When it comes to ice cream, gelato is red hot in the United States. A curiosity just a decade ago, it currently accounts for about 5% of the $14.3 billion U.S. ice cream market, with sales growth projected to hit 32.3% this year, based on data from industry source Euromonitor and Mintel.
The multinational Unilever has sought to capitalize on the trend, snapping up the top-selling U.S. brand, Talenti, in 2014 and Grom in early 2016. Now it’s working on spreading its creamy, artisanal treats into chain stores across the country—and eventually, overseas.
The result is the success of an after-dinner dessert with 30% less fat than traditional ice cream. According to Mintel, consumers get more satisfaction from a spoonful of gelato…and they need less to get that indulgent hit.
The exact origins of ice cream are unknown, but you can thank America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, for one of the first written recipes – an 18-step vanilla. At first, ice cream was a treat reserved for elites, until refrigeration and the scoop service sped up. Then, there was a boom in neighborhood ice cream parlors.
Gelato’s foundation is much more well-known – Florentine architect Bernando Buontalenti – who allegedly graced the 16th century court of Catherine de Medici with the innovative frozen treat.
Though popular in Italy among nobility and commoners alike, for centuries the dessert had limited success in the States. When Haagen-Dazs first introduced its line of gelatos in 1998, it flopped as consumers struggled to understand how it was different from ice cream.
Haagen-Dazs started with just three flavors – vanilla, chocolate and coffee. Today, with more than 50 varieties, they sell more than $400 million of ice cream annually. With the trend of gelato on the rise, shops such as Gelato-go have been popping up and commercial ice cream companies like Breyers and Haagen-Dazs have been quick to jump on the bandwagon.
According to Euromonitor, by tapping into the growing consumer base of frozen yogurt and developing a lower-calorie alternative to ice cream, Gelato has changed competition dynamics and product perception in the U.S., where consumers are increasingly seeking indulgence with a healthy twist.
While concerns about sugar have hit U.S. sales of ice cream overall, gelato has benefited from consumers thinking, “if we’re going to eat ice cream, let’s eat the good stuff.”
On one hand, gelato is primarily milk-based instead of cream-based, making it lower in fat content than traditional ice cream. On the other, Gelato doesn’t inject extra air into their product to increase volume, instead optimizing for a richer flavor with a denser consistency.
It also helps that authentic Italian gelato is typically served at 7 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit, about 10 to 15 degrees warmer than ice cream. The cold numbs your tongue so you don’t taste as much of that sugary sweetness in ice cream. Because gelato is served warmer, you also get more of the flavor’s intensity.
Gelato-go is the fastest growing Artisanal Gelato brand in South Florida: with 5 locations in total, it launched its franchising program to allow investors to open one or more Gelato stores anywhere in the US.