A common misconception about eating a vegan diet is that it’s wildly more expensive than a standard omnivore diet. However, many vegan staples like rice, beans, and potatoes are the cheapest items in a grocery store. It’s the specialty vegan items, such as vegan ice cream, that are often more expensive than their animal-based counterparts.
Vegan ice cream is expensive because it’s made with more expensive ingredients than dairy ice cream and is often organic. In addition, since sales are usually lower than for dairy ice cream, companies must charge more to justify producing vegan ice cream.
Despite this, vegan ice cream is actually comparably priced to quality dairy ice cream, and commercial brands often don’t charge more for vegan versions of their dairy flavors. There are also cheaper options for vegans looking for a creamy frozen dessert.
What Makes Vegan Ice Cream Expensive
Vegan ice cream uses different ingredients, has a smaller market, and is more often organic compared with dairy ice cream. These factors can raise the price of non-dairy ice cream, but it won’t end up costing more than quality ice cream from brands like Ben & Jerry’s.
What Is Vegan Ice Cream Made Of
Common ingredients for vegan ice cream include:
- Plant Milk
- Oil (Coconut, Soybean)
- Corn Syrup
- Pea Protein
- Vegetable Gums (Carob, Guar)
- Natural Flavor
- Lecithin (Sunflower, Soy)
These ingredients work in combination to mimic the texture and structure of dairy ice cream by thickening the plant milk; increasing its fat, protein, and sugar content; and binding it all together to create a creamy end product.
Vegan Ice Cream Ingredients Are More Expensive
Vegan ice creams are often derived from plant milk (commonly almond, soy, coconut, or oat milk). Plant milk is inherently more expensive than dairy milk for a few reasons. Making plant milk requires more processing than dairy milk.
Dairy milk is also over-produced; dairy farmers have dumped milk on their fields in some years because they can’t find buyers. Finally, dairy milk is subsidized by the U.S. government, keeping prices lower. Vegan ice creams not made with plant milk, like Haagen-Dazs’ non-dairy pints (based on water, sugar, and corn syrup), can charge less than their competitors.
Gums, such as guar gum, used in vegan ice cream can also drive up prices due to high production and supply chain costs. Guar gum is often necessary to thicken vegan ice cream and prevent ice formation since plant milk tends to have lower fat and higher water content than dairy milk.
More oil also needs to be used in vegan ice creams to increase fat content, which increases the price because of the expensive nature of oils (due to extraction and refining processes).
The Market for Vegan Ice Cream Is Much Smaller
While veganism is becoming more popular (and more people are discovering they’re lactose intolerant), those who eat dairy products still largely outweigh those who don’t.
Non-dairy ice cream, therefore, sells fewer units than dairy ice cream. Making (and selling) less of a product spreads the cost of development, processing, packaging, and marketing over fewer items.
Similar to strategies for selling specialty and small-batch products, this leads to companies charging more to make up the difference in sales. As the demand for vegan ice cream increases, companies will be able to increase their supply and reduce prices.
Vegan Ice Cream Is Often Organic
Vegan ice cream is commonly certified organic in addition to being plant-based. This raises the price because organic foods take more labor, are in low supply with high demand, and require farmers to get an organic certification which can be costly.
Although it may be pricier, buying organic supports farmers (especially smaller farmers) more than buying conventionally grown foods and supports sustainable agriculture which reduces the environmental impact of farming.
How Much More Expensive Is Vegan Ice Cream
Although non-dairy ice cream can be more expensive than dairy ice cream, there are also many situations where there is little or no price difference. This is seen most often with commercial brands that produce a vegan alternative to their original ice cream.
