Focus On: Plant-Based Ice Cream Trends

We wrote a quick overview of the plant-based ice cream recent trends in the world and in Japan.

Hello, Market Shakers! 

Hungry for a guilt-free refreshing treat? Stay with us for a quick tour of the plant-based ice cream trends globally and in Japan. The world is embracing dairy-free ice cream at a fast pace, but the Japanese market hasn’t opened yet to new plant-based alternative products.

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Summary of this edition

  • Trends in the world

  • Quick timeline

  • Trends on the Japanese market

  • Who are the players in Japan?

Worldwide, the ice cream alt category is doing well.

Globally, things are going well for the dairy-free ice cream sector, with a market valued at USD 505 million in 2019, expected to grow at a CAGR of 7% after 2021. In 2020, Barry Callebaut (international ingredients supplier) noted a 20% increase in the supply volume of dairy-free frozen desserts. Health awareness, milk allergy, lactose intolerance, and ethical concerns boost the demand for guilt-free frozen treats.

Dairy-free ice creams use a wide variety of milk substitutes, such as coconut, oat, almond, cashew, pea, or even banana and avocado. Overall, coconut, almond, and soy milks are leading with some regional differences.

In the United States, the market is gaining momentum, with significant ice cream manufacturers such as Ben & Jerry's and Häagen-Dazs launching their vegan line-up in 2016 and 2017 and many small players joining the fun. A Mintel report notes a similar boom in European countries is starting in the mid-2010s with new product launches but a decline of soy-based offerings in favor of more unused substitutes. In Asia, too, some known brands, such as Singaporean pioneers Soyato and Sugalight, are making noise.

Quick timeline:

The Japanese market isn’t ready yet.

The Japanese market for dairy-free products is minimal. Until recently, companies and foodservice were mainly geared toward the need of inbound tourists with dietary restrictions. There is a small niche market meeting the needs of local consumers, too, with a slowly growing demand for premium and added-value products. The ball is in the court of small players, with limited production and a high-end clientele.

Last year, we spoke with Kippy's and Coconut Glen's, two coconut-based ice cream brands available in Japan. Both stores noticed a visible trend for organic, gluten-free, and lactose-free ice-cream products in Japan. In Tokyo, at least, there’s a demand for coconut-based ice cream. Their clientele principally consists of women in their late teens to 40s and couples who are interested in dairy-free and gluten-free food products. The pandemic was challenging for the dairy-free ice-cream store business. Several brands closed their physical point of sales to retreat definitively or to focus on online sales. But with health and sustainability awareness on the rise in Japan, the game is not over.

When EECO, a Japanese organic food manufacturer based in Shizuoka, rebranded their organic plant-based handmade ice cream in mid-2020, it sold out fast, to their surprise. Is that to say Japan is opening the door to competition for plant-based ice cream? EECO isn’t entirely convinced the time is right, but the trend is positive for added value ice cream. Our Beyond Milk cycle mentioned that many Japanese consumers have or believe they have lactose intolerance. Health concerns are a key driver for this shift. 

Who are the players in Japan? 

Japan counts a few specialized stores in urban areas and a limited number of local and imported brands in store. Consumers can find more choices online.

Coconut Glen's

US Coconut Glen's dairy-free coconut-based ice cream is available at one physical store in the chic and expensive Omotesando district in Tokyo since 2013. Alpha Sensation manages the Japanese branch. They also sell their products through their online store. 

Kippy's 

Kippy's is also a coconut-based ice cream brand that originated in the United States. Their store is located in the famous shopping district Shibuya in Tokyo. Managed by Sazaby League, an apparel company and concept store producer, Kippy's is available at one retail store in Tokyo. They do not sell their products online. 

Darcy's 

Darcy’s is a brand of guilt-free ice cream developed by JASBICO, a consulting firm, and Tokyo Fuji University in 2019. Their products are coconut-based, dairy, white sugar, and gluten-free. Unfortunately, their physical store closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. Today, their products are solely available online.

EECO 

Organic food manufacturing company EECO rebranded its soy-based ice cream Soy Gela in 2020 and received a warm welcome from consumers. They sell their products online and to retailers, as well as restaurants. Since May 2021, Soy Gela is also available at Natural Lawson, as a part of their SOY365 project.

Kracie

Large food manufacturer, Kracie offers soy-based frozen dessert since 2014. They developed three flavors, vanilla, latte, and chocolate, and indicate that their products are plant-based and suitable for people with dairy and egg allergies.

In March 2021, they released a new crunchy soy-based ice bar, available nationwide in supermarkets, drugstores, and convenience stores. 

Chateraisé

Cafe chain and confectionery food manufacturer Chateraisé offers soy-based ice cream since 2018 online and in stores. 

Moon Food Japan

Barely launched in May this year, Moon Food Japan is a small soy-based ice cream located in Shiga. 

Cocofrio

Australian brand Cocofrio is available at international upscale supermarkets (Bio c’Bon, Nissin), department stores (Takashimaya), and online. 

Arctic Zero

Founded in 2009, the American brand Arctic Zero landed in Japan in 2019. Their importer, HealthyTOKYO K.K., has exclusivity. Two flavors, chocolate, and vanilla maple are available at international upscale supermarkets (Nissin & National Azabu) as well as the HealthyTOKYO Cafe & Shop and online

That’s all, folks! 

Next week, Market Shake dives more into Japan’s plant-based ice cream market with EECO CEO Tsuyoshi Kanazawa. 


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