Despite a chilly economy, the U.S. ice cream market is expected to reach $6.8 million in 2010, according to Mintel Global Market Navigator (GMN).

The study shows that premium lines accounted for 9% of global ice cream product launches in the last six months, while economy lines represented 4% of global launches. Even though ice cream is often seen as an affordable, sweet indulgence, consumers still express an interest in healthier products. Manufacturers have answered, with 13% of all product launches touting a "no additives/preservatives" claim.

"The strongest 'healthier' trend in ice cream has been the removal of additives and preservatives, rather than the limiting of fat, sugar or calories," says Ana Lourenco, analyst at Chicago-based Mintel. "There's definitely an opportunity for more on-trend superfruit or antioxidant-rich formulations to help make ice cream appear better for you."

Meanwhile, packaging developments are focusing on more eco-friendly or recyclable materials. In the last six months, 13% of ice cream products featured an environmentally-friendly packaging claim, a 6% increase (in terms of share launches) on the previous period, with actual launches doubling.

"Consumers are clamoring for more eco-friendly products in all food and drink categories, and ice cream is no exception," Lourenco says. "Companies with environmentally-conscious packaging and practices may be able to get a leg up on their competition."