Observe how often non-dairy ice cream has the same price as dairy ice cream (underlined prices indicate the more expensive option if the price is not equivalent):
|Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream (1 pt)||$5.29|
|Ben & Jerry’s Vegan Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert Chocolate Fudge Brownie (1 pt)||$5.49|
|Breyers Oreo Cookies & Cream Ice Cream (1.5 qt)||$5.59|
|Breyers Non-Dairy Almond Milk Oreo Cookies & Cream Frozen Dessert (1.5 qt)||$5.59|
|Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream||$4.99|
|Haagen-Dazs Non-Dairy Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge Frozen Dessert||$4.79|
|Halo Top Peanut Butter Cup Light Ice Cream (1 pt)||$4.49|
|Halo Top Dairy-Free Soy-Free Vegan Peanut Butter Cup Frozen Dessert (1 pt)||$4.49|
|Magnum Double Chocolate Vanilla Truffle Ice Cream Bars||$4.99|
|Magnum Vegan Non-Dairy Belgian Chocolate Dipped Classic Dessert Bars||$4.99|
|Kemps Chocolate Chip Pillsbury Cookie Dough Ice Cream (1.5 qt)||$4.99|
|SO Delicious Cookie Dough Coconutmilk Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert (1 pt)||$4.99|
As shown, most commercial brands that produce large batches of frozen desserts don’t upcharge for their non-dairy products.
Haagen-Dazs even charges 20 cents less, while Ben & Jerry’s charges 20 cents more (at this supplier). The greater difference is between brands like Breyers and Kemps selling 1.5 quarts of ice cream for prices comparable to a pint of ice cream from premium brands like Ben & Jerry’s. Why this difference?
To be labeled “ice cream”, the USDA requires a minimum weight of 4.5 pounds per gallon and a minimum of 10% fat content from cow’s milk (along with other standards).
This means brands can choose to meet the bare minimum requirements and then add air, thickening agents, emulsifiers, and other add-ins.
This is why vegan “ice cream” must actually be called “frozen dessert” on the packaging, and why brands like Ben & Jerry’s have higher prices (due to higher fat content, less air, and fewer additives).
There Is No Price Difference Between Quality Dairy Ice Cream and Vegan Ice Cream
Both quality dairy ice cream and vegan ice cream will cost about $5.00 per pint. However, brands like Halo Top and Breyers provide slightly cheaper non-dairy options.
Since ice cream is usually an occasional treat anyway though, it’s worth the investment to pick a vegan ice cream you’ll fully enjoy.
Ultimately, vegans don’t have to spend much more than omnivores on ice cream unless they choose to. If you’re willing to splurge, there are also some specialty vegan ice creams like plant-based gelato or avocado-based ice creams with premium ingredients that can cost over $7.00 per pint.
Are There Any Cheaper Alternatives
Some vegan ice creams are cheaper than others. Trader Joe’s has one of the cheaper non-dairy ice creams on the market with a quart of ice cream priced at $3.99.
Other frozen desserts such as sorbet, acai bowls, and popsicles can be cheaper than non-dairy ice creams depending on the brand.
Sorbet especially can be less than half the price of vegan ice cream per pint due to its cheaper ingredients (water, sugar, and fruit puree).
Alternatively, sales can sometimes favor non-dairy options. For example, a Ben & Jerry’s sale at Picknsave.com reduced a pint of non-dairy chocolate ice cream to $3.99 (originally $5.49) while the dairy ice cream was only reduced to $4.49 (originally $5.29).
Since vegan ice cream has a smaller consumer base, stores may have more of it leftover that they want to sell before it expires. This makes suppliers more inclined to reduce the price to encourage customers to buy the non-dairy option.
Checking for sales and coupons can go a long way in reducing the cost of vegan desserts. Your best bet is to check your favorite grocery store’s weekly or monthly flyer or look online for brand-specific coupons.
Homemade Ice Cream
For a cheaper and healthier alternative to store-bought vegan ice cream, try making it at home!
There are a plethora of recipes online for vegan ice creams, from simple two-ingredient banana-based “nice cream” recipes to plant-milk centric recipes (here are 29 recipes from minimalist baker) and even a Japanese sweet potato-based recipe.
Though it’s less convenient than store-bought vegan ice cream, making it yourself will allow greater customization and avoid the inclusion of gums and other additives.
Most recipes work with a blender or food processor, but if you’re a diehard ice cream fan, it may be worth it to invest in an ice cream maker (Cuisinart models have some of the best reviews).