Pumpkin and beetroot are not flavours that immediately jump to mind when thinking about buying ice cream. Yet as the UK’s first vegan ice cream parlour has discovered, they are both tasty and popular. Produce Business UK takes a look at the emergence of a new market that’s creating opportunities for a huge variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs to be used in flavouring, colouring and toppings
The arrival of Yorica! in Wardour Street, central London, highlights the way in which vegan and free-from produce is no longer confined to the health food shops. “We began by looking at ice cream from the point of view of allergens and the free-from market because we wanted everyone to be able to enjoy our ice cream,” explains founder Monica Jagielo.
“As we researched, our offer became vegan because it summed up everything we were trying to do. All our products are totally natural and free from lactose. They’re suitable for all the 14 allergens, as they’re wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, glucose-free, nut-free etc.”
Jagielo claims the response to the concept has been “absolutely fantastic”. “We have had a lot of reviews on social media and review sites saying how much people enjoyed the experience,” she notes.
“On our first weekend, one mum had come up from Kent with her mother to take her son to see an allergy specialist. When he came in and found he could choose from anything on the menu, he said it was ‘the best day of his life’.”
Offering rice-milk shakes and ice cream in 12 flavours, with 60 types of sprinkles and 18 different toppings – including fresh (raspberry, strawberry or mango) coulis and fresh fruit, such as berries, dates, mangoes and pomegranate – Yorica! illustrates clearly what can be done to create an innovative, healthy food concept.
All the colours are natural and derived from vegetables. Flavours include: mango, melon, white peach, beetroot and spiced pumpkin. New flavours are added weekly. Yorica! also offers rice-milk shakes. There is even a peanut butter-flavoured ice cream – minus the peanuts, of course.
“We use UK suppliers wherever possible, as long as we can ensure constant quality,” shares Jagielo. “We have to use a Canadian supplier for many products simply because they can provide total traceability, and ensure no allergens are used in the manufacturing area. Our ice cream cones are baked in-house.”
A market ready to take off
Yorica! also provides takeaway containers and the firm is planning to work with delivery companies to establish a home-delivery service within the London area. Ultimately, the intention is to expand the chain to other sites.
It is a market that is undoubtedly set for growth. Allergy UK – a national charity designed to increase awareness of food sensitivity – reports that there has been a significant rise in the number of people suffering from food allergies and intolerances. Around 2 million people are estimated to suffer from allergies, while about 5-7% of all children have an allergy.
There are no figures for the total number of people suffering from food intolerances since many people self-diagnose. But it is generally believed that around 45% of the UK population suffers from some form of food intolerance at some point in their lives. Eating certain types of food can therefore result in symptoms like migraines, while an allergic reaction can be life threatening.
The Vegan Society points out that while vegans account for around 1% of the population, it is known that around 38% of Britons have purchased vegetarian food, and 20% has purchased free-from food. Lactose intolerance is one of the most common dietary problems – a condition which prevents people from eating dairy ice cream and cream.
Demand for non-dairy ice cream products is growing significantly. Such products appeal to not only to vegans, but to adults and children suffering from allergies and dietary intolerances.
According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, in 2015 the share of new dairy-free introductions reached 3% in Europe overall. Germany has experienced very strong growth in this sector; launching 26% of all new non-dairy ice creams, compared with 17% in the UK.
Traditionally, soy milk was used for non-dairy ice cream, but negative associations and allergies linked to health and the environment have led to a surge in alternative substances based on coconut, almonds or rice. Such alternatives are said to be tastier and offer better texture. Oatly!’s vanilla ice cream is made out of oats.
“While dairy alternatives were originally created for consumers with special dietary requirements, such as those who are lactose-intolerant or suffering from allergies, today they represent more of a lifestyle choice, especially among younger generations,” says Julia Buech, a food and drink analyst at Mintel.
“This is based on a strong combination of health and ethical reasons, as well as evolving taste preferences and the appeal of novel flavours.”
Free-from ice cream is also a premium product, with prices generally set higher than standard dairy ice cream. “Having escaped the realm of substitutes primarily for people with dietary concerns, non-dairy ice cream launches capture the imagination of modern consumers who do not exclusively opt for dairy-free, yet welcome the new variety,” Buech adds.
“Far removed from a specialist dietary positioning, the new wave of non-dairy products focus strongly on taste and indulgence, and are designed to compete with the best of what dairy-based ice cream has to offer.”
Innovation up for grabs
For manufacturers and ingredient suppliers, it’s clearly a market that presents considerable opportunities for innovation. Consumer tastes are widening, and Brits are more willing to experiment with unusual ice cream tastes, including the likes of lavender, matcha tea, nutmeg, gooseberry, Victoria plum or apple crumble.
Although a manufacturer of conventional dairy ice cream, Häagen-Dazs has even sold lines of tomato cherry and carrot orange ice cream in Japan. Other top ice cream brands such as Booja-Booja and Ben & Jerry’s are also introducing vegan or dairy-free ice cream, although Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream is only available in the US, at present.
With all the major UK supermarkets now offering their own variety of ice cream that appeals to vegans and special dietary requirements, such as allergies and food intolerances, evidently it’s a sector ripe for growth and innovation. Yorica!, for one, believes that while it’s still early days, its new concept is on course for long-term development.