‘Dynamic flavor landscape’: Ben & Jerry’s on flavor trends, appetite for nostalgia and tapping into ‘the right occasions'

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

On Ben & Jerry's Free Cone Day, ice cream lovers can jump in line as many times as they want for a free scoop. Image via Ben & JErry's/PRNewswire
On Ben & Jerry's Free Cone Day, ice cream lovers can jump in line as many times as they want for a free scoop. Image via Ben & JErry's/PRNewswire

Related tags Ice cream

Ben & Jerry’s R&D lead for Europe talks ice cream trends and consumer demands as the ice cream brand prepares for its annual Free Cone Day.

Free ice cream – what’s not to like? It’s been 45 years since Ben & Jerry’s started the now global trend known as Free Cone Day. For one day a year, the ice cream maker invites anyone to come into its scoop shops and taste its ice cream – then come back again for more, and more (there’s no limit on how much ice cream one can get, says the company).

Over the years, the event - which first started in 1979 as a ‘thank you’ to customers that helped sustain Ben & Jerry’s in its first year of operation – has been adopted and adapted by other brands, from Hagen Dazs to Dairy Queen.

Last year was the first time in four years that Ben & Jerry’s held Free Cone Day, and with more than 970,000 scoops handed out across the globe, the company is now aiming to break the 1-million scoop target. It’s a dare that consumers would be happy to complete come April 16.

“The first Free Cone Day in 1979 was a ‘thank you’ to fans from co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield for sticking out the first year with them - which happened to be during one of the worst Vermont winters on record,” Lorena Di Troia, B&J’s R&D Lead – Europe, told DairyReporter. “It’s still a day of thanks for our fans. The only real differences are size and the fact that now Free Cone Day has gone global. Back then, it was hundreds of scoops, now we’re closer to a million scoops being given away.

The 2024 edition of Free Cone Day is set for April 16, with activations taking place in stores in the US as well as in 35 other countries around the globe. New and exclusive flavors will be available on the day, along with the company's traditional offerings.

At a time when consumer appetite changes so rapidly and new trends are often shaped on fast-paced social media, we asked how Free Cone Day may have an effect on consumer choices, including flavor preferences and the ability to strengthen brand affiliation. Di-Troia said it wasn’t about that. “The truth is this – we don’t hold Free Cone Day as a marketing event to glean data to sell more ice cream,” she told us.

“The Free Cone Day tradition endures because we look forward to continuing to show our fans appreciation for their support. It’s all for them.”

“Folks will have their favorite flavors they get every time they visit a Scoop Shop but since we encourage fans to jump in line as many times as they’d like - it’s a judgment free zone - there’s an opportunity to try something new, too.”

With that in mind, what is fairing well with consumers so far this year? “Early 2024 sees a dynamic flavour landscape where creativity, global influences and sensory contrasts come together,” Di Troia explained. “Flavour trends continue to evolve, and consumers are seeking exciting and novel experiences, where unique regional elements, or worldwide ones, mix with familiar comfort food.

“We see also unexpected combinations of textures, from crunchy to velvety, wanted to elevate the overall sensory experience which is driven by a wish for curiosity and playfulness.”

As for ice cream trends likely to influence NPD this year, the company’s R&D Lead – Europe suggested some of the more sustainable trends from recent years may well stick around a while longer. “The ice cream industry is dynamic and innovation plays a key role in meeting consumer needs, so keeping an eye on trends and eating lots of sweet treats is a big part of our job,” Di Troia said.

“We see lots of interest in nostalgia-driven creations coming up, reviving classics and retro treats, as well as sweet and salty fusions [Ben & Jerry’s recent Impretzively Fudged release in the US is an example of that; ed.].

“The moments to enjoy delightful treats are also changing, hence important for us to tap into the right occasions for our consumers to indulge themselves.”

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, the average American eats around 4 gallons (15 liters) of ice cream per year, with chocolate being America’s favourite flavor and topping sauce, while strawberry is the most popular fruit to feature in ice cream. As for bits of confection included in ice cream, cookies is the most popular type.

In terms of occasions, at-home consumption is preferred by 84% of consumers according to the data.

Related topics Flavours and colours

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