, that happiness has to be unlimited.
To learn more about Kerry, including how we can support product ideation, contact us.