Served in a cone or in a pot, in twist or in a ball, soft or hard: ice cream is a popular treat on hot summer days – as evidenced by the many “sweet beaks” in search of freshness who rush to neighborhood creameries. However, the popularity of ice cream… is melting, and has been for several years. From war comfort to a dairy product intake considered important, the once essential dessert is now relegated to the rank of occasional treat.
The observation is unequivocal: for several decades, the quantity of ice cream available—which gives an estimate of the quantity consumed—for each Canadian has dropped dramatically. Forty years ago, we ate an average of 12 liters per person in a year, according to Statistics Canada data. Today only 4.5 liters.
Ice cream, however, has seen a pandemic surge in popularity. Locked up and lonely, Canadians went to seek comfort in the small frosted dessert, the consumption of which increased in 2020, then weakened the following year.
the hour of glory
The lack of love for ice cream is also observed among our American neighbors, where consumption is also following a downward trend, according to what CNN recently reported.
But ice cream has not always been shunned. Quite the contrary. In 1920, when the United States fell under the yoke of alcohol prohibition, many breweries turned to the production of soda… and ice cream. “By the end of the decade, Americans were consuming more than a million gallons [près de 4 millions de litres] of ice cream a day, associating it with the comfort and entertainment previously associated with alcohol”, emphasizes The Atlantic.
Ice cream continued to be popular during World War II, bringing solace and courage to soldiers. It was so essential to them that in the pages of Duty, in April 1942, it was noted as an established fact “that the ice cream cone is part of the equipment of the Yankee soldier”. “Some would say that the ice cream cone is not a double-edged sword or even a sharp one at all. However, its value should not be overlooked. If the Yankee soldier needs a cone of ice cream to fight well, please give it to him,” we summoned.
American soldiers even learned to fend for themselves for their supplies. In March 1943, the New York Times detailed their method: “They place prepared ice cream mixture in a large container and anchor it in the rear gunner’s compartment of a Flying Fortress. The mixture is thus well shaken and well frozen by flying over enemy territory at high altitude. »
And the US military understood the benefits of candy to its troops so well that in 1945 the United States spent $1 million on a “floating ice cream factory” sent to the Pacific in support of its soldiers.
Less bright days
So how do you explain the decline of the once idolized ice cream? There are several reasons, believes Sylvain Charlebois, scientific director of Dalhousie University’s Agrifood Analytical Sciences Research Laboratory.
Among other things, its consumption “doesn’t fit well with our current way of life”, he believes. “We are always on the run. However, eating ice cream requires taking time, stopping. Otherwise, we get everywhere. It’s an occasional treat,” he says.
Ice cream is also facing more and more competing products, notes Mr. Charlebois. In the category of refrigerated products, there are in particular sorbet or frozen yogurt – options to which are added a myriad of non-frozen sweets.
“Also, just think of the Chocolat Favoris formula,” continues Mr. Charlebois. There are so many things going on! Add chocolate, marshmallow, pieces of caramel or pop corn. This means that in volume, ice cream is in competition with its own complements. Several years ago, apart from the choice of flavor, the only decision we had to make was: one or two spoonfuls? »
Finally, the decline in popularity of ice cream can also be explained by the fact that Canadians have moderated their consumption to pay more attention to their health, suggests Mr. Charlebois.
However, in October 1943, in The duty, an advertisement for the JJ Joubert dairy boasted of its nutritional properties. Ice cream is “good for your health”, it was argued. It is an “ideal food for everyone”, “a healthy and substantial food” thanks to its calcium, protein and iron content. “Get into the habit of eating one with every meal,” the label recommended.
No offense to inveterate ice cream lovers, Canada’s Food Guide is not quite of the same opinion since it recommends limiting the consumption of highly processed foods, including “ice cream” and other frozen desserts.
Its comforting virtues are, however, hard to dispute, since it usually only takes a bite to plunge back into childhood or imagine yourself on vacation.