The Vegan Revolution

Sep 10, 2018 Share on Facebook Share!

The Vegan Revolution.

About 20 years ago I stood behind the counter of our shiny new ice cream store and started serving our first customers. After working for the previous 13 years as a police officer, I literally had little to no food service experience at all before starting this new venture.

Our ice cream of choice was frozen custard, a product that has 10% fat, 1.4% egg yolk, and the rest of the ingredients that were standard for most ice creams. We made it fresh in the store, almost every hour, and it was quite the delectable treat. On the very first day, a lady walked in with her young son by her side and asked me a question, that at the time I thought was absolutely ridiculous. She asked we whether we had anything that was “non-dairy”.

At the time I thought “Why would anybody coming to an ice cream store and ask for something that did not have dairy in it?”  Tongue in cheek, I told her that we have a “bottle of Coke in the fridge that was non-dairy”. She didn’t seem too impressed.

As a new business operator, I had no idea of the scope of the market so far as a non-dairy product would be concerned. Back 20 years ago, not too many people were talking vegan. There was more of a concern of milk or dairy allergies, and in some small cases, and egg allergy, that may have been brought up as an allergen concern.

I don’t know whether I would call myself an old timer in this business, but there are many ice cream operators around the world who have been in the business over 20 years, that still questions the validity of this growing market of vegan and non-dairy ice cream products. Not long after arriving in the United States, around 2004, I found myself at an ice cream business training session in Portland Oregon. The business owner was in the process of training his band of new employees while I was operating the equipment and making ice cream. Upon hand out samples, one of the employees put up his hand and asked, “Can I still work here if I am Vegan? I can’t taste any of the ice cream”

The owner of the store looked at me and asked me “What is a Vegan?” I had never heard of the term 15 years ago, so I just shrugged my shoulders. The uneducated business owner told the young man that he felt he could not work there if he could not taste and recommend the ice cream. This young man responded with, “Well I’m kind of a vegan”. “What does that mean?”  Asked the business owner.

“Well I have a really hot girlfriend, and she is a vegan. And I kind of told her I was a Vegan just to take her out on a date. I guess I’ll eat it if you are going to throw it out”.

Regardless of your customers motivations, whether they be purely dietary or simply romantic, you cannot disagree that many consumers now are looking for dairy free and vegan options, not only with their food but with their desserts as well.  The growing market of millennial’s, and those who are sensitive to using products that come from animals, are driving this generation of ice cream and frozen desserts that are devoid of any milk, egg or any other ingredients that originates from animals.

Survey says

According to, plant-based foods are the raging new trend in 2018.  There has been about a 600% increase in people who identify as Vegan in the United States in the past three years and even Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is asking its suppliers to provide more plant-based options.

The website also reports that the global plant based milk market is set to reach 22 billion by the year 2022.

Recently in the US, congress have requested that the Food and Drug Administration put plans in place to stop calling the “milk that comes from plants”, milk. The question was posed, “Can you milk an almond?”  The dairy sector has grown so weary of the increase in vegan milks that its wants it to have its own term and category.

The stats don’t lie. A growing number of customers are leaning towards vegan and non-dairy items and plant-based products.  Companies like Technavio are also providing excellent statistics and reports to help food and ice cream providers understand this growing trend.  From their website – “The expanding global vegan population is positively influencing the purchasing volume of vegan ice cream. Research analysis on the global vegan ice cream market identifies that the expanding global vegan population base will be one of the major factors that will have a positive impact on the growth of the market.

A large number of people are adopting the vegan lifestyle due to ethical reasons and rising awareness about the health benefits associated with the consumption of vegan diets including vegan protein sources, vegan cheese, vegan eggs, vegan gelatin, vegan cake, vegan butter, and other vegan food items and vegan recipes.  It has been observed that over the last decade, the number of people preferring vegan diets has increased by 300%. In addition, foodservice outlets are trying to attract vegan consumers by adding vegan recipes to their menus. Technavio’s market research analysts predict that the market will grow at a CAGR of close to 9% by 2022.

To purchase this research or to see more information on the global ice cream research, go to

A tight knit community.

For those mums and family members who have kids with special dietary needs, finding a frozen dessert location that caters to these needs can be like finding montezuma’s treasure. I can’t tell you how many parents expressed their gratitude to our employees after finding a place that can truly offer non-dairy and vegan options.

What’s more, is that this demographic of customers have a very tight knit community and communicate regularly with each other. When one member of the group finds a place that their kids love, it is quickly spread throughout the group. I can’t tell you how many times a parent came into our shop and said that they were referred by another parent about our unique product offerings.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of suppliers to the ice cream industry that are catering to the needs of this growing customer base through a variety of different mediums.

One of the easiest ways to cater to the needs of this customer base is to always have a couple of water based products in your display case or dipping cabinet. Products like Italian Ices, sorbets and sorbettos are relatively common, very refreshing and have a wide spread appeal to vegans and non-vegans alike. Most ice cream stores already have a number of these items on the menu board and have had great success in selling them.

On an extremely hot day, most customers prefer a refreshing water based dessert rather than a heavy cream based dairy product anyway.

Making non dairy products.

The real challenge is that most regulatory agencies are now creating categories or standards of identity for vegan products and business owners need to make sure their “in house” made products comply with these regulations.

Creating your own Vegan base can be a somewhat tricky process particularly when balancing the needs for sweetness, body and the bulking agents that dairy products provide to an ice cream base. Dairy substitutes such as almond milk, soy milk, cashew and other nut-based milks are not always readily available and can be tricky to manufacture yourself.

Other sources of “milks” that are growing in popularity are soy milk, Almond milk, Hemp milk, Oat milk, Coconut milk, Rice milk, Almond-coconut milk, Quinoa Milk and Flax milk.  However, non-dairy bases and solids are not only derived from sources like these. More and more ice cream makers and experimenting with fruit-based emulsions like banana and avocados.

Thankfully, there is a growing number of suppliers that can supply a liquid or powdered base that you can add flavor to and grow this flavor category in your business. Talk to your association suppliers to see what is available in your area.  Again, this product line may only start with a small percentage of your sales, however, it surely is a growing trend that you already, more than likely, have been asked about.

So raise an avocado cone and propose a toast, to this upcoming trend and share your vegan ice cream experiences with your association members.

Steve Christensen