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Is America’s Affection for Ice Cream on the Decline? Unilever’s Parting with Ben & Jerry’s Isn’t the Only Indicator.

by Alice

Unilever’s recent decision to part ways with its ice cream business, which includes iconic brands like Ben & Jerry’s, sheds light on a broader trend: Americans’ waning enthusiasm for this frozen delight. Over the past few decades, the love affair with ice cream seems to be cooling off.

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Unilever, known for a plethora of household brands, announced its separation from the ice cream sector, anticipating shedding 7,500 jobs in the process. While the move aims to streamline Unilever’s operations, analysts note that poor sales performance also contributed to this decision. Ben & Jerry’s, along with Unilever’s other ice cream brands Magnum and Wall’s, faced challenges in the past fiscal year, partly attributed to higher prices. Unilever reported an 8.8% increase in ice cream prices while experiencing a 6% decline in sales volume, prompting consumers to gravitate towards more economical options, including store brands.

Fernando Fernandez, Unilever’s Chief Financial Officer, acknowledged the disappointment surrounding ice cream sales, especially in light of consumer reactions to price hikes. Notably, ice cream tends to witness decreased demand with price escalations, a phenomenon researchers have observed in the past.

Meanwhile, Ben & Jerry’s expressed optimism about its future as an independent entity, indicating robust growth prospects on a global scale. However, beyond corporate maneuverings, a broader trend emerges regarding Americans’ ice cream consumption patterns.

Recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveals a decline in per capita ice cream consumption in the United States. In 2022, Americans consumed 22 pounds of ice cream per capita, down from 27.5 pounds in 2000 and 29.4 pounds in 1994. Notably, traditional “regular” ice cream, characterized by its full-fat milk content, has witnessed a substantial decrease in consumption, dropping from 18.2 pounds per capita in 1975 to 12.7 pounds in 2022.

Several factors contribute to this shift. Rising temperatures, coupled with consumers’ evolving dietary preferences, may be influencing ice cream consumption patterns. Heightened awareness of health concerns prompts many consumers, particularly millennials, to opt for premium ice cream brands offering low-fat or dairy-free alternatives. Additionally, decreasing consumption of caloric sweeteners aligns with a broader trend of reduced sugar intake.

Marion Nestle, a nutritionist and professor, suggests that economic stress and health consciousness may also influence ice cream consumption trends. While ice cream consumption is declining, it remains a significant component of American dietary habits. Despite challenges, the ice cream market continues to grow, albeit modestly.

While concerns about dairy’s health implications persist, Nestle views declining ice cream consumption as a potentially positive development for public health. As Americans seek healthier alternatives, the shift away from ice cream may reflect a broader trend towards improved dietary choices.

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