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Deliciously non-dairy: the innovation behind Ben & Jerry’s oat-based ice creams


With a growing plant-based portfolio and consumers seeking ice cream experiences as indulgent as dairy, Ben & Jerry’s has reformulated its non-dairy portfolio to use a new, extra smooth oat base. We speak to flavour guru João Piva, who is based at our UK site in Colworth, to find out more.

Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy Cookies on Cookie Dough tub with new oat base and a hand holding a smooth rich spoonful
Ben & Jerry’s flavour guru João Piva in chef whites, choosing ingredients in a test kitchen
Ben & Jerry’s flavour guru João Piva

Since the launch of its first non-dairy ice cream flavours in 2016, Ben & Jerry’s has been on a quest to ensure its plant-based range gives fans the same premium experience and fun flavours as its dairy ice creams.

Finding that perfect sweet spot is the job of Ben & Jerry’s team of flavour gurus, including Senior Product Developer João Piva.

During his two years working for Ben & Jerry’s, developing the non-dairy oat base formulation has been his biggest challenge yet.

“It’s been a long journey,” says João. “We’ve trialled and tasted up to 70 different flavour combinations. But we’re confident we’ve created the best-tasting non-dairy base for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream yet.”

The evolution to oat: a dairy-free revolution

In the space of eight years, Ben & Jerry’s global non-dairy portfolio has grown from one to 20 non-dairy flavours.

During that time, its formulation team has experimented with almond bases.

However, tastes and flavours constantly evolve, and the team were keen to find a new base to improve the non-dairy ice cream experience for plant-based and flexitarian fans.

“With almond you can experience a nutty aftertaste,” says João. “And as chunks and sauces are a signature of Ben & Jerry’s flavoured ice creams, we were keen to find a base that let our hero ingredients shine more,” he adds.

The team also did a survey among ice cream fans. “Their main flag was texture. They told us non-dairy products could sometimes feel thinner or watery, which meant they didn’t enjoy the same mouth-feel you get from the creamy base of Ben & Jerry’s dairy ice cream,” João explains. “We wanted to find an ingredient that would close that texture gap.”

Crafting the perfect scoop: the flavour development process

“To turn flavour ideas into reality, you need chemistry,” says João. “Ice cream is a technical product, and you need to understand the part each ingredient plays, otherwise you can end up mixing good ingredients without making a good ice cream.

“But you also need curiosity,” he says. “The best innovations happen when we ask: ‘what if’ questions. What if I mix this flavour with these ingredients and see how it goes.”

The challenges and triumphs of flavour innovation

During the development process, new tastings started at 9am. Strong drinks like coffee were out of bounds and after five or six ice creams, palates were refreshed with salty crackers and water so the team could start again.

“We knew we had a winning recipe when we started scooping the oat-based ice cream,” says João. “The ice cream experience doesn’t start with your first bite. You start eating with your eyes. The oat base was smoother and richer, which meant we expected a better texture, even before we took a spoonful.”

And it’s not just R&D who are happy with the results. It’s proved a winner with consumer focus groups too.

“We tested the new formulation with vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians. They told us they’d buy it again.

“Flexitarians said they’d rebuy it because we’re delivering an experience as good as dairy from non-dairy ice cream,” João says.

“And that’s exciting,” he adds, “because it enables us to deliver the same innovation and excitement as we do with our dairy platforms.”

We’re delivering an experience as good as dairy from non-dairy ice cream.

João Piva, Ben & Jerry’s flavour guru

The future of non-dairy delights at Ben & Jerry’s

The new formulation has been used in the brand’s tubs and scoop shops worldwide from this spring. “So, in every country where you can buy non-dairy Ben & Jerry’s, you’ll enjoy the same flavour experience,” João says.

While it’s tempting to dive into our new non-dairy flavours, give pause and let the ice cream melt in your mouth. That’s when the magic happens,” he adds.

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