Is liquid nitrogen ice cream the next big thing or just another food fad? Made famous by Heston Blumenthal’s molecular gastronomy, global awareness of the high-tech concept is building and new concepts are starting to roll out. In the USA, SubZero has scaled their offering with over 50 branches. Other operators have set up in South Africa, India, Australia, and the Middle East. In the UK, Chin Chin Labs launched in Camden in 2010 and last year Jordanian-based Four Winters opened in West London. Individual operators have also opened outside London, but none yet with multiple branches.
So, what is different about liquid nitrogen ice cream?
Pressurised nitrogen flash-freezes the ice cream mixture which limits the formation of ice crystals and creates a creamy texture. This creates theatre in the creation of the ice cream and the customisation possibilities can drive higher consumption frequency and average spend than regular ice cream.
One of the attractions for operators is that the costs of the liquid nitrogen and equipment are offset, in part, by eliminating the need for storage freezers. However, scalability will rely on changing ice cream consumption habits from a summer only purchase. Brits consume around 7 litres of ice cream a year, lagging behind other countries. This is just a quarter of that consumed in New Zealand and half the amount eaten in Finland (so it’s not just the weather that is impacting this).
ONS data has revealed that millennials are consuming less alcohol than the generation before, opening the door for social options such as ice cream parlours to grow. Gelato and Frozen Yoghurt are niche sectors of the ice cream market that have grown and attracted investment as Snog, yoomoo and Amorino have shown.
Further opportunities may lie in wholesale. Restaurants such as Shackfuyu have taken the soft-serve ice cream trend in-house to add interest to their dessert menu. Time will tell if the casual dining market does the same with liquid nitrogen ice cream.
So potentially more than just a fad - maybe not yet the next big thing - but if liquid nitrogen ice cream brands can capitalise on social media and put the experience at the forefront of consumer’s minds, there is the possibility that the concept can move into the mainstream.