The cold hard facts as to why ice cream demand is on the decline
Ice cream, widely regarded as a beloved treat for the masses, is experiencing a steady decline in demand within the Canadian market. Although retail ice cream sales are on the rise, the overall demand, encompassing both retail and service outlets, displays a concerning trend of diminishing popularity.
Over the past few decades, the quantity of available ice cream in Canada has experienced a significant reduction, serving as a surrogate marker for individual ice cream consumption. Statistics Canada indicates that approximately 40 years ago, the average Canadian consumed around 12 litres of ice cream per year. This figure has decreased to a mere 4.5 litres, signifying a substantial shift in the demand landscape.
Notably, the present level represents less than half of the per capita consumption recorded in 1970, when each Canadian had access to 12.71 litres of ice cream annually. A similar trend in the United States indicates broader implications for North American ice cream markets.
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The observed decline in ice cream consumption may be attributed to evolving dietary preferences and health-related apprehensions. An increasing awareness of food allergies and intolerances has prompted individuals to re-evaluate their consumption of ice cream, leading some to eschew traditional ice cream retail outlets altogether.
Furthermore, the perception of ice cream as a caloric indulgence characterized by high sugar and fat content has positioned it unfavourably among health-conscious consumers. The advent of healthier treat alternatives has further diminished ice cream’s allure, and the 2019 iteration of Canada’s food guide, with its reduced emphasis on dairy products, including ice cream, may have compounded these effects.
2020 witnessed a transient surge in ice cream demand, colloquially termed the “COVID ice cream bump,” wherein ice cream consumption spiked by over a litre per person within a single year, primarily attributed to in-home indulgence during pandemic-related lockdowns. Nevertheless, these levels have since returned to pre-pandemic figures, suggesting that the pandemic’s influence on ice cream consumption was fleeting.
Demographic changes are instrumental in shaping ice cream consumption patterns. With a decline in the number of children and the prevalence of smaller households, the conventional appeal of ice cream parlours as family destinations has diminished. Conversely, adults continue to enjoy occasional treats, albeit with greater health consciousness influencing their consumption behaviour.
Additionally, the ice cream market faces heightened competition from an array of frozen dessert options, such as frozen yogurt, gelato, and sorbet, which cater to evolving consumer preferences. The diversification of ice cream offerings, featuring elaborate toppings and ingredients, further complicates consumer choices compared to the more straightforward options available in the past.
The contemporary lifestyle, characterized by time constraints and a preference for convenience, may also contribute to the declining demand for ice cream, as consuming ice cream requires a significant investment of time and attention.
Moreover, while overall consumer prices have risen since June 2022, ice cream prices have witnessed a surprising decline of 3.4 percent since the onset of summer, as reported by Statistics Canada’s recent Consumer Price Index. Despite this favourable pricing trend, the demand for ice cream has yet to register a significant resurgence.
The declining demand for ice cream in Canada embodies a nuanced interplay of factors, encompassing shifting dietary preferences, health concerns, demographic dynamics, intensified market competition, and the brief impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But it is the summer, after all; there is nothing wrong with treating yourself to some ice cream.
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.
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