December, 2023

Insights: The Growth of Plant-Based Desserts in Europe

Plant-based desserts, such as ice cream, puddings, creams, and many more, are becoming increasingly popular in response to consumer demand for healthy desserts. This trend is especially noticeable among people who follow specific low-sugar and/or low-fat diets, or who have to cope with food allergies and intolerances, for example those related to eggs and dairy products. There is a growing focus on a healthy lifestyle, prompting consumers to pay more attention to the impact of food on their overall health and well-being. As a result, consumers now see ingredients such as white sugar as a refined sweetener as harmful, driving brands to find alternatives that may appear healthier while providing the same sweetening effect as sugar. Finding effective substitutes for sugar is not an easy task, however, and in recent years we have witnessed the spread of numerous alternatives, from common stevia to natural sweeteners, and even more innovative ingredients such as sweet proteins.

The global market for vegan desserts that are free of animal ingredients such as dairy, eggs or gelatine reached $2.9 billion in 2022, with growth predicted to reach $5.8 billion by 2030. During the forecast period 2023-2030, the market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.1%. In 2022, North America emerged as the leading market for vegan desserts, accounting for over 38.6% of global sales, followed by the UK, Germany, and Japan.

Introducing plant-based dessert

If we take an overall look at the dessert category in Europe, we can see that sustainability is a major issue across all products, not just plant-based ones. According to Mintel GNPD, claims related to ‘ethical‘ and ‘environmentally friendly packaging‘ grew by +21.8% between 2018 and 2023. Among plant-based desserts, the main category is ice cream, which accounts for around 28.5% of the total product launches in 2023 in the category. This is followed by cold desserts, such as puddings and mousses, which recorded a growth rate of +5.6% between 2018 and 2022. In the same period, desserts served at room temperature, such as jellies, jams, and puddings, while remaining a smaller category, also recorded +7.6% growth. Major players in the European market include giants such as Unilever, Danone (Alpro), Lidl, Valsoia, and Aldi Group.

Cold desserts seem to be the most popular category: they have a predominantly creamy consistency (17.5% of products in 2023), with established flavours such as chocolate and vanilla, followed by minor flavours such as coconut, mango, and almond. By contrast, desserts served at room temperature have a different consistency, mainly in the form of puree (14.1% of products in 2023) creamy (12.7%) or jelly-like (12.7%), with flavours such as vanilla and apple, or other flavours such as chocolate, peach, and strawberry.

Indulgent yet healthy: what consumers want

This continuing demand for sweets that taste good but are also healthy was already identified by Mintel in 2022, in the ‘Unguilty Pleasure‘ trend, in which food was seen as a moment of leisure and pleasure as a way of distracting oneself from tough times, linked to economic and social crises. Forecasts predict that the trend will continue in 2024, but will acquire an additional nuance of “Climate changes, comfort endures”: consumers today expect food and beverage manufacturers to meet sustainability parameters, but place a higher value on the comfort aspect of food, as with the rising cost of living, they are not willing to pay more for ‘premium’ products. With this in mind, plant-based desserts seem to be the right compromise between sustainability, health, and taste. Growth in this segment is in fact influenced by health and sustainability issues, which means that brands must be able to create desserts that can offer a moment of indulgence. Ice cream/desserts are consumed almost universally, and are purchased by 94% of adults in the US, representing a huge opportunity for growth and innovation.