In hot and humid India, the growth in ice cream sales is outpacing the rest of the world

Everybody’s favourite treat.
Everybody’s favourite treat.
Image: EPA/Divyakant Solanki
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India’s love for ice cream has come a long way from the days when a scoop was the best that guests could expect at wedding ceremonies.

As ice cream sales slow down in markets such as the US and the UK, where consumers are curbing their sugar consumption, business is booming in Asia’s third-largest economy, a new report by market research firm Mintel says.

Over the past five years, India’s ice cream sales volume has increased at a compound annual rate of nearly 13%, the fastest in the world, Mintel’s Ice Cream Global Annual Review 2017 says. The sales volume is expected to nearly double in India from 334.4 million litres in 2016 to 657.2 million litres by 2021. And the market is likely to be worth over $1.6 billion by then.

While India’s improved cold-chain infrastructure has made it easier to transport perishable items across the country, the ice cream boom also owes much to the evolving consumer.

“Increasing disposable incomes in India have made (ice cream) a more affordable treat for consumers,” Ranjana Sundaresan, global senior analyst at Mintel, explained in an email. “It is no longer seen as (just) a treat for kids, and adults are now looking at ice cream as a snacking option; this can be seen in the widening variety of flavours, textures, and formats.”

Long-time favourite brands such as Amul and Natural continue to do brisk business with their inexpensive ice lollies, fruit ice creams, and family packs in standard flavours. And other regional brands such as Havmor and Vadilal, too, are picking up steam.

But India’s premium ice cream market is also flourishing, thanks to a wave of new launches in recent years. Foreign brands such as London Dairy and Häagen-Dazs have brought in new flavours—dulce de leche and tiramisu, for instance. Hindustan Unilever’s popular Magnum ice cream bars are now available in 14 Indian cities. Moreover, local artisanal brands have mushroomed in Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai. They serve unconventional flavours, such as blue cheese honey and smoked milk chocolate bacon, to discerning customers with cash to spend, often charging upto Rs950 ($14.7) for a 500ml tub.

“The taste palate of Indian consumers is becoming more sophisticated, and consumers are more willing to experiment with new flavours, although they show a preference for the more familiar,” Sundaresan added.

Nevertheless, at just 0.25 litres, India’s per capita ice cream consumption trails far behind those of world leaders Norway (9.8 litres), Australia (9.4 litres), and Sweden (8.9 litres). In terms of sales volume, China tops the global list at a whopping 4.3 billion litres for 2016—India recorded just over 333 million litres that year, Mintel says